As a former classroom teacher and currently a stay at home mom with five young children (Ruby-5th grade, Elliot-3rd grade, Ophelia-1st grade, Julian-Pre-K, and Jack-3 years old), I wanted to share what’s working for us as we adjust to a homeschooling schedule for the rest of the year. We live in Michigan, one of 15 states who have decided to end face to face school for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, and so we are now settling into the new normal.
I tried homeschooling all of my children a few years ago, and made the mistake of setting too high of expectations for both my children and myself. This time around, I focused on the routine before the content, and I’m happy to say that things are going really really well. Through trial and error, we figured out what worked for all of us and what didn’t, and I’m pleased to see that my children are engaged, motivated, and most importantly happy. It took an attitude adjustment from me, however, seeing as how before this, I was putting out my application and looking to go back to work, but now I am so content and so happy in my role here, I will definitely not be looking for work anytime soon.
None of us chose to be here in this quarantined and forced homeschool routine, but that doesn’t mean we have to hate it. I actually see all of this as an incredible opportunity to bond with my family and really connect with each other. If you’re struggling or feeling overwhelmed, just know we’ve all felt or are feeling that way. Things felt really overwhelming to me at first as I tried to figure out what my kids needed and balance that with what would be possible to achieve. This routine that we settled on has been my saving grace, and it really helps the day to run itself.
Setting Up a Homeschool Routine
First of all, do not stress yourself out thinking you need to create in depth lessons right out of the gate. In the beginning, the focus should be on settling into a routine that works for you and your family in a way that leaves everyone still smiling at the end of the day. Start with a few paper/pencil things, reading books, and online resources that you KNOW your child will love. For example, my son who is in 3rd grade loves Star Wars, so I got him a Star Wars workbook. My preschooler who has always been very reluctant to try anything new loves mazes, so he starts his work day tracing mazes with his finger. When the routine is new, the work needs to be easy and fun. I had to go through a ton of resources until I found ones that worked for my children, and I will share all of those resources a bit later.
I’d say my favorite thing about the school cancellation has been the later start time we’ve settled into. Getting everyone off to school in the morning before 7:30 a.m. used to be the most stressful part of my day BY FAR, and now it is so pleasant. I wake up at 6:30 a.m., shower, get dressed, have coffee with my husband, and prepare breakfast. The boys are usually up around 8 a.m., and they get to pick a movie to watch while I’m opening up the house for the day and finishing breakfast preparations. Ruby sets her alarm for 7:30 a.m., showers, and reads until breakfast is ready. When I’m out of pancakes, she always helps me make more. Ophelia has always had a really difficult time both falling asleep (melatonin is currently helping with that) and getting up in the morning. On school days in the past, I would have to physically dress her and carry her downstairs just about every day. Now, I start rousing her at about 9:00 a.m. and with a few encouragements, she gets dressed and comes downstairs on her own as chipper as can be for breakfast time.
When the kids were younger, I would have a checklist for our morning routine to make sure they got dressed, made their beds, ate breakfast, and brushed their teeth. I would list each of these things and then to the right have a row with each child’s initial and a checkbox underneath. We did this for so long that they don’t need the check boxes anymore, but if you’re just starting out, I think it would be a good idea.
Every morning I serve pancakes, two kinds of bacon, sausage, fried eggs, and toast. While eating, the kids take turns picking YouTube videos to watch. You’ll notice on the top left corner of my whiteboard, I have the days of the week listed and their initials in a rotating schedule underneath. Once their video starts, each child uses our Google Home Mini to set a timer for five minutes, and when the timer runs out it’s the next person’s turn and so on until everyone has had a turn.
After breakfast, we turn the videos off and talk about the date, the weather, any special activities for the day (lots of Zoom meetings these days), and any other expectations. When they’re done eating, they bring their plates to the sink, brush their teeth, and move to our designated homeschool table in the other room. I really like having a separate table so that I can keep all books, materials, and supplies set up and ready to go. They each have a spot where they normally sit, and I have the work that they need to do ready to go in front of their chair before they get started. While they’re brushing their teeth, I try to clear the rest of the table and get the dishes in the dishwasher as much as I can.
