“Classroom Management” at the Kitchen Table: How to Homeschool Without Going Crazy
Are you new to homeschooling and worried that your kids won't listen to you the way they listen in a controlled classroom environment? Or have you been at this gig for years and your kids are suddenly starting to get at each other’s throats? Wherever you’re at in your homeschooling journey, keeping your kids on track can be a challenge. Here are five tips to help your kids learn effectively while your sanity stays intact.
Identify Your Strengths
Like every teacher, you have your own strengths and weaknesses. If you take the time to discover and play to your strengths, however, while minimizing your weaknesses, you’ll find your children following suit with their learning.
Elizabeth Ricci, who has homeschooled her four children for six years, points out that “some homeschool parents are wonderfully creative. Others are extremely organized. Some are super fun. I am none of those.”
However, she is great at arranging schedules and spreadsheets that focus on each child’s needs, giving them the attention they need to stay motivated and focused. Another parent might be better at creating imaginative visuals or games to keep kids on task. By funneling your strengths into your daily planning rather than forcing yourself to fit into other homeschooling molds, you will focus your energies on nurturing the most effective teaching environment.
Identify Your Kids’ Strengths, Too
Just as you must focus on using your own personality and skills in your home classroom, you should encourage your kids to do the same. Ricci shares that her oldest daughter, a high school student, works better having someone by her side as she completes her work. “She needs to know that the relational component is in place. So I try to stay near her as much as I can so she knows there’s always help available.”
Michelle Habrych, on the other hand, a ten-year homeschooler of two, knows that her son gets easily distracted and needs to move around to different settings, alone, in order to stay on task. That’s one of the benefits of homeschooling, of course: tailoring teaching to your children’s unique learning styles.
Sure, we all want our kids to be intrinsically motivated to learn. And as a homeschooler, you can trust that they likely very much are. However, some days they may just need a little extra push to stick to their work. When you sense your students could use an incentive, don’t wait too long; they could interpret your actions as a bribery of desperation! Have a daily sticker and reward system for younger kids or weekly earned activities for teens. Habrych admits that her kids can get on each others’ nerves, but “when they are united for a common purpose–say going to a movie later in the day–they can typically work without annoying each other so they don’t miss out.”
Try a Seating Chart
They aren’t just for traditional classrooms! Even the smallest families can benefit from assigned seats, where personal space and focus on work are the priority. While one table may be easier for you to access as the teacher, the close quarters can tempt your kids to talk, argue, or distract one another too often. Work on prevention. Decide at the start of the day where kids’ work stations will be, or rotate throughout the teaching schedule if changing settings helps them learn.
Strive for Balance
Giving students freedom to choose within your guidelines gives them the opportunity to take ownership of their learning while working within your learning objectives. You may want your children to learn about Civil Rights, for example, but give them freedom to choose one famous figure from the era for a biographical report. “Allowing them the freedom to choose what/when leads to fewer struggles between us, as well as fewer between themselves,” says Habrych.
And remember, it’s okay to just let it go sometimes. There may be days where the kids are more active or noisy than usual. “I struggle between my intense desire for them to ‘stay on task,’” says Ricci, “and my sheer delight that they love being together, goofing off, making videos, shooting baskets and just laughing.”
And that’s fine sometimes. Isn’t that why we homeschool?