Wendy Krehbiel is a legal assistant at the Downs Law Firm: She was also a homeschooling Mom for over 65 “school” years. With the number of children learning at home jumping from 2.5 Million to 55.1 Million households due to the coronavirus, many parents need help coping. Wendy offers the following tips to surviving and thriving while homeschooling:
In these difficult times, when many parents are being forced into homeschooling their kids, now is a good time to turn to seasoned homeschoolers to get some tips for making the process as smooth as possible. Having homeschooled my five children from birth to high school, I have a few tips for you:
1). Try to establish a regular schedule. It’s a good idea to lay out a weekly schedule to establish when the homeschooling will be done, on paper, if possible. That way, work can be crossed off as it is done, and that is hugely satisfying! Having a plan makes you more likely to reach goals than just whiffing willy-nilly by the seat of your pants. That being said, be careful not to be too rigid, too. There are some times when there are things that will be more important to deal with (like #2).
2). Establish discipline and who’s in charge. It’s very important to establish rules and discipline early in the game before things get out of hand and the situation blows up. Every child will naturally push for their way in most situations, so getting this right early will avoid many trials and difficulties. Layout rules, such as you have to get your schoolwork done before game/video/phone time. You might even need to remove phone privileges during schoolwork time if that is interfering. Children whose parents are in charge tend to be more at peace and more successful since they know what their role is and they learn to trust those in authority and they work within the rules. At the same time, be careful not to be too strict or overbearing. Children trust those in charge when they are listened to and understood, i.e., feel like they care. This kind of relationship (of caring about them, not just getting it done) is very important to homeschooling success.
3). Learn to praise. Praise is by far the best motivator. Even those who know that, easily forget it. Find some way to remind yourself regularly without tipping off your students that you’re doing that. Don’t lie just to get praise in – kids can smell untruths and learn not to trust you. You can at least praise their efforts because the effort is as important as results. You can even praise them for persevering on difficult problems. Surprise rewards (after getting the work done on a difficult assignment, or getting something done in a timely manner or doing a really good job on something) goes a really long way towards self-motivation. (Have some child-appropriate rewards thought about and/or prepared ahead of time, so this comes more easily.)
4). Don’t rely on just the carrot or the stick. The best systems contain both. Establish a rewards system for them to work towards. One of the most successful things I did as a homeschooler was to establish a points system. If they got all their work done by a certain time of the day, they could earn a (certain amount of) point(s). If they got it done earlier, they would earn more. (I had a child who would get up a 5 am to finish her work by 9 am, in order to get these points. Then she had the rest of the day to play and explore!) Once they have obtained a pre-determined amount of points, they earn a reward. I used to keep a see-through plastic prize box. When we were in the store and the kids wanted something, I would buy it for them and put it in the prize box. Then they could work towards that prize. It has to be attainable, or they will lose focus. Make it easier to get prizes early on, and slowly make them less easy as time goes on. They need to see the success and feel the great feeling of having achieved success and received the award for it in order to be motivated to do more in the future. If they were bad, I didn’t take away points, but took away regular privileges: 1st, any candy or treats they would regularly get; 2nd, lose screen/game time; 3rd, lose the ability to go outside and play with friends. There are also other punishments like timeout, push-ups, having to write “I will not…” 10 – 100 times, writing a short essay on why they shouldn’t behave that way or why they should behave in the appropriate way. As an alternative you could suggest a written apology letter to help smooth out the conflicts. Also make the punishment relevant to the event, if possible.
5). Don’t put schoolwork ahead of family relations. There were many times when I needed to interrupt schoolwork to deal with discipline issues, especially among siblings. It’s like weeds. If you ignore them, they don’t go away. Instead, they grow and can become very ugly. Some say you need to pick your battles. In one sense that’s true. On the other hand, picking out a weed when it’s small saves more time in the long run, than when it’s gotten overgrown into the plants you want there and then involves tearing and cutting to get it out. Taking the time to resolve family issues at the time will send the message to your kids that they are more important to you than the work, and helps with family peace.
6). Pay attention to your child’s needs. It’s easy to get focused on just getting the homeschooling work done, but they may need a break or they may need some of your attention or they may need a drink or a snack. Kids do not often understand their own needs, and if you are able to meet them easily, it helps them to trust you and rely on you. It’s also a good idea to verbalize what you think they need, as they may counter that, actually, it’s something else, or to even recognize it themselves. That being said, you also don’t want to spoil them by being a helicopter parent. Encourage them to do as much of their work independently as possible (praising them when they do!) It takes some emotional investment on your part to watch how they are doing and what they need.
7). Kids do as much of the work by themselves as possible. Don’t go over and solve their problems for them, thinking that’ll save time. No, they will be asking you next time and next time. If they need help whole homeschooling, help them through the thought process to accomplish the task in a way they can replicate it themselves, or help them learn where to find the answers themselves (e.g. looking in the Table of Contents or Index or online)
8). Monitor what your kids are doing online incessantly and thoroughly. While homeschooling and with lots of time on the internet, remember that it is fraught with dangers. There are real predators and vast amounts of inappropriate material waiting to drag your kids away from your values and the innocence of childhood and can severely damage your children without you even knowing it.
9). Creative opportunities to socialize with other kids. As social creatures, this is especially important at this time when they can’t socialize in school like normal. These can be done as rewards or just regularly scheduled. You can find a group of their peers to get together regularly in a playgroup. Or if that doesn’t work for the families, it can be done as zoom meetings.
10). Have fun with your kids and don’t panic! Find creative ways to get points across and get the homeschooling work accomplished. When working with flashcards, I would give them animal crackers if they were able to get the answers within a certain period of time. Allow time for tickling and silliness. The truth is, kids that are homeschooled tend to be more mature than those not, possibly because of the increased socialization that occurs with adults, rather than children, or possibly because of the increased interaction with their own parents, or because they spend less time doing fiddle/faddle, and have more time to figure out who they are. This is a good time to re-connect with your children. Time spent investing in their well-being and happiness will not be wasted and is well worth it for both of you!
While learning the ropes for being a homeschooler, for your own health, mental sanity, and protection of your family, getting your estate planning settled is also a good idea.