Paper/Pencil and Reading Time 10:00
It’s rare for us to all sit down at the same time to do our paper/pencil activities. I usually have to stagger it so I can give one on one attention during this time. Jack, my 3 year old, is usually playing with cars when we get started, but whenever I see that he is eager to join, I say, “Are you ready for your homeschool?” and try to make the most of every teachable moment we have! Julian, my preschooler, can do about 15-20 minutes of work with my help, and then we read. He also always poops during this time (and takes a long time because we let him have his iPad – long story short…he needs the motivation), so that works out well for me to give the other kids attention.
Ruby likes to start her day with Khan Academy lessons and does her paper/pencil activities afterwards. Ophelia has Zoom chats with her teacher and classmates 3x/week, and she will do her paper/pencil activities afterwards. I set my expectations pretty low and make sure I’m only assigning what each child can handle. Ophelia likes a little more of a challenge and can work independently, so I expect her to do about 7-8 pages of work per day. Elliot struggles with writing and won’t really work done unless I’m sitting right next to him, so I only assign him about 4 pages. Usually I just tell them what pages they have to do on a daily basis, but sometimes they like me to write individual checklists on a little white board.
I try to encourage everyone to get as much pencil/paper work done as they can, and then we read. All of my kids LOVE reading and are excellent readers, so this is a really fun part of our day. I have lots of books around the house and they can read whatever they choose. In the past, I struggled to get Ophelia and Elliot to read chapter books, but with all of the extra time we’ve had at home, they are both finding many chapter books to enjoy. In the picture below, you’ll see Ruby is reading a book on her iPad.
I think the best thing you can do is to help your child develop a love of reading by first of all teaching them the skills necessary to read and then helping them to find books they enjoy reading on their own (while of course finding lots of time to read together as well). I have found that the best way to make sure children have reading comprehension is to ask them questions about the books they are reading. (“What is your book about? Why do you like it? What was the moral of the story? Can you relate to the main character? Would you read another book by the same author? Why or why not?”)
Sometimes I read to Jack and Julian together and sometimes I read to them one on one. This is always a special time where we cuddle up somewhere comfy, get under a blanket, and enjoy reading together. They both really like the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Williams, and I also have a basket full of Usborne books that are great for early readers. Of course Dr. Seuss books are a favorite too. It’s very sweet because Elliot and Ophelia will often come over and listen to the stories and will also help me read. Julian is an excellent reader, but he prefers that I read to him, and that’s just fine with me!
Educational Choice Time (Technology) 11:00
There are sooooo many excellent educational websites and apps out there which can actually be kind of overwhelming. We have been trying all of the recommendations from the kids’ teachers, the ones we have enjoyed over the years, and even some old school ones that I enjoyed when I was a kid! If you could only pick one online resource to use with your child pre-K through 2nd grade, I would say use Starfall, and if you could only pick one online resource for the upper grades, I would say Khan Academy. Try out as many sites as you’d like and then pick your favorite ones to have your kids focus on. If you have them on too many sites, you’ll lose track of what they’re doing and they won’t make as much progress as they could if you’d just stick to a few or do a few for awhile and then rotate if or when they lose interest.
- Khan Academy: I actually used Khan Academy for myself years ago when I was curious to know more about biology and chemistry, and my husband took the computer programming classes to prepare him for his computer science degree. Now, they feature math lessons for kids ages 2-18 and reading lessons from 2nd – 9th grade. What I love about Khan Academy is that they provide short, simple, and engaging videos to explain new content and then provide repeated practice and an assessment at the end of each module. If your child has an account through school, then their teacher can assign them lessons. If not, you’ll need to create a parent account, then create an account with a username and password for each child. From there, you can assign courses based on subject and grade level. The best thing about Khan Academy is that it’s completely free and there are no ads. They also have a free app for kids ages 2-7 called Khan Academy Kids designed to teach early math and literacy skills. This has been an excellent resource for my 3rd and 5th graders.
