By Rita Pisano. This is a contributor-submitted Voices piece. Want to join the conversation? We invite you to write for us. Learn how to share your voice here.
I am the mother of six children, all of whom were homeschooled – some through high school. For almost 25 years, my kitchen table was the center of our daily classroom. At times we added other children to our homeschool; all the time I worked from our home as a volunteer state coordinator for an international organization. Once my children were grown, I taught for 15 years in a regular classroom too.
Now I watch as my children and their children are gathering around their own kitchen tables – children schooling and adults working. It’s quite the challenge, but there are many rewards and opportunities, and I would like to share here some ideas for making it a little easier on everyone, more effective, and a little less crazy!
- Take a deep breath and remember that children learning at home is not new. For most of human history, children learned by watching, listening to and imitating what was happening in their home. Think Justin Bieber, Condaleeza Rice and the Williams sisters of tennis fame, all the presidents through Woodrow Wilson, and all the inventors and doctors and composers and writers and philosophers throughout the ages. You and your children have just joined an amazing world of learners and guiders that includes some of the greatest minds in recorded history. Here’ a great site to check out with your kids!
- Have a set schedule. If possible, try to start on school work at the same time your children would have at school. Keep up with chores – yours and theirs, and save sleeping in for the weekend, something easier to do now that there are no games or community projects pulling you out of bed on Saturday mornings.
- Plan. Sit with your child/children daily and go through what is expected of them. Help them prioritize what they need to do and gather the tools they’ll require to accomplish their tasks. There is nothing that stops momentum more quickly that realizing you don’t have the ruler you need to finish the measuring worksheet. Write out (or have them write out) the expectations for the day and let them check tasks off. Rewarding for them as well as you!
- Set up a reward for each task completed. Teachers do this ALL the time. So do you, if you’re working; your paycheck is your reward. A snack, some time out in the yard, a short video game, a quick chat with a friend on a device...all these are suitable and needed. Remember, at school your child regularly moves around the room or from one class to another. Very few children can work happily for hours at a time in one spot. But keep rules too. A 10-minute break is great. 2 hours on a video game is not.
- Use timers. If your child is old enough, let him/her set the timer. Set a realistic time for completing a task or ending break time. This way, it’s the device and NOT YOU demanding that it’s time to hit the books again.
- Use your own chores or interests to teach your child. Be creative. Is your child learning fractions or multiplication? Have them help you double a recipe or half it or one-and-a-half it! Have them read about something they already love and then look for a word or concept in that reading they don’t know much about to research. Let them create your shopping list (spelling, handwriting, math – how many do you need to buy?) If they’re old enough, let them take on a project you’ve been hoping to get to and never have. You might be amazed!
- Babies and Toddlers – This can be a real challenge! If your baby is teething and crying all day, or if Toddler A is more interested in scribbling on your Older Child B’s homework than B is in doing it, life gets hard! Here’s a thought. Concentrate your efforts on your oldest and your youngest. Thankfully, babies do nap. Meanwhile use a backpack, a sling, a snugli to get your work done. And about that toddler – plan a special place where s/he gets to do their own schoolwork. Let older children work in another room – away from the toddler – if they can stay motivated, and set a timer. When the timer goes off, that child must come out and show you what s/he’s accomplished.
- Multiple Children and levels – One of the best ways to learn is to teach. So work with your oldest, and have him or her mentor the next youngest, and so on down the line. BUT prepare your older children. Meet with each child mentor individually and talk about how they like to be corrected and how they can make that work for their younger sibling. Discuss ways of praising good work and encouraging work that needs to be redone. Discuss patience and remind children that this is a great opportunity for them to review concepts they’ve already learned. Most of all, have a reward for good mentoring just like you have a reward for good school work.
- Call on children to play with little ones while you finish a task. Remind them that’s what you’re doing for them, and they can help you too.
- If today doesn’t go well, write it off and start again tomorrow. Remember that your child’s teachers have difficult days too. Classroom learning is often interrupted by bells, fire drills, a disruptive child, spilled milk, etc. Learning to deal with these realities is also part of education!
- As for your work – think small. Mentally (or maybe even on paper) divide your tasks into 10 or 15 minute segments. This way, when you’re needed, you can honestly say, “I’ll be with you in 5 minutes.” and mean it. Check your list off, too. It’ll help with the inevitable distractions. And... there’s always time after they go to bed!
Homeschooling is not a panacea. It’s not the answer to every child’s behavioral issues, nor is it easy for every family. But if you can embrace these next weeks, however many they may be, as an unexpected opportunity to share the excitement of learning with your children, to live and work together, cook and clean and do laundry together, converse and plan and discover, you may be surprised at how special this time will be. A year from now, you may find you miss these days! Meanwhile, be safe.