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Why does my 3 year old say "I don't want to learn new things?"

By May 24, 2011 - 7:44am
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My 3 1/2 year old boy does not like going to school. He won't tell me why and he says things like " I don't want to learn new things" or when I pick him up from the school bus and ask him what he did in school he will say, "Let's talk about that later, I don't want to talk about that now" I have never heard of a toddler coming right out and saying they don't want to learn new things. What is going on? I have asked the teachers how he interacts at school and they always say he is happy and chatty and playing with friends; however, if I ask him who his friends are at school, he only mentions the older girl he rides the bus with.....she isn't even in his class and one other girl who I know is pretty much nice to everyone. He always seems pretty happy when he gets off the school bus but he usually seems disinterested in talking about school. He also has suddenly become interested in germs. I don't want to call it a phobia, but he is always asking about germs and if there are germs on this or germs on that. I have always made sure my kids wash their hands when they come in from outside or after they use the toilet. I'm not obsessed with germs, but I do make sure my kids know about germs.....Why all of a sudden is he becoming almost obsessed with germs?

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Hi olomana

Thanks for your post!

To start- from what you have said - your child seems perfectly normal. Let's run through a few things you have said:

He doesn't want to learn new things/he doesn't want to talk about school: I have three young children myself and sometimes, trying to get information about what they did in school is like trying to get blood from a stone. Children - for whatever reason - don't like to be asked about school. It may pressure them to remember things or they may panic if they don't have the answers they think you are looking for.

He's only three, so instead of asking him open-ended questions like "what did you do at school" ask him simple yes/no questions. "Did you have fun at school? , "were you able to use the potty"? This will allow him to answer you without feeling any kind of stress to form sentences and make news for you. He's too young to expect that when school is a new thing for him. That will come as soon as next Fall but allow some simple yes and no's for now.

Also remember that boys tend to be less verbal than girls. Groups of boys show them in action mode. Groups of girls show them in action mode with a lot of added conversation.

About the learning part - rest assured that you son is learning ALL the time! More than we'll ever know! But he has left his home where the concept of learning isn't talked about as much as school and is done by osmosis at home. Once the rules and regulations of school are introduced to a child, it can made them nervous. The word "learning" is finally used and there is often more structure than at home (eg; circle time, large groups, small groups, individual play, outdoor play etc and it's on a timetable.) Most children find this structure comforting and I suspect yours does too but it's just taking him a little time to realize that what he is doing everyday is "learning" - and he's doing it all the time.

To him, the process is not scary - the concept is. At the age of three, this is totally normal! Make sure he is focused on the process and not the concept. If asking an open-ended question, and don't ask him "what did you learn today?" - ask him "what did you DO today and was it fun?" "Did you make something?
"What did you paint?" This are all action words that children understand. They don't understand "learning" and that is not a necessary concept at this age - it's normal for some kids to find that word/concept a bit scary and they don't want to engage in it. Jump? Play? Dress up? Look at letters? Look at numbers? They love it! But "learn" it? Not so much. Choose words wisely!

If he is having fun - be happy with that. If his teachers have said he's having a good time - believe it!

Also remember that children his age tend to participate in what we call "parallel play" rather than group play. So while he is playing right beside other kids, he's focused on his own play, rather than theirs. It's likely the other kids are too. So while he most definitely surrounded by friends, it's parallel (individual) process. Therefore to him, he might think he played completely alone, when in fact, he is surrounded by his little friends who are also engaged in the same parallel play. Most -preschoolers engage in this kind of play. Group play often starts in the last year of preschool and in Kindergarten - and he is a few years away from that. All my children were this way. My preschooler still has parallel play tendencies but now also loves group play which is perfectly fine since she starts Kindergarten in the Fall.

Lastly - regarding germs:
Hygiene is one of the top concerns when children start preschool and here is why: the group dynamic is in full force and germs spread like wildfire. This is why stay-at-home kids (like mine were) often come down with colds and flu's once they start preschool because it's their first exposure to large groups. So teachers are vigilant about teaching about hand-washing and the prevention of contamination. Children are usually still potty-training and eat in the class - two other reasons to focus in hygiene. And let's face it - children are kind of gross in general!

Usually, hygiene is first introduced to kids when they enter preschool so he is likely hearing about it all the time. Tell the teachers that he may be a little too focused on germs and that he may need the teachers to tone it down a little. But since this is his first exposure to germs being taught in an "official" manner, it's a part of his life now. But also note that little kids obsess about many things - especially things they are learning about at the time. Today may be germs, next month it could be worms.

If he gets too obsessive then he may need some help. Don't use the word "germs" as it has a negative connotation. Instead use "nice and clean" and "washing is fun!" Using a foaming soap has the made the process great fun for my kids. Let him clean door knobs for you and praise him or give him a treat. I do this with my kids, they love doing it with Lysol wipes - it makes them feel very important. Let him know that cleanliness is important but it's a ton of fun to take part in!

I hope this information has helped you. If you continue to have concerns, talk to his pediatrician but having 3 children myself, close to your child's age, this is all normal, acceptable behavior for children and I see no red flags at all. And again, don't forget your little boy is only three. He will pick and choose what he wants to talk about things and remember that his concept, opinion and vision of the world is totally different to yours - but it doesn't mean it's wrong.

You are doing the right thing by asking some great questions but it looks like your son is doing just fine!


May 24, 2011 - 9:29am
(reply to Susan Cody)

Thank you Susan for your opinions and suggestions. A lot of what you said makes sense and yes....I do need to remember he is only 3. I appreciate how you took the time to address all my questions. I remember writing my post in an a heap of exhaustion after a very frustrating and busy day. It was a last resort to reach out and see what an outsider looking in thought about my concerns. I didn't expect any responses, and it felt good just to vent a little. Thank you again for your response.

May 25, 2011 - 7:31am
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