- Starfall: The Starfall website has fun, engaging, and high quality literacy and math content for Pre-K through 3rd grade, and is BY FAR my favorite online resource for all of my young children. A lot of the content is free, but I highly suggest getting a home membership for $35/year. (FYI: You can login on many devices simultaneously.) I have used this website and the many amazing Starfall apps (many of which are free) to help me teach all of my children how to read at a very young age. I usually introduce the content before the age of 2 and when they are about 3, they are able to do the activities on their own using a touch screen. The three younger ones use Starfall every day. For now, I’m letting them choose whatever they want to do, but in the future, I will probably encourage them to do certain lessons.
- Mario Teaches Typing: This came out in 1992, and I actually used it to learn how to type! I’ve never seen anything better, and Elliot LOVES it. There’s also a Mario Teaches Typing 2, but you need to be a bit techy to figure out how to get it on your computer.
- Prodigy: Julian, Ophelia, and Elliot LOVE prodigy! Kids enter a magical world where they choose an avatar to explore worlds and battle other online players. In order to get power for their battles, they have to answer math questions. I’m not too fond of just having random math questions with no instruction and often children will just guess the answers, but they really really love it, and so I let them play as a reward for completing their other educational choice time. The math content is for grades 1st – 8th, but my preschooler enjoys it. Ruby used to love it, but she’s in the 5th grade and she finds it too childish now. It’s free to create an account for your child, just make sure to keep the login information written and posted somewhere if you’re using a tablet because it doesn’t save. You can pay to have an upgraded account, but it’s quite expensive and not worth it in my opinion.
- MobyMax: Both my 1st and 5th graders’ teachers are having them do MobyMax. We haven’t been using it long enough for me to really have an opinion, but it seems like a good resource so far. Students first take placement tests to see where their instructional level is, then teachers assign lessons based on learning gaps. It’s free to create an account.
- Raz-Kids: This is my favorite online reading program. It’s simple, easy to use, and engaging. They have great content, and I like the comprehension questions at the end. If your child’s school has access to this site, I would definitely take advantage of it. If not, you can get a free trial, but the subscription is very expensive, like $115/yr. Get Epic is another great online reading program that your child’s school might have access to, but my opinion is that if kids are going to read, I’d rather have them read real books.
Lunch and Recess 12:00
I try to start lunch at 12:00, but sometimes if we really get into our lessons we won’t eat until 12:30 or 12:45. I try to be really consistent about starting choice time at 1:00 because the kids work really hard all morning, and if I don’t do my part to follow through, I’m sure it would make them feel like I’m not holding up my end of the bargain.
If the weather is nice, we’ll go outside for recess after lunch, and they LOVE jumping on the trampoline, but lately the weather has been HORRIBLE, and we’ve been stuck inside. During these dreary days, we’ll either do a yoga video, some shared workouts (my son Elliot loves leading the kids in jumping jacks, push ups, etc.), or play hide and seek or tag. Basically, I want them to do something to get their energy out. Also, my husband usually joins us for lunch and is able to help the kids if they have a math or computer questions which is really nice.
Choice Time 1:00
Choice time means they can do whatever they want (which is typically something with iPads, video games, or computers). Right now, Minecraft and Roblox are their favorite games because they can join each others’ worlds. They also like to do this weird thing where they watch other people playing video games while talking about it. Anyone else mystified as to how this is entertainment???
