If you’re the parent of children who have taken to homeschooling like a duck to water, bring you their finished assignments with a satisfied smile on their faces and then ask if they can help you to fix lunch – this post is not for you! Go away and be smug and superior somewhere else. Ideally quietly so you don’t make the rest of us feel worse than we do already.
If your child was already struggling with homework, chances are emergency homeschooling has been challenging. If they have any additional needs on top (such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism, ADHD, sensory processing, auditory processing etc) then getting them to do any work might have become a nightmare. Fear not, there are millions of parents experiencing the same difficulties.
You’ve tried bribing, you’ve tried punishing, you’ve tried ignoring. If you’re at the end of your rope, here are five 5 min fixes that might be worth trying.
1. Questions, questions
Faced with ‘bad’ behaviour, it is easy to get triggered. Why on earth won’t they write anything? Why do they string out every task so it lasts all friggin’ day? Why do they hide out in their bedroom? Why are they in tears when you simply ask them to read a page of a book? Why do they swear and hit? Why do they always need you to sit with them to achieve anything? Why do they act like they don’t get it when you know they are so smart?
All behaviour is communication and this helps me hugely to reframe my thinking. After I’ve lost my chilli and walked away, I can then see that my eldest, Conrad, is actually trying to self-advocate when he acts out. He’s trying to tell me something important but doesn’t have the skills yet to explain in a way that I can easily understand.
It turns out that his refusal to go on the lovely, class zoom calls is due to the noise level and him being reminded painfully that he’s missing his friends. But it took a lot of detective work to get from his tears and temper to those perfectly understandable reasons.
We want them to be able to say:
I’m having a hard time because…
I am struggling with…
I am upset because…
Is it ok if…
I don’t like that because…
I am not sure how to get started on…
Can I do that later because…
Can you help me with…
Possible sentence starters to open up dialogue:
You seem angry, is it because…
I wonder what would happen if we never…
It looks as if you’re struggling with…
2. Choices, choices
We all need autonomy over what we do but kids have very little power, so tend to take it when they can. Be that over food, clothing or homeschooling. Can you find them a choice? Do they have to learn that in the way prescribed? Is there something else they could do instead? Can they think of another option?
I think chores can make a good alternative choice. That way we don’t need to feel like we’ve just rolled over and given in (again). Click here for 22 chores which double as handwriting help. This also lets you judge how much they dislike the learning task and try to figure out why. For example, If they’d rather do literally anything than write you might want to get some help to investigate why. Click here for a way to judge roughly where they are in writing, reading and spelling.
If you realise they need a targeted boost in a particular area, remember it’s OK to say NO to school – here is my post about that.
3. Plan, but plan together
Spend five mins before you start homeschooling reflecting on the previous day. What you can celebrate? What upset you both and why? Write a list of some ideas about how you might solve yesterday’s problem and get your child o pick their favourite solution to try.
Hopefully that gives you a workable plan for the day. But I think you also need to create a plan for if/when it goes wrong. Hope for the best but plan for the worst.
4. Breaks (and lots of them)
In our culture we aren’t used to having breaks but research and neurology really backs up the effectiveness of short work periods with short (wordless) breaks. Remember: your child’s concentration span is their age in minutes plus 2.
Plus, dyslexic children tend to have weaker verbal memory so get overloaded quickly. We need to give even more wordless breaks otherwise you will find they haven’t transferred the info to long term memory. Do you find yourself shouting: But we did this yesterday? The solution is more breaks!
Heavy work that works the muscles is also a great idea to help them feel grounded. This might be crunching celery, sucking a drink through a straw, push-ups, playing with blue tac or carrying laundry.
Also, if homeschooling tasks empty their emotional bucket quickly then they will need frequent opportunities to fill it back up with enjoyable activities. Otherwise they will get whiny and slow down. Or fizzy and explode like a shaken bottle of pop.
5. Positive alternatives
Sometimes your child will have a genuine need (such as hunger) which has to be met. But what if it’s less acceptable? For example, they might need to punch something. In which case, they need an alternative to punching their sibling. Could they have a punch bag, bean bag or pillows to pummel? That way you can praise them for making good choices whilst they still meet their need.
As an example, my toddler tends to kick his brother when he wants to play. Obviously, that doesn’t work, it just makes his older brother try to place him on the naughty step! But if we can interpret bizarre behaviour then we can help everyone get their needs met and keep the peace.
Hopefully one or more of these 5 min fixes will help, but if not, here is my guide to ways you can use screen time and not feel guilty.
Or perhaps you’re already doing everything right and you simply need to re-evaluate how you are spending this time? Here are 7 alternative things you could focus on during emergency homeschooling.
Above all, remember, this will pass and just become a weird collective memory and a page in the history books. Children won’t remember what you taught them, they’ll remember how you made them feel.