Okay, I get it, feel free to roll your eyes at me. I’ve been homeschooling for an entire two weeks, who am I to have some lessons already? There are a million homeschool parents out there with way better blogs and posts and no, I will not be turning this blog into a homeschooling one.
But I thought that maybe there might be some other brand-new to homeschooling parents or parents whose kids are learning from home virtually who could use some encouragement. Or some tips. Or some commiseration, perhaps? Because it’s not easy. And all those pro homeschooling moms out there? PROPS to you, because you are amazing.
For those who don’t know this, I did some pretty laid back homeschooling with my kids when schools shut down in March. Her kindergarten teacher was fantastic and the online learning assignments our district provided was fun, but she was flying through the daily lessons. My mom/former teacher brain started making some things up so we wouldn’t all go insane, and of course little brother wanted in on the fun, so I started doing some more intentional preschool activities with him.
When we made the choice to fully homeschool for the 2020-21 school year (for a variety of reasons that could fill up a whole blog post on its own), I got serious about planning out our year, leaving lots and lots of room for self-directed learning and flexibility and fun and freedom. And the first two weeks have been (mostly) great, thanks to other, more seasoned homeschooling moms who gave me lots of pep talks over the summer. Here’s what I’ve learned so far that I think could apply to any at-home learning situation you find yourself in:
- You have to learn to gauge the mood of your child and yourself. Nothing school-related (especially for littles like mine) is worth getting into a screaming match over. I can tell you this, because I’ve done it. I can get very irritated very quickly when my oldest decides she just doesn’t want to do something or thinks she can’t. I can tell now, when she’s about to totally freak out or when my body heats up and my blood starts to boil. And most of the time, I can say, “Okay, let’s move on to something else,” avoiding all the heartbreak that comes with a fight. And almost ten times out of ten she’ll come back to me later, to that thing I asked her to do before, and say, “Okay, I’m ready now.”
- If you start to do something you want them to do, lots of times they’ll join you. There have been a couple times these last few days where I’ve said, “Okay, grab your book, let’s have some silent reading time,” and that is met with some strong opposition. But later, I will grab my own book, sit on the couch with a comfy blanket, and they’ll join me with their own books, no words needed. This works (not all the time, of course) for puzzles and sensory activities and art, too. Start it yourself and they’ll come. And if not–maybe they’ll leave you alone enough to read a book for a little while (#goals).
- Somewhat related to number 2, I’ve been reminded (because I knew this, just sort of forgot?) that modeling is so, so, so important. The other day, I wanted my daughter to tell me about the book she was reading, to gauge her comprehension of it. When I started asking questions, she totally shut down, saying she couldn’t remember. I felt myself start to get frustrated but then remembered that “I do, we do, you do” mantra that was drilled into me when I was teaching. So I started to tell her all about the book I was reading–the characters and setting, what the characters wanted, how they acted, questions I had. And somewhere in the middle of all that, she started telling me all about her book too. “Oh yeah, that makes me think of…”. Seriously. Modeling is magic.
- Sensory activities may sound dumb or like a mess or waste of time, but they are life savers. Get some kinetic sand, water beads, beans and lentils, play-doh, water. Let them pour and fill and pick up and swirl around. Let them make you pink glitter cookies and push clay into dinosaur molds. These are great for lesson #5.
- Take LOTS of breaks. I mean LOTS. If you live in the special corner of hell that is August in Texas like we do, outside breaks right now probably aren’t a great idea, but do some Cosmic Kids Yoga (available on Amazon Prime!) or play with sensory bins or do a puzzle or even watch a show. It’s good for their little brains to switch gears every once in a while and move around.
- Don’t stop play for school. (If you have a virtual school situation that doesn’t allow for a flexible schedule this one might not apply to you.) If you find that your kids are getting along so well, playing imaginatively and cooperating, it is O-K-A-Y for that to go on as long as humanly possible. Dramatic play IS learning, and it helps kiddos develop those social/emotional skills. I like to listen in, though, because it’ll start to fall apart eventually and that’s when it’s great to be like, “Hey! Time to learn!” before everyone mass chaos erupts.
- Story time with a good picture book on the couch can fix just about any mood or attitude. It’s okay to totally stop everything if it’s heading toward dumpster fire territory to call a time-out and read on the couch. That connection time is so important. And books are like stealthy little teachers–we learn from them even if we don’t realize we are.
- Choice is EVERYTHING. I knew this in the classroom, but it’s become even more apparent at home, especially with my very opinionated older child. When kids feel like they have agency over something, they’re more likely to participate. Let your kids choose what they want to read–even if it annoys you (looking at you, Captain Underpants). Don’t hand them worksheet after worksheet with questions to answer afterwards. That’s a surefire way to get them to hate reading. Some pencil/paper is necessary sometimes, I know. But give them choice whenever possible. Let them choose topics to deep dive into (this week we are looking at the 7 Wonders of the World. Why? Who knows? But is she doing it because she chose it? You bet!), let them choose what they want to write about. Let them choose whether they use gel pens or markers to correct their work, let them choose to bake cookies for math one day because, fractions. Think about how you feel, as an adult, when your ability to choose is taken from you. It gets pretty frustrating.
- Say yes as much as you can Our little people have been told no a lot since March–no playdates, no Target runs, no restaurants, no playgrounds. So even if something is super annoying or will require tremendous effort on your part or extra clean up, try to say yes when you can. It makes life more fun.
10. Your homeschool doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s homeschool. I am just as guilty as the next person of comparing myself to others on social media, feeling like less than or ashamed that I’m maybe not doing all the things. But, find what works for you and your kids. We are all different. Whatever works for you and promotes peace in your home, do that. On that same note, if what worked last week doesn’t work this week, it’s okay to change your mind and try different things, too. Don’t be tempted to compare yourself to last week’s version of yourself.
And as one last bonus tip, just take it one day at a time. No, you do not have to get through every single thing on your homeschool list every day. It’s okay if they don’t pick up a single book one day, or if they spend more time outside (pleeeeeease fall come soon) than they do on more focused learning. Your kids are going to be okay. You love them and you’re caring for them and they can feel that. Even when you all have meltdowns or tough moments and apologies become necessary, they know you love them. Oh, and also–in case no one has told you lately, you’re doing a good job. I promise.