Once the kids start choice time, they are pretty independent, so I use this time to work on my projects. I work really hard from the moment I wake up until now taking care of others, so it’s really nice to be able to carve out some time for me. I spend a lot of this time cleaning, doing laundry, and preparing dinner because having a clean and tidy environment always helps me to keep my anxiety under control (that and a cup of Valarian root tea if I’m really stressed out). But if I’m really lucky and manage my time appropriately, I might be able to spend some time working in the office, reading a book, or doing some yoga. I also really enjoy putting on one of my favorite programs in the kitchen with preparing food, and that’s really fun too. Right now I’m really enjoying Outlander on Netflix, and I just finished The Tiger King which was not something I intended to watch, but couldn’t stop once I started!
Free Time (Specials) 3:00
During this time, I like to encourage activities that foster creativity and togetherness, so we’ll do art together, play music, build with Legos, play a board game, get dressed up and play imagination games, jump on the trampoline, play outside, etc. My routine oriented daughter Ophelia has requested that we incorporate the same special’s schedule she had at school during this time, so on Mondays we’ll do something with computers, Tuesdays-music, Wednesdays-art, Thursdays-PE, and Fridays-fun Fridays (watch a movie together). When we do art projects, I like to find YouTube videos to teach them a new skill or idea. Ruby and Elliot are really into this, but the others just like to draw their own ideas. I’m actually quite surprised how much my kids enjoy watching Rob Ross. He is very soothing. We also really like watching Mo Williams doodle and seeing his thought process for creating books.
During this time, I like to make being present and interacting or playing with the kids a priority. Yes, there’s always a mountain of work I could be doing, but when I fill their tanks with attention and love, they have far better attitudes and behaviors.
Harry Potter Clue is our favorite board game right now.
My husband gets home from work a little after 4:30, and we’ll typically eat dinner between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. Afterwards, we enjoy some family time. If it’s nice outside, we’ll jump on the trampoline, play frisbee, have a fire, or work on yard projects. If it’s crummy outside, then we’ll play music together, do something creative, play a board game, and sometimes we’ll even play a Jack Box game like Drawful.
Pajamas and Choice Time 6:30
Before the kids can have their evening choice time, we all work together to make sure the house is clean. When the kids have their choice time, my husband likes to play video games with them (usually something like Zelda, Minecraft, or some Mario game), and I get a little more me time. Usually I spend this time to make sure all of their workbooks are set up for the next day, get the kitchen tidied up, make sure beds are all ready for tuck in, and if I’m lucky a little more office time. At 7:30ish, we hang out in our bedroom, watch some videos, wrestle, eat snacks, and then brush teeth and do the rest of our bedtime routine.
Every summer I create a routine with my kids so that they stay productive and don’t ask for choice time all day. If you’re looking for a more relaxed routine, you may want to try a schedule like this.
My Favorite Pencil/Paper Resources
When we started our homeschool routine, the kids’ teachers gave them packets of work to do. These were an excellent resource to bridge the gap between home and school. Once they completed those packets, I set learning goals for each child based on their strengths and weaknesses and found or created resources to help them achieve those goals. I’ll share a little bit about each child, their learning goals, and the resources I’m using. Also, right now I’m keeping the instruction focused on core foundational skills of reading, writing, math, and electives, but as we progress, I want to include more science and social studies lessons. This may be something we focus on more during the summer.
I feel like often times the tendency is to teach things an inch deep and a mile wide. I’d rather my children know their basic skills really really really well so that they can use this foundation to pursue whatever they are passionate about. I think the most important gift we can give our children is to know the joy of learning and guide them to seek it independently for their own pleasure and not just for a sticker or a grade. In this section, I’ll share a mini profile for each child, their learning goals, and my favorite pencil/paper resources.
Ruby: 5th Grade, 10 Years Old
Profile and Learning Goals: Ruby reads at a 13th grade level, is a total bookworm, and loves reading more than anything. She can sometimes isolate herself in her own world of books, so we encourage her as much as possible to be part of the group. She is a self starter, very motivated, and quite independent. She’s at the age and stage of her life where she wants to do things on her own without me hovering. She can have messy handwriting and struggles with organization at times. When she learns a new concept in math and doesn’t get it right away, she gets frustrated and gives up, but Scott is very patient explaining things to her.
