Advice (and 5 Tips) for Teaching Kids at Home, from a Veteran Homeschool Mom
Fostering a love of learning isn’t hard, but it does take time.
We are all concerned about the spread of COVID-19. Schools are closed. So what should we do about our children’s education? And what about all of the “free time” they have when they would normally be in school? Do we really want to increase screen time? Do we anticipate trouble between siblings?
Believe me, I know what it is like to be “stuck” in the house with my kids. I have not exclusively homeschooled my kids (my husband is a former school administrator, so they went to “Dad’s school” for a while), but there was a point when I was educating all five children at home. I found it... challenging.
I remember one episode in which I had been scolding everyone, frantically trying to control the maelstrom swirling around my house. Finally, I stopped everything and went into a comatose-type state. My kids all gathered around me, and after asking me a few questions that went unanswered, they became silent and thoughtful. The 6-year-old whispered, “Do you think she is done yelling in her head yet?”
Dear fellow moms and other care-takers: During this time when you have your children at home with you, due to school closings, you may feel like you ought to continue their education or at least give direction to your children’s energies, and you don’t know where to start. Despite my frustrations, I enjoy homeschooling and have learned many valuable lessons over the years.
So here is one mom/teacher’s advice:
See this as a good opportunity to really ascertain where your kids are educationally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Don’t be afraid of what you might find. Just focus on being with them and be willing to see if they need a little more help in a particular area. Let this be a time to stop the crazy rat race and be with one another. Talk together, pray together, eat together, explore together.
Also, your attitude will set the tone for this time. Don’t let them hear you bemoaning the fact that you have to spend time with them. Snap out of it and buck up!
During my years of homeschooling, there have been time in which I have been more lax due to circumstances at home. These less-structured days or weeks were fruitful times in which the focus was not centered on cramming information into my kids’ heads. They became opportunities to help my children learn to love learning.
Fostering a “love of learning” is a great focus for parents who find themselves at home with their kids during this time of school closings.
So let’s get practical: How should the love-of-learning-homeschool-day be structured? Your children are accustomed to a schedule, so consider setting up a structured day from 9 a.m. to noon or 3 p.m., depending on how much “schooling” you want to do. (This doesn’t mean everyone sits in their seat for five hours! That is the beauty of homeschooling — your 7-year-old son can practice his spelling words by writing them with a stick in the dirt, or your teen can read a book lying in the sunshine on the deck!)
A schedule will give a rhythm to your days together, and help your children understand they are not on vacation. It may also help them wrap their heads around the fact that you have the authority and the ability to continue to educate them, even without the help of a professional because you do!
* * * * * * *
Things you can do to foster a love of learning in your children:
1. Get out some maps or a globe and spend an hour hunting down various countries and geographical features. Find other fun suggestions about ways to explore geography on the internet. Try https://blessedbeyondcrazy.com/5-geography-games/.
2. Read aloud a book that has some substance, but is still enjoyable. This can be done with multiple children of varying ages. Pick something appropriate for everyone and choose something your children might not pick up on their own.
Consider Greek mythology, Aesop’s Fables, short stories by writers such as Arthur Conan Doyle and O. Henry, or books like the Little House on the Prairie series and The Chronicles of Narnia. There is a wealth of literature our children will love, if only they are exposed to it. (Pick some sort of classic, for heaven’s sake, our kids get enough exposure to Junie B. Jones and Harry Potter without our help, not to mention a steady diet of “literature” with a radical feminist agenda.
Find good reading suggestions at https://www.setonbooks.com/summerreading.php.
3. Cook a meal together. This is educational and serves the family’s needs at the same time. Talk about measurements — if you don’t remember how many tablespoons are in a cup, look it up together — talk about nutrition, talk about the recipes your grandma used to make (my grandpa made pickles!). Ask your kids what foods they like best and why, or have them write out a recipe by hand, or briefly research the foods of another culture and get back to you about what they learned.
Try baking together and then have tea-time. Your children can listen to you read a story or a poem or a book about elephants while they relish the cookies you have made together.
4. Memorize something! Don’t underestimate the value of memorization! Help your children memorize a piece of poetry, a history timeline, or an excerpt of an important document or speech. At one point, my children memorized an American History timeline with 20 items on it. It gave them a framework that enabled them to make more sense of everything they learned about American history from that point on.
We also spent some time memorizing several Shakespearean speeches over the years, which not only gave my teens a sense of accomplishment, but gave them courage: “Oh, Shakespeare? I am not afraid to read his stuff — I memorized a speech from ‘The Merchant of Venice’ one time.” The same is true with biblical language. Try Psalm 23. It is a lovely piece to memorize and your children can carry it with them forever in their minds and hearts.
I found some great suggestions for memory work at https://pambarnhill.com/memory-work-for-homeschool/.
Note: Keep it simple. Don’t try to memorize too much at a time. Learn one or two lines a day and add to that daily until little Jimmy has learned his poem.
5. Watch educational shows together or age-appropriate movies based on good literature or real life events, such as The Passion, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Giver, or The Lord of the Rings trilogy. You can often find free resources online to help you discuss the content and themes of these kinds of movies.
Establish daily journaling. Explain to your children the advantages of keeping a journal or diary. When they are older, it will tell them much more than a picture ever could about their younger selves. Set the example and journal with them, if possible.
Encourage your children to write (with a pencil or pen and a notebook) about their experiences, their dreams and their concerns, or suggest they write a story or record quotes from others that they find inspirational. If your child has trouble writing, let him dictate to you and write for him! Sometimes children have a lot to say but it is too difficult to express thoughts and concentrate on mechanics simultaneously.
Learn about nature journaling at https://blog.bravewriter.com/2016/05/23/best-of-the-blog-nature-journaling/.
* * * * * * *
A few final thoughts:
Fostering a love of learning isn’t hard, but it does take time. We have to set the example and get off our phone and computers — then we will have the credibility to require our children to do the same!
Keep this in mind: You know more than you think you do and you can run your home the way you think is best. You are the parent. You have the right and the responsibility to be the first educators of your children.
If you don’t have good discipline in your home — that is, if your kids won’t listen to you — you will be at a disadvantage. While the kids are running riot, you might want to consider reading a parenting book by Dr. Ray Guarendi or Dr. Greg Popcak. They are Catholic fathers, as well as psychologists, and they speak from experience as well as professional knowledge. Who knows — this might be the perfect time to implement a few of their suggestions, some of which go hand in hand with spending more time with your children.
Finally, plan, but don’t over-think. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed! Stick to the basics. Build into the day imaginative play time for the younger children; look things up in books, take walks and study nature; but most of all, put the focus on enjoying yourself with your children and sharing a love of learning and a love of being together.
If you become an all-year-round homeschool teacher and needed to create more intensive curriculum for your children, there are lots of resources to tap into, but the key for today, and for the next few weeks, is to come alongside your children in their learning experience.