I started homeschooling my two sons in January 2012. They were in 5th and 2nd grades. My oldest has now gone on to go to and graduate from welding school. My youngest is currently in what would have been his junior year if he went to a public or private school.
Both boys also have ADHD. This added a unique aspect to our homeschooling as I had to find ways to keep them engaged and entertained while also actively learning. Some days went much better than others in those early days.
And it wasn’t until I finally started really paying attention to what we did on the days it was better that I figured out why it was better. The biggest thing I noticed was that whenever we tried to replicate school at home, it was a bad day.
But when we did our own thing? Made up and followed our own rules? Those days were so much better.
So I incorporated our own rules and made our own “school” and homeschooling became…well, I won’t lie and say it was a breeze. But it was a whole lot easier.
And all of that happened after I had spent months researching, planning, and preparing to homeschool.
Which means if you made a quick decision to homeschool after being presented with what you considered to be less-than-ideal choices in our current circumstances, you feel just as behind the eight ball as I did in those early days. Maybe even more so.
That’s why I want to offer you nine of my best tips for making homeschooling easier on both you and your kiddos regardless of their age or grade level.
Have a “treat basket”
Rewards motivate everyone, not just kids. But kids definitely do better with the external motivation of getting a treat or reward when they finish something. This idea was actually a spinoff of an idea my younger son’s teacher used in her classroom.
Grab a basket, bucket, bag, or other storage option and fill it with little treats. We’re not talking birthday or Christmas present-type stuff here. Little dollar store items are perfect for this. Some of the things I used to put in ours included:
· Sidewalk chalk
· Glow sticks
· Tiny figures (soldiers, dinosaurs, etc.)
· Matchbox cars
These should be inexpensive little things that a kid would get excited to get but won’t break the bank for you.
Then decide the terms for earning their treats. It might be that you give them one after they finish a full day’s work or a full week. Or you might give them a treat for doing their most difficult subject without complaint or procrastination.
You might tie it to behavior rather than schoolwork completion. The terms are up to you because you know what works best in your house. But in general, I would suggest trying to set terms that keep the treat novel and exciting. If they get it every day or more than once a day, the novelty may wear off and it won’t motivate them anymore.
It’s also a good idea to rotate different things in and out of your treat basket to ensure there’s always something new and different. This will also help keep your kid excited and motivated to earn their rewards.
Let them “teach” a stuffed animal or younger sibling
Everyone learns in different ways. Some do best by listening, others by reading, and some by watching. Some people need a combination of learning methods to fully learn something. But one thing is true for almost everyone: being able to teach it to someone else means mastery.
Let your kiddo “teach” a stuffed animal what they’re learning. Too old for toys? Then have them teach their younger sibling or another person who doesn’t already know what they’re teaching.
Letting your kid teach someone else will accomplish two things. First, when you listen in, you’ll be able to see where they might still have weaknesses. This will help you know where to focus your efforts going forward.
Second, when you’re busy and need to focus on another child or some work for a little while, this keeps your kid doing school while also giving you the time you need to get those other things done.
This is also great for younger kids who need more practice with skills such as reading. They feel a lot less pressure reading to a stuffed animal or doll than they do reading to you or another person. And again, it gives you the break you might need to help another kid, do some work, or just not feel the urge to scream as your child pretends they don’t know how to read the word “frog” despite reading the same book for the millionth time today.
Let them listen to music
TV is obviously going to be a distraction from schoolwork. But silence can also be distracting and make it difficult to work. The compromise? Music!
Turn on some music that doesn’t have lyrics (or has lyrics in another language) so they aren’t distracted by singing along or listening too hard to the music. Play it softly so everyone can still talk and be easily heard.
Music offers the noise that some people need to be able to concentrate while not offering visuals to distract from the task at hand. It activates both hemispheres of the brain which maximizes learning and improves your memory. And classical music has even been shown to treat insomnia in college students, so you might try playing some at bedtime too.
If everyone in the house has different musical tastes, let everyone use earbuds and a personal device with their own playlist. This can also be helpful if you’re trying to work while teaching and you need to make phone calls or get on video chats.
Have “do-overs” instead of corrections
In traditional school, your kid gets a paper back that’s all marked up with wrong answers and told to “correct their work.” The intention is good but man, it can really demotivate someone! Being told to “correct” something is saying that it’s wrong, and even though their answers may be wrong, kids often take it to mean something is wrong with them.
So instead of telling your kiddo to correct their work, instead suggest a do-over. Tell them you want them to take a look at the work in question and try it again. Allow them as many do-overs as they need — with your help, of course, if they continue to struggle.
It’s important to remember that traditional school is all about grades but homeschool doesn’t have to be. While a teacher in a classroom of 20–30 students needs to rely on grades to know who’s ready to move on and who isn’t, who struggles and who doesn’t, and keep the whole class moving, you’re teaching one individual (even if you have multiple kids, it’s still not a classroom).
You can devote more time to mastery without relying on grading papers and teaching your kid that learning means scoring a specific grade on assignments. You can teach them that making mistakes is part of learning and trying again is how we learn.
Use a pencil to mark mistakes
Along with do-overs, using a pencil to mark mistakes is another way you can make things a little easier on both you and your kiddo. Marking errors in pen is permanent. Even after your child corrects the work, that mark is still there reminding them they got it wrong.
If your kid is one who struggles with self-esteem or has a learning disability, these marks can make them feel bad. Using a pencil instead allows you to mark the work they need to correct while also being a visual reminder that a mistake isn’t permanent.
Once they’ve corrected the work, you can erase the pencil mark and it’s as if it was never there. It teaches your child that when you make a mistake, you can fix it and move on.
If you’re required to keep a portfolio, this can also be helpful because you don’t need to sort through all their schoolwork to choose the “best” pieces to include in the portfolio. Everything will show progress and mastery, which is what anyone evaluating the portfolio will be looking for.
Let them burn off some energy
Whether they’re little kids or kids with ADHD, sometimes the biggest struggle for kids and school is sitting still. They have all this energy and can’t do anything with it because they’re supposed to sit and focus.
I found for both of my sons with ADHD, burning off that energy made a huge difference in how our day went. We started with some physical activity before we even started school for the day. Then we would take frequent breaks throughout the day so they could go on bike rides, run around the yard, or otherwise burn off any more energy that had built up.
Have plenty of different options for this. Let them go on a bike ride one time, then play on a swingset another time. Take a swim break if it’s warm enough.
And don’t forget to have some indoor options for those rainy or cold days. We had a mini-trampoline, but you can also keep a jump rope. Sit ups, push ups, and jumping jacks can also also help with burning off energy. Even some yoga can help.
Put stickers on a job well done
Whether it’s just a regular assignment or you give them tests, sometimes you’ll get some work from them that is outstanding. They get everything correct, or have beautiful penmanship, or something else that is knocking it out of the park compared to their typical work.
When you get that, throw some stickers on it so they can see how proud you are of that work. Like the treat basket, these stickers can help them feel more motivated — and it offers the example of what you’re looking for to earn more stickers.
While you can use any stickers, I found it worked best when I used ones that were specifically geared toward my sons’ interests. Even if there aren’t any stickers for your child’s particular interests, try choosing some sticker packs that can be unique to each child.
You might even offer to put the sticker on your child’s shirt or hand so they can show it off, if that gets them happy and excited. Just don’t forget to take it off their clothing before you do laundry!
Point out what they did right
We often focus on the mistakes that are made. This makes sense because we use those mistakes to know what we need to go over again and where our child needs more help. But a focus on mistakes can also make our kid feel like we do nothing but find fault with them.
So flip the script. Instead of pointing out the mistakes, even to suggest a do-over, point out what they did right. Point out their correct answers, neat handwriting, quick responses, etc. Praise them for the good stuff instead of pointing out any of the negative.
This doesn’t mean you ignore the negative. You still pay attention to their mistakes or confusion so you can determine where you need to continue helping them and going over the same material so they can learn it. You just don’t point it out to them.
One significant upside I found to this was that when I focused on what they did right, they were less resistant when we went over the same stuff multiple times. They would happily listen, watch, and work on the same things again and again instead of saying, “Ugh, multiplication again?!”
Do school on their schedule
My oldest was a kid who preferred to get up early, get his schoolwork done, and have the rest of his day free to do whatever he wanted. My youngest was like that and now he tends to prefer to do his own thing in the mornings and early afternoons and then do school in the late afternoon and evening. And when I gave them both that freedom, I found they did their work more quickly and more accurately.
There also weren’t any complaints once we started doing it on their schedule. Let’s think about this for a minute. We all know whether we’re a night owl or a morning person, and we know other people aren’t always the same as we are.
Just because our kids are our kids doesn’t mean they can’t be a night owl to our morning person or vice versa. Figuring out the right time of day (or evening) when doing school will be met with less complaint and more ease can make things so much easier.
If the thought of doing school in the evening feels weird to you, think about all the people who take night classes. It might not be the traditional way of doing the earlier years of education — but if you cared about doing things the traditional way, you probably wouldn’t have opted to homeschool.
Don’t beat yourself up
No matter what you do to make homeschooling easier, there will be some hard days. Homeschooling is no different than life itself: everyone has bad days no matter how great their life is.
So do yourself a favor and don’t beat yourself up. Remember that whatever reasons you had for choosing to homeschool, they all ultimately come back to one thing: you thought it was what was best for your kid.
As long as you still believe that, you’re doing fine. And your kids will be fine.
Wendy Miller is a Single Mom Coach & meditation teacher. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she began using meditation and other tools, to heal herself, set boundaries, and only engage in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love & happiness they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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