Pencil/Paper Activities: Ruby finished all of the writing assignments from her teacher long ago (although we’re going to the school to get more tomorrow), so I’m having her work on this cursive handwriting book and write in her journal. I let each child choose if they wanted a cursive or print handwriting book, and the three older ones chose cursive because they think it’s fun. Ruby is an excellent writer with a vivid imagination, so I let her write about whatever she wants. She is currently writing an outline for a book series she wants to write. She’s also an excellent artist and loves to doodle, paint, and she especially loves drawing characters and creating profiles for them so that is something she does during writing time too.
Elliot: 3rd Grade, 9 Years Old
Profile and Learning Goals: Elliot is very bright, reads at a 6th grade level, and loves learning about nonfiction topics. He struggles with handwriting, spelling, staying still, and completing assignments that take concentration like writing a paragraph. When he was at school, he was on medication for ADD, but now that he’s home, I just give him a cup of coffee when he needs to concentrate and it really helps. Whenever he is writing, I sit by him and have him tell me what he wants to write, I write it on a white board, and then he writes it. I know that with scaffolding and practice he’ll become more and more independent with this.
Pencil/Paper Activities: I want Elliot to become proficient at writing a single paragraph in one sitting, so each day we do something to work on this. On the first day, we only brainstormed ideas for a topic (I write down what he says), the next day we came up with a topic sentence, and today he wrote the detail sentences and conclusion. Tomorrow we’ll either revise, edit, and publish or simply start a new paragraph. Kumon makes EXCELLENT resources that teach children basic skills in progressively challenging lessons that build off from each other. Every day, I have him do 1-2 pages of his 3rd Grade Multiplication workbook, one page of his Handwriting Without Tears Cursive Handwriting workbook, and 1-2 pages of his Star Wars 3rd Grade Reading and Writing workbook. They have these Star Wars books for every grade level and subject. We recently picked up packets of work from his teacher, so when he’s mastered these resources, we’ll dive into the packets.
Ophelia: 1st Grade, 6 Years Old
Profile and Learning Goals: Ophelia has a photographic memory and learns things very quickly. She was reading at the age of 2 and constantly blows us away with her ability to learn. She is also very emotional and struggles with sensory overload. She often has meltdowns and cries saying, “I don’t know why I’m sad.” It breaks my heart, but we are very patient with her and talk to her about her feelings knowing that the majority of the time it’s because her routine has changed or she’s hungry. Her teacher wanted her to skip 2nd grade next year (although even Elliot’s 3rd grade homework is too easy for her), but I’m not sure she could handle it emotionally. She actually said she wants to keep homeschooling next year, so we’ll see what happens. At any rate, I want to cover all 2nd grade basic skills to make sure there’s no gaps in her learning and work on handwriting and increasing her writing stamina. Her reading stamina has already improved dramatically. She used to only have the patience to finish picture books, but now she’s finishing a different chapter book just about every other day. She’s really getting into Illustrated Classics right now.
Pencil/Paper Activities: I’ve seen Ophelia write multiple sentences before, but it’s been hard to get her motivated her to write more than one sentence for a writing prompt. I’m sure once we get in the swing of things and finally discover something she’s passionate to write about, she will want to write more. She does 4 pages in her 2nd Grade Brain Quest Workbook (absolutely the best workbooks for any grade) and 2-4 pages in her Cursive Kickoff Handwriting Without Tears workbook.
Julian: Pre-K, 5 Years Old
Profile and Learning Goals: Julian is the first one of our children to go to preschool! He’s always been very sensitive and quite attached to me, and preschool has been a wonderful way for him to gain independence. Before preschool, he never wanted to do any learning activities and would constantly ask me when it would be choice time. Even though he only does about 15 minutes of “pencil/paper work” a day, he is still making wonderful growth and having a lot of fun along the way. Julian is a wonderful reader. I taught him letter names and sounds at a young age and now he can read just about everything. Since he’s so good at reading, my main goal for him is to increase his hand strength, learn how to hold a writing utensil correctly, learn the correct way to form letters, and work on math facts.
