I joyfully proclaim that parents are the primary teachers of their children. Little did I know after decades of asserting this truth that parents would find themselves not only being the primary teacher, but their child’s homeschool teacher. The new reality that we are faced with due to COVID-19 is proving challenging for many. You are not alone. Even though it may not feel like it at the moment, I know you can do this! Unlike your child’s teacher, you had no chance for teacher training, staff development, learning established routines, formulating expectations, or any kind of emotional preparation. Instead, this opportunity was thrust into your lap, leaving many to think, “Great, now what?” Your child’s school hasn’t done anything like this before either, so they have been thrown for a loop as well. Your child knows you as “mom” or “dad”, now they have to adjust to your new role as their teacher. There is plenty of confusion, uncertainty, trial and error, new experiences and some panic taking place. However, you can do this! I would like to help. So, let’s take a step back, take a deep breath, and start with a bit of training. Let’s think about how to best proceed as a teacher at the beginning of your school year. Teachers work longer hours at the beginning of the year, getting routines established and learning about the students. Each new year holds new adventures and challenges, so don’t be surprised if it seems it is taking a lot out of you right now. Give yourself a break. Hopefully these suggestions will help you become more comfortable with your new role.
Establish a peaceful environment – As much as you can, establish an environment that is conducive to learning. Families have different homes. You may have cozy accommodations or you may have an entire room or two that you can fully devote to being a classroom. No matter what your circumstance is, make the most of it. Your student can help you with this by working with you to create their own learning area which is a wonderful learning experience for them. It will make their space personal and they will feel accomplished when they are done. Provide an area with the fewest distractions possible, a sturdy place to write, good lighting, plenty of school supplies (pencils, pencil sharpener, colored pencils, etc.), all of the books/supplies from school that will be needed for completing assignments. It would also be good to have folders or some other organizational tool for work “To Do” and work that is “Done”.
Set expectations – The beginning of school is a time to establish routines and set expectations. The best teachers invest the time needed to form good habits before introducing new curriculum. This takes time, but is it ever worth it! Having a daily schedule, routines, behavioral boundaries and systems in place will help the day flow and help children build self efficacy. Children are capable of so much and usually more than we give them credit for.
- Daily schedules – How will your days be structured? Set a start time, plan for short amounts of instructional time (30 minutes or so). Plan breaks between instructional times which will be used for going to the bathroom, getting drinks/snacks, getting the wiggles out and giving their minds a bit of rest. If you have to work, your child can use a clock to keep their own time, or you can teach them to use a timer. Having a set schedule gives children the peace of mind that instruction will be over soon, and knowing that they can wait helps them to further develop their self-control. It is a good idea for students to choose their drink and snacks the night before or in the morning before school, so they do not ask you about a snack and so they can have plenty of time to enjoy their snacks.
- If you are working from home, it can be very difficult to answer your child’s questions precisely when they want to ask them. Schedule some time periodically to check in with them. If they know there is a time set aside to ask questions, the compulsion to ask a question as soon as it pops into their heads subsides a bit. Make sure they have some paper available to keep track of questions they want to ask you. You and your child may be surprised at how many answers to their questions they can discover for themselves.
- Schedule some quiet times in the house when you are working and they want to take breaks. These focused times can be used to play with legos, draw, read a book for pleasure, work on a puzzle, play with toys, etc. This time is not for screens. The key is to allow them to spend some time alone. This teaches focus and the ability to entertain themselves. The activity is not structured, just quiet.
- Behavioral boundaries – How do you expect your child to behave while at “school”? While they are in class expect them to focus, listen attentively, and do what is asked of them. They will have regular breaks, so this is not asking too much. Expect the same respect they give their teachers at school. (If your child does not respect his/her teacher, then this is a topic for another blog.) Children should respond favorably the first time they are asked to do something. They should complete assignments to the very best of their ability and have a good attitude. At SCA students are expected to live like Warriors which means they live by the Warriors’ Creed. “As we strive to live our lives, in Christ, through Christ, and for Christ, we live with humility, live with integrity, live with joy, live with excellence, live with hope, live with courage, live with love, all for the glory of God!” This is a great list of expectations that we should demonstrate in our own lives and teach our children to do the same.
- Develop systems – When you have systems in place things go much more smoothly. Make a plan for where work “To Do” will be kept as well as “Completed” work. Work with your child to make a list of things they can do when they are finished with their school work. If they ask what they should do next or inform you that they are bored, you can tell them to check their list and leave it at that. They are capable. You may want to add a final sentence to the bottom of the list such as, “If none of these things appeal to you at the moment, feel free to come up with additions to this list. I cannot wait to hear about what you have done later today”.
Listen attentively – Your child does need to be heard, which is why time should be devoted to listening to their questions, things they would like to do, things they have learned during the day, anything they want to talk about. Listen to them. They know when you are just nodding your head and not really listening. You have very smart children.
Be Grateful – Have your children keep a gratitude journal. This does wonders for the heart and mind. This has been used to great effect with many of my students and in my own life. Each day write at least three gratitudes from the day. There are to be no repeats. Think of specific things that happened this day and write a quick sentence about them. These are great to share at the dinner table or before night time prayers. It is so good to end a day with counting our blessings. It makes for a peaceful night’s sleep and in the morning, you have another day to discover God’s blessings, and students will be looking for things to add to their gratitude journal. We all are so much happier when we are focused on looking for the good rather than focusing on the bad.
Celebrate! – Celebrate from time to time. Whether it is finishing a book, memorizing the Presidents, staying on schedule, creating a beautiful piece of art, or just finishing the week of school, find reasons to be joyful. One of the best reasons to celebrate is because they are your child! What a gift!
There are, of course, many other tips and tricks. This list is not exhaustive. The most important thing is to engage in your child’s learning. Show interest in what your child is doing with their day. Have a daily recap, even if it is right before bed. Let them tell you about their day and everything they have learned. Ask questions of them. What was their best part of the day? What do they hope to do differently tomorrow? What did they do today that would make God smile? When parents are interested in the student’s learning, the enthusiasm will be contagious. They want to gain your favor and bring you joy.
If you read this and feel overwhelmed, please do not be. The intention of this blog is to encourage, not condemn, and to give advice, not to demand. Just do the best with what you have. There is absolutely no benefit to beating yourself up over what you are not doing well. Take one day at a time. You were created for such a time as this. Your children are a gift to YOU. God has given you everything you need to teach your children well. He has given you Himself. Again, you can do this!
Feel free to email Teresa at [email protected] if you have any questions or any suggestions of other ways to support and come alongside parents.
Written by: Teresa Fraser, M. ED – Head of School