You’