First thing’s first. BREATHE. Do it again with some extra deep breathing yoga flair. And hear me loud and clear when I tell you that your children are resilient. If you did nothing else but read to them for the next few weeks, they would be just fine. You are not going to mess them up. You are not going to let them down. Your house may be a little (or a lot) messy, and you may need to adjust your expectations for “home-cooked meals”, but everyone is going to be just fine. Okie dokie, artichokie?
The five tips I am sharing with you today aren’t going to bring the magic (that’ll come later). These suggestions are adjustments or implementations that may aid you in finding your footing with this whole thing. So here we go. But first…one more deep breath.
Tip #1 : You can fry that bacon on the weekends, momma.
Let’s talk food. On homeschool days, you are obviously going to want things run as smoothly as possible. You will need to maximize your time during the earliest, most energetic hours of the day. I don’t mean you need to start school 10 minutes after their feet hit the floor, but I do think it’s best to try to get the core of your day accomplished before or around lunchtime. Our afternoons are for all the extra, cherry-on-top sweet spots of homeschooling. But please know that you will need to adjust everything I suggest to meet YOUR family’s needs. That’s ultimately why I’m writing this — to help you discover what will work best for your family. This is just what works for us. For now.
So maximizing our morning time means there is no real “cooking” during the school day. I’m sure, somewhere out there, there is a homeschooling mom who wakes up, puts on her makeup and actual pants. I imagine she serves up made-from-scratch pancakes and a side of perfectly scrambled eggs while her children softly hum Kumbaya at the table. I’m happy for you, Susan. You go girl.
But in this house, you will find me with unwashed hair yanked into a limp topknot, rocking stained pajama pants, and slinging Poptarts across the counter. Bananas, oranges (only if you can peel them on your own), breakfast bars, and cereal— these are a few of our favorite homeschooling things. No freshly fried bacon today, little ones! You want an omelette? You’ll have to wait until Sunday, son.
I prep lunch the night before or at least have an idea of something I can pull together in less than 15 minutes. Keep. It. Simple.
I also highly recommend setting time frames throughout your day for eating. “No, sweet pea. You may not have a snack. You had one 46 seconds ago. Kitchen is closed until lunch.” Initially there will be whining and a great deal of resistance to this, but if you hold firm to your pantry hours, they will eventually quit asking for snacks. You just mumbled “liar” under your breath, didn’t you? I swear I’m not lying to you. Set. Those. Expectations. Now.
Your pantry will thank me later.
Tip #2: A captive audience is the best kind
One glorious thing about meal time is that your students are sitting still(ish). Now, I don’t eat when my kids do on homeschool days. No sirree, Bobby! Absolutely not. I am using that precious time to teach. Why? Because a captive audience is the best kind of audience.
They are stuck in their chairs, and their mouths are full. It is far less likely you will be interrupted, and you’ll be shocked how much you can accomplish in a 15 minute snack or 30 minute lunch window with a captive audience at the table. This is a GREAT strategy for moms with little ones. This is when the bulk of our read alouds happen. Your toddler is far less likely to be a bother when she’s strapped in her high chair with a tray full of Goldfish. Meal time is prime time for read alouds. You can eat your children’s leftovers over the trash can like the true parent you are AFTER the lesson is finished. But just remember to eat SOMETHING, or your kids will have a Ms. Viola Swamp situation on their hands.
And another thing, audio books count. They totally count. And documentaries… oh, yes. If you don’t know about Curiosity Stream, go ahead and get an account now. I don’t work for them (but I would, so call me Curiosity peeps!) From one parent to another, I’m telling you that you need it if you’re going to survive schooling at home. C.S. is a streaming service that has documentaries on every subject you can think of, AND it only costs around $3 a month. So if you’re tapped out, let Audible or the TV do the leg work for you that meal.