Pencil/Paper Activities: Every day we start with tracing mazes. At first, I had him use a crayon, but he started using his finger and really liked it so that’s what we do now. I noticed that he was having a lot of trouble holding a writing utensil correctly, and I wanted to make something that would help him build up his hand and finger strength, so every day we do between 5-10 math facts and he has to open the clothespin to put it on the correct number. At first, he could barely open the clothespin without my help, but now he is doing it much more easily! His teacher showed me this cool rubber band trick to help him learn how to hold a writing utensil correctly, and it’s really helping. We also just ordered these finger grips, and I’m really excited to try them out. He also loves doing these Wipe Clean Workbooks with dry erase markers.
We just started using this Handwriting Without Tears My First School Book, which starts out with simple coloring activities and then progresses into letter formation. It is a phenomenal resource!
Jack: 3 Years Old
Profile and Learning Goals: Jack is full of energy and constantly making messes. Trying to keep him out of trouble is definitely a full time job! I try to give him a bunch of attention when he first wakes up so that I can focus on the older ones during our homeschool time. I started doing ABC flashcards with Jack when he was about 8 months old, and he is now reading. I believe in doing a little bit over a long period of time as well as making an environment conducive to learning. I have ABC, colors, numbers, and shapes posters and flashcards everywhere. He loves interacting with them and knows all of his letter names and sounds, colors, shapes, numbers, and is reading basic sentences now. I wait for teachable moments with Jack, and he eats it up. He loves to learn and he loves to be challenged. I created the flashcards in the picture below plus many more free digital download resources that you can use to teach your child how to read.
Pencil/Paper Activities: The only workbook I use with Jack is the Handwriting Without Tears My First School Book. He likes singing the ABCs and pointing to the letters. He also likes scribbling over pictures as he reads the words or watching me color the pictures while we talk about it. He also likes reading the write on wipe off books and sometimes colors in them. We find time to cuddle up and read every day, mostly books about construction vehicles, and he loves it! When he was younger, he would LOVE to sit on my lap and do flashcards together.
Elliot has really bonded with Jack during this break. I know part of the reason why Elliot spends so much time with him is oftentimes to get out of doing schoolwork, but I actually really love that he keeps Jack busy! Jack loves flipping through these Basher Books (which take higher level topics like Biology, Chemistry, and Engineering and simplifies it for young children) trying to read the headings, and Elliot tells him the words he doesn’t know.
Most of the time, Jack is learning through play. I have little stations all over the house filled with puzzles, little figures and houses, Legos, baskets of cars, dress up clothes, and so on. I try to find time to facilitate his play, but with all of the kids home, he has lots of playmates!
Tips and Tricks for Getting Through Your Day
When I tried homeschooling a few years ago, I made the mistake of trying to recreate a typical school day all while being up in the night nursing and toting a small baby on my hip during the day. We started our day at 8:00 a.m., went through each subject just like they would at school; I even came up with big ideas and mini lessons, taught a curriculum that was differentiated for all of their ages and abilities, and just about drove myself mad in the process. It was so overwhelming to plan for and execute that I just gave up. This time around, not only do I have the support of the kids’ classroom teachers, but I have created WAY less expectations for myself and my children. The end result is that I am calm, happy, and relaxed, my kids are having fun and learning, and even though we’re trapped in quarantine, we’ve never been happier or closer as a family. Here are some of the things that have helped me to keep my sanity.
Take Care of Yourself
You cannot care for your family without making sure that you are taking care of your self. For me, that means waking up early so my husband and I can drink coffee together before he heads off to work and making sure I’m showered, dressed, etc. before my children wake up. Two years ago, I got to my goal weight by doing keto and intermittent fasting. Over time, however, my old eating habits crept back, and I’ve gained back nearly all of the weight. Now, I’m trying to stop snacking all morning and wait to make one really savory meal between 10:00 a.m. and noon (depending on how long I can wait). I also try to carve out time in the day for me to do some yoga, drink tea and read a book, work in my office, or knit. When my husband gets home from work and on the weekends, he spends a lot of time with the kids so I can do some things by myself, and that is really nice!
Use Your Talents Accordingly
Teach your children whatever you are good at and enjoy doing. For example, my husband is really good at math and computers, so whenever is he home, he helps the older ones with computer programming lessons on Khan Academy and any math assignments they are struggling with. One of my passions is reading, so I enjoy teaching my children how to read at a young age and helping them to find what they are passionate about reading. I’m also really good at being a homemaker, so I like to have my children help me make meals and teach them things like how to know when the pan is the right temperature to cook a fried egg, how to know when to flip a pancake, and how to make something from scratch. I’ve also enjoyed teaching them how to sew and how to clean the house.
I also think it’s important to show your children the things you like to make and create in your free time. For example, my husband loves playing and recording music, so he teaches the kids how to do that. I really like blogging, creating teaching resources, and video editing, so I talk to the kids about my passions and show them my process. You may be into farming, horticulture, or web design…whatever you are good at and passionate about share it!
When Things Aren’t Working
Sometimes, the room is so quiet I could hear a pin drop, and I just let them keep working until someone asks if they can be done. Other times, we barely get five minutes of work done before tempers and meltdowns bring everything to a screeching halt. I take each day as it comes knowing that it’s better to stop when things get rough, evaluate at a later time why things got that way, and make plans to change for the next day. There is no reason to keep plowing through an assignment when a child is angry, sad, or frustrated.
Also, if you feel like you’re about to lose your cool, just stop what you’re doing and walk away. When I feel like this, I tell my children,
“Mommy needs a time out. I’ll be right back.”
I have always struggled with my temper and have learned over the years how to bite my tongue when I get really mad because I know deep down the things I want to shout in anger are not going to bring about positive change. I’ll admit, sometimes kids need a strong and stern scolding, but that’s a controlled form of guidance. Yelling or shouting in anger will only result in fear and hurt feelings and should be avoided at all costs.
Don’t try to teach your children on empty stomachs! It is sometimes unbelievable to me the amount and frequency with which my kids eat, but while I may be shocked, I try to always be prepared by having healthy meals ready at regular times as well as plenty of healthy snacks ready to go. I try to make breakfast as hearty as possible with plenty of protein. While they’re working, I make sure they have access to water and offer snacks if needed, but usually they’re pretty good about waiting until lunch. At 3:00, they usually need some kind of snack. I’ve got a great healthy cookie recipe that the kids love, or I’ll offer apples and peanut butter, string cheese, beef sticks, hard boiled eggs, orange slices, etc. If I don’t offer them a healthy snack, they’ll usually get into the goldfish crackers, veggie sticks, mini muffins, ice cream bars, etc. For dinner, I like to rotate between the kids’ favorite meals and make sure we have a good keto option for my husband and I. I talk to the kids a lot about how important it is to make sure they eat enough protein, healthy fats, and veggies before filling up on carbs, but in the end spaghetti is easy, everyone loves it, and it is what it is.
Don’t Get Overwhelmed with Teacher Assignments
My kid’s teachers have been fantastic about giving us TONS of excellent resources both pencil/paper and online. I know that they are purposefully giving parents a variety of options and resources so that we can have an arsenal of resources to use, but they are not expecting parents to do ALL of the work they are sending home. I would recommend checking out the resources they are sending home to see which ones are a fit for you and your child. You may have a child who hates all of the pencil/paper work but loves the online assignments or vice versa. Have your child try out a variety of activities and then ask them what they’d like to continue doing. Get rid of the stuff that they don’t like and that is stressful for you and focus on what is enjoyable and easy. It doesn’t matter the modality, they will learn!
Managing Multiple Children
There is only one of me and so when multiple children need me, I have to make some adjustments. With my youngest who is 3 for example, I never know when he is going to be ready for a teachable moment so I need to be prepared to drop everything and meet his needs. Today for example, he wanted to sit on my lap while I was helping Elliot with his writing to look at his workbook. We looked through the pictures and colored them talking about the things on the page until he was ready to jump down and play. Because I started working with Jack, Elliot totally got off track and started doing something else, and that was okay with me. Jack is usually pretty good about playing with cars and trucks on his own, but if he’s getting to be too much of a distraction, I’ll put him in our bedroom and turn on one of his favorite shows.
Ruby has actually been phenomenal about independently getting her work done, and my husband has been wonderful about helping her out and answering any questions she has. The other kids, however, need me in varying degrees and at different times, so I have to be flexible. When we were first starting out and testing out new materials, I would sometimes have to spend the entire two hour chunk of learning time with one child often working with materials that were very frustrating until we finally settled on what worked. During these times, the other children would join Jack in my room to watch TV. There have also been times where Ophelia has gotten extremely emotional for one reason or another and I reassure her saying, “That’s ok, we don’t need to do any of that work today.”
I know that some days we are going to be very productive and get a lot done, and other days are going to be difficult for one reason or another. On days where the vibe is off, I try to remind myself that even if each child just spends 5 minutes learning something new, that’s still progress. If we can keep moving forward every day, even just a little bit, then over time we will grow. This is the reason why I plan on continuing this schedule over summer break. Not only will the summer schedule provide our days with more structure and help us avoid boredom, but it takes the pressure off from us having to get it all done now.
Also, keep in mind that it’s more important for everyone to be happy, having fun, and still smiling at the end of the day than it is to complete every worksheet and online assignment.
What To Do with an Unmotivated Child
Getting children to become self motivated takes a delicate amount of balance. Without ANY expectations, routines, or guidelines and endless amounts of screen time, children are going to be VERY hard to motivate. But swing the pendulum the other way and expect 6+ hours of productivity a day doing piles of work that is difficult, tedious, and boring will burn children out and also make them very hard to motivate. You have to create routines and set expectations that are within a child’s zone of proximal development which means that lessons aren’t too easy or too challenging, but just right. Children are naturally curious and like to learn. They feel proud when they overcome obstacles and can see themselves growing even if it’s difficult at times.
Finding out how your child likes to learn and what they like learning about will take some trial and error. Your child may LOVE doing pencil/paper activities, but hate doing things online. If this is the case, do most of the learning with pencil/paper. If a child LOVES doing the online portions, have that be the majority of the learning. Also. figure out what subject matter your child is most interested and get workbooks or create activities that follow that theme.
Keep in mind that children hate the things that are difficult for them, but sometimes it’s necessary to work on these things a little bit over a long period of time so that they won’t be so challenging anymore, especially with core subjects. My third grader, for example HATES writing because his brain works faster than his hands and his writing is very sloppy. I want him to be able to write a paragraph, so right now we are only writing 1-2 sentences a day, but I am also teaching him typing so that someday he can just type his papers.
Being forced to create a homeschool routine because of Covid-19 is not something we ever thought we’d have to do, but I am so thankful it happened. We moved a year ago, and we’re finally settled into a home that we can afford and hope to love for a long time. Our family has needed this time to bond and reconnect without feeling pulled in a thousand different directions. I don’t know what the future holds for us in terms of schooling, but I know we are happy now, and that is all that matters. I have created tons of great resources you can use to teach your child to read here. If you find yourself thrust into a homeschooling situation or decide to homeschool for any reason, just know that it will take time to get things to run smoothly, so give yourself a grace period, have fun with it, and find ways to smile as much as possible throughout the day.