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Tips for Teaching Your Child at Home… Without Losing It!

April 10, 2020
By Michael McKee, Ed.S., LPA, LSSP, NCSP

Ok, so the truth is out there. This homeschooling stuff is hard. Really hard. This COVID-19 learning has only further confirmed to me that I could not be a teacher. I will gladly “rush into the fire” when a kiddo is having a meltdown, but it is temporary, and then I get to help someone else. But to have to teach the same kiddos day after day for hours on end is for the birds. Teachers deserve a medal, a Wheaties box cover, and the oft-coveted margarita machine.  Unfortunately, desperate times call for desperate measures, so it is incumbent upon us parents (working or otherwise) to hold up the torch and go forward into the quest for our child’s education. Having dealt with some bumps and bruises of the “new normal,” I thought I might pass along some strategies that may be helpful to others:

“Don’t sweat the small stuff”- So, this is the most important tip. If you don’t read anything else, read this one. Everyone is in the midst of a global pandemic. This means everyone… worldwide (this is what “global” means… my kid taught me that). This is a stressful time for kids, for parents, for teachers, for everyone. Many of you are not used to having to watch your kids every day, all day. Many more of you are not used to having to teach your child all day long as well as care for them. Even more are not used to working remotely from home while having to teach your children, watch your children, and also take care of your house. If your child’s schoolwork is too much for you or your family to mentally handle right now, then put it away. Save it for another day or just don’t do it. The mental health of your family is more important than your child’s April e-learning lessons during a global pandemic. I don’t want to discount or dismiss the importance of education, but at this very minute in history, it falls behind health, safety, and security. If the work that your child’s teacher is giving you is too much for your family to mentally handle, then do not add more stress to yourself. If you need to reduce the school workload, talk to your teacher about it. I am certain that they are more than willing to help you find an appropriate workload to accommodate your needs. Which flows into…

“Focus on the Important Stuff” – When you do help your kiddo do work, focus on what is most important. Does that mean that reading can take a backseat so we can focus on math? If that is what is most important to you and your child, then sure! Maybe your child will need to read much more than worry about math. Maybe science is the best way to help them with math and reading. Maybe the 3 Rs (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic) all need to take a break so that you can teach your child to cook, clean, or sew. Focus on the most meaningful tasks for you and your child during these times.

“Monkey See, Monkey Do”- Kids learn by watching, and whether we want to admit it or not, we are modeling behavior for our kiddos, especially how we handle stress and frustration, how we relax, and how we communicate when we are frustrated. Children will often copy the words and actions of their parents. Controlling your own behavior will help to control your child’s behavior. Try to be calm and neutral as much as possible. When you do handle things in a not so appropriate manner, acknowledge it and show them how to handle making a mistake (i.e., own up to the mistake, apologize, make amends, etc.).

“Control”- While you can’t control the virus and what is going on outside your house, you can control some things inside your home. Create clear routines and expectations for yourself and your child. This will/can include schedules, social stories, feelings cards, visuals, task lists, break cards, etc. Be sure to also set up break times and reward times to help reinforce appropriate behavior. This should also include setting up break times for yourself, as well!  Allowing your children to take a part in the creation of the schedule and activities will help their buy-in, which will also help their willingness to follow along. For kiddos that frequently engage in power struggles, allowing them opportunities to make choices (i.e., choose what assignment to do first, choose what to eat for lunch, etc.). will help them to gain some power in their daily routine.

“That was Funny and Moving” – Engaging your emotions and senses can help foster learning. Come up with silly songs to remember details. Tell funny jokes to recall a spelling pattern. There is also a great deal of evidence out there that tells us that multi-sensory approaches to learning help to encode information. So, when learning letters, for example, it helps to hear them, say them, and then finger write them in the sky or in shaving cream. The more senses that are engaged, the more likely the child is to learn the lesson.

“Be a Behavior Detective”- Look past negative behavior to figure out what your child is trying to communicate. Remember, all behavior is communication, and knowing why a child is behaving in a certain way (i.e., the “function” of the behavior) will help you figure out what it is your child is trying to tell you. Sometimes, all it takes is an honest, open conversation with your child regarding why they might be behaving a certain way. In other times, it takes some assistance to figure that out. If you need help, do not hesitate to ask for it. Your teachers and support staff are happy to assist you with creating strategies to help prevent or appropriately respond to behavioral and academic challenges. Which reminds me…

“Ask for Help”- Your teachers, principals, and support staff are all available to help you and your child. They are there to assist you and your child(ren) with the work, the structure, and even the motivation. They can talk to you and/or your child and help you all to problem solve any issues you may have. This is a novel situation for everyone, and its ok to not know how to handle it. Everyone needs help sometimes, and that is ok.

“The Joys of Busy Work”- “Busy work” has always had a negative connotation and understandably so. It is meant to just keep kids “busy” and, by contrast, not “actively learning.” However, I now understand the basic 2 premises of “busy work”: 1) independent practice – that is to repeat skills that you readily know so as to not lose unpracticed skills, and 2) to allow the teacher time to help others or to actively do other activities. Busy work does not only have to be worksheets. Busywork can also be play-based (i.e., build me a house with those legos, make me a pizza with playdoh, draw me a picture of our house, etc.). Most kids, especially younger ones, learn by doing… and this can include just engaging in a creative activity that they enjoy. Having lots of “busy-work” is essential to allow your children time to be occupied so that you can accomplish all you need to do! Which reminds me….

“Please Put on Your Safety Mask Before Helping Others” – In case you missed the very first point, I just want to reiterate it again. Manage your own stress appropriately by ensuring that you are taking care of yourself. I know you keep hearing this, but self-care is so important! Take time out of your day to make sure that you are taking care of yourself. If that means that the dishes don’t get done, so be it. If that means that your child misses an assignment, so be it. Get some fresh air, take a nap, read, etc. Please just make sure that you are appropriately managing yourself so that you can better manage everyone and everything else!

Good luck out there! We all can, and will, get through this together.