Tip #3: Find That Rhythm
Go ahead a rip up that little paper that says, “8:30 Math, 9:15 Science, 9:45 Art, Etc.” You heard me. Rip. It. Up. When I first started homeschooling, I basically recreated my lesson plans from the classroom, and they were schedule-based just like my school days had been. There was a time for each subject. When you hit the end of that time block, you transitioned to the next thing on the schedule. And do you know what happened to me after the first week of homeschooling? I cried.
Honey, I cried like Tom Hanks when Wilson floats away. I cried because I felt like an absolute failure. At the time, Baby C was only 4 months old. I had to take breaks to feed her, and she didn’t always adhere to my schedule. Strange, huh? :::insert eye roll at my previously naive self:::
There were these tantrums, too. And wouldn’t you know that they weren’t on the schedule either! Someone would throw a fit because their pants felt weird. And then there was the daily, “But my belly says it’s hungry NOW!”
Stuff just kept coming up, and my lesson plans clearly stated we would start our read aloud at 10:30, but it was 1:50, and I hadn’t read diddly. I feared I had made a terrible mistake. WHY on earth did I think I was a person who could manage this chaos? I just knew I was going to have to put my children on the bus the following Monday.
But then I learned about “rhythms”. In the homeschool world, that basically means a flexible routine that can be adjusted to meet the needs of all the little people (and their homeschooling parents). I erased ALL the times on my schedule. And what I was left with was a general order of things that needed to be accomplished. I also learned that letting my children have some control regarding when things would happen during the day made things more pleasant for everyone. Who says math needs to be at 9:00 every day? It’s your home, and you get to decide. You (and your children) can control the flow of your day. Establishing a rhythm is KEY to making your homeschool days productive and sets them apart from non-schooling days.
Just like in the classroom, they NEED to know what’s expected. But unlike the classroom, you most likely only have four or fewer students. That gives you freedom. Expectations are set, times are flexible, you won’t feel like a failure, and learning will happen.
If you will be sharing the teaching responsibilities with your spouse or the child’s grandparent, this rhythm you establish will provide consistency in your children’s days. And again, your routine may look nothing like ours. But the important thing is that you find one. Night school works best for your people.. why not?! Dad deals with writing and Mom tackles math…sure! YOU get to decide. I am going to go into deeper detail about our daily rhythm in another post, but the picture above will give you a general idea of what it currently looks like for us.
Tip #4: Dance Parties are Non-Negotiable
Most brain researchers agree that a child’s attention span is their age plus five minutes. Now, that’s obviously not a hard and fast rule for every single child, but it’s good information for parents to have when schooling at home. If you’ve been working on a set of math problems for 30 minutes with a 6 year old, that child is way overdue for a break. Breaks don’t have to be long, but they are ESSENTIAL to preventing meltdowns.
And that break MUST include body movement. Physical activity literally wakes up the brain. A quick game of Simon Says or a good old fashioned, “Go see how quickly you can run 10 laps around the perimeter of the yard. The timer has already started!” should do the trick. You can google “brain breaks”, and you will find approximately 32 bajillion examples of things you can quickly implement between subjects to help your kids refocus.
And also, please, pretty please, don’t make your child sit at the dining room table or a computer desk for hours on end. My best guess is children will be bombarded with worksheets and online assignments during this time. And that’s not a dig at how schools are navigating this incredibly trying situation, but their options are limited. If your child is not used to being on a computer for 3+ hours a day and the majority of what they are to complete is online, you might as well get in the floor to meet them for the meltdown now.
The kids and I change locations within the house all day long. Tablework starts in the dining room, then we move to our “classroom”, next we are out on the porch for nature study, and then back inside to the living room for the next thing. Changing your physical space will also help adjust your mental space. And whenever possible, GO OUTSIDE. Take the laptop or paperwork on the patio. It will be an instant mood elevator for all involved.
A few more recommendations for body movement…Cosmic Yoga is free on Youtube for little ones. Even toddlers can get involved (Baby C loves it). We love GoNoodle for brain breaks, too (this would be better if you were coming off a set of worksheets, not the computer). Go for a quick family walk around the neighborhood. Try a Drill Sargent approach and tell them to drop at give you 20. But you have to yell the commands with a British accent. Trust me on that.
Or you can just implement my absolute favorite brain break which is to put on some jams and DANCE. IT. OUT. I’d say we average about 3-4 dance parties throughout the school day. Dr. Jean, The Laurie Berkner Band, Frozen 2 soundtrack, Jack Hartman, Biggie Smalls. Kidding, kidding.
I know you want to get it done. I know you need to check it off your to-do list. But if you want both your sanity and the sanity of your children intact at the end of the day, give them ample time to play and be silly between assignments (or during difficult ones). Even if they are middle-schoolers or high-schoolers, their “play” looks a whole lot different, but they need time for themselves, too.
Tip #5: Be ready for the I Don’t Want To’s
So, Julie Bogart is basically my homeschool hero. I could quote her all day long, and if you stick around, I’m sure her name will become very familiar to you. This quote comes to mind as I have a feeling you will be hearing this in the coming days…
“When a child says, “I’m bored”, it means… “I’m bored.” It does NOT mean, “I’m lazy and pretending to be bored.””
There is sooooo much truth in that, but it is HARD when you’re trying to help your kids, and they’re seemingly unappreciative. And I will tell you now, it’s hugely unhelpful to tell them, “I’m bored too, but we HAVE to get this finished!!!”
It’s also hard not to feel like your kiddos are being intentionally defiant when they say they’re bored. The fact of the matter is that we DO have to to do hard things. And we DO have to do things that sometimes we don’t feeling like doing. That’s life, right? But having said that, we need to remember that they’re kids, and kids can’t always see the end-game.
I used to try to explain to mine, “Well obviously if you work on this phonics activity you will become a better reader and becoming a better reader will open doors for you in the future and you will be able to learn anything you want and yada, yada, stinkin’ yada.” They don’t care…they’re not even listening. You know why? BECAUSE THEY’RE BORED!!!
So what can you do about it? Relinquish as much control as you can stand. Or at least give them the illusion of control.
Some example responses to this type of behavior:
“I hear you. I’m sorry you are bored. There are three other items on our list that we must finish today. I think you should decide the order in which we do them. Do you want to finish this now or come back to it after the other activities?”
Another example… “Oh man. I’m sorry you’re feeling that way. We actually do have to finish our math now, but what could I do to help make it more tolerable? Put on some music? Or I could sit with you? A good shoulder rub always helps me when I’m feeling frustrated. And how about we use your favorite pink pen for this assignment!”
I can feel your eye roll. And it’s okay. If I hadn’t been living this life day in and day out for the last couple years, I’d be rolling my eyes, too. You may be thinking, “I’d just tell the little snot to quit whining and finish the assignment. No time for coddling around here!”
But I’d like to remind you that you’re going to be stuck inside with this little human for quite some time. And your relationship will either be enhanced by this oh-so-close-quarters experience, or you may actually murder each other. Number one rule of homeschooling- RELATIONSHIPS COME FIRST.
It may seem like you’re catering to them, but the truth is, their feelings are legitimate. Your kiddo needs calm and patience in a time when you’re feeling urgency and stress. From my own experience, any time I simply show a little extra kindness and acknowledge their feelings rather than try to convince them why they shouldn’t feel that way, things tend to go much, MUCH more smoothly.
And this last thing is important… you need to be in the right head-space to be able to accommodate their feelings. If that means no school until 10 AM because you need to enjoy your coffee, get in a workout, and a shower and dress for the day in order to feel okay… then that’s exactly how your day should roll. If momma is not okay, NO ONE IS OKAY. So be okay, momma. Because it’s all going to be okay.
So that’s it for today, friends. I hope something I’ve said has been helpful.
In my next post, I’ll be sharing more tips to help your day run more smoothly (including how to tackle chores while homeschooling) and also discuss how to add more enchantment (because everyone needs a little more of that in their lives).
There have also been several requests for activities for toddlers and preschoolers. That’s coming your way, too.
Until then.. Happy Learning!