Ask the Teacher: How do I get my Kids to Work from Home?
With many the schools closed right now, homeschooling has become the new "normal." As a result I have had a lot of rather frantic parents (and even a few high school teachers with their little kids at home) asking me how this school thing is done. Today I am going to provide a few tips to hopefully make lives a little easier and perhaps save you from a few grey hairs.
Create a Schedule
Children are used to their lives being on a schedule once they are in school. They get up five days a week and go to the same place, with the same people, in the same way and do for the most part the same things at the same time each day. I am willing to bet that for most working people your life is largely the same as well. At the very least your days revolve around the schedule set by the school day. This is a critical thing to keep, especially for our children who may have special needs. Lack of a schedule creates anxiety in many children because they do not know what the expectations are or when those expectations are finished. I know that teachers around the world are scrambling right now trying to put together online packages for the kids to do but without us there to say Math is from 10-11am it's very difficult for your children to separate that time themselves. Even high school students will struggle with this. This is a great time to show them your expect adult organizational skills (ha ha ha). Help them create a schedule that breaks down the work they need to do. In case you are struggling with timetable creation, I shared my school timetable here.
Also I strongly recommend starting the morning and afternoon with a quiet and simple activity. Something like the spelling bee toolbox can be great because it comes with grade organized sheets you can just print and use. Reading is also a good way to start.
Handling complaining (or whining, or tantrums)
Let's start this topic by first saying that I know (very well) how hard this can be to deal with. Also, most people are at a disadvantage at the moment because you are also trying to work from home and handling complaining and tantrums while you are stressed as well can be extremely difficult. Also, I could write a whole post, JUST about handling this and likely will at some point but let's start with the basics.
Do your best not to handle them while you are angry yourself. If this means that you walk away from your child for ten minutes to calm down this is okay. I have had to take ten deep breaths before continuing to handle a situation with children in my classroom. I have even had to send them into another classroom all together for the afternoon because I recognized I was getting too frustrated. This doesn't mean you are a bad teacher/parent/child care worker. This means that you are a self aware adult who can control their emotions and understands them.
If you are calm try and give concrete reasons why the work needs to be completed. Authority statements like "Because I'm your Father" are not likely to end the complaints, especially not with your teenagers who are at an age where authority is taken more like a "challenge accepted" statement than a reason to do anything. Instead try explaining to them that just because they are not in school at the moment doesn't mean they don't have school work. Show them that you are working from home as well. As I have said before, children model the things we do.
Listen to them when they complain but don't allow their reasons to get them out of work. For example, my friends sixteen year old recently said she didn't want to do her math homework because she couldn't have her best friend over to do the work with her and they always did it together in class. I think really what was happening wasn't that Kayla wasn't capable of the math work it was that she missed the social connection of doing it with her friend. My friend called me ready to pull out her hair but I asked her to think about what Kayla was really saying. She calmed down and agreed that it was likely Kayla just missed her friend and then said "Well why can't she just call her?!"
"Why can't she?" I asked in return. Turns out she could, and did. Now the girls are calling each other at 10am every morning and doing math together. No more fighting and better yet they are doing it every day because it's scheduled. Listen to why your kids are complaining and help them problem solve. Trust me, listening always helps.
Until Listening doesn't help.... So set rules.
Contrary to my last statement there are moments where no amount of listening will help you because the reality of it is that your kids are just trying to push your buttons and see what they can get away with. This is not them being cruel. It's them being kids. I however, have a secret for you. Children like rules. I'm serious, really. Rules are the things that make them feel the most secure and it's something I take very seriously in my job as a teacher.
When I explain it to parents I ask them to imagine that they went to work tomorrow and they had a new boss. That new boss said, "Ok do whatever you would like! I don't care!" That sounds awesome right? Wrong. The next day you come to work at your usual time and your new boss looks at you and says "Amanda I need to see you in my office." Obviously you are in trouble. She sits you down and says "I don't understand why you were not here on time today." You try and explain that you came to work how you always do, but your boss continues by saying that you should have been there when the first person got there! A half hour earlier! "But how could I know that?" you ask. They respond with "Well it was an expectation. Now I'm going to have to write you up."
Did the story above make you feel good? Where you anxious or depressed? Would you keep that job or start looking for new ones? The difference is as an adult you have choices. As a kid you are stuck, you can't quit school. (Well you can but we really don't want that!) Rules are the things that feel like concrete under our kids feet. They tell them specifically what they can and can't do so they don't get in trouble or when they do get in trouble they know exactly why. Make sure you have clear rules for this period of time and better yet stick to those rules. It is just as confusing if you get in trouble sometimes and not always.
Make Learning the Carrot on a Stick
I'm not saying you need to get super creative here, don't panic, but find ways to motivate your kids to want to do the work. Kayla isn't raising hell in her house anymore because she gets to call her friend every morning. Another family who has a super active 5-year old gave him squirt bottles with food colouring in them and told him to go write the alphabet in the snow. (chalk on pavement works well too for those of you without the white stuff.)
Don't reinvent the wheel, it's not necessary but finding ways to incorporate your kids favourite things into learning time will make a huge difference in the number of fights you have about it.
So let's face it. They are not doing as much as they should right now, guess what. It doesn't matter. Yup I said it. School is not the be-all and end-all of life. (I think I just got fired as a teacher.) They are not behind. Everyone is dealing with this. Their teachers know what they are doing at home right now too. (Isn't Disney plus a fascinating new streaming service?) What they can be doing though is something that is super important but I rarely have time to teach them in school. Life skills.
My Cousin, who works in finance, taught her children what routing numbers and the Dow Jones are the other day. How cool is that? Maybe they will go on to be investment bankers and they will start a family firm. Kayla's mom who is a film editor taught her kids how to edit a movie for production. (I kind of wish I got that lesson.) What do you do for work? Show your kids and let them get excited about it. It's very rare that we get to really show our children what we do on a daily basis and kids really want to know. Especially our teens who are starting to think about their own futures.
On the more boring but so important side, kids can be in the kitchen cooking and baking, making beds, learning to vacuum, helping garden. The list of things is absolutely endless and working those things into the day is very important to developing health adults who can take care of themselves. My cousin called it "life skills" on her schedule.
Remember your Kids Know You.
Just like you know them the best, they know you the best too. They understand you are stressed and worried. They know what buttons you have and will try and push them. They even know when they have gone too far. My cousin went to bed yesterday to find this note on her bed.
It's adorable and also very honest. He knows his Mom needs a little TLC and is more than willing to help her. Ask your kids for what you need too. You would be surprised how much they want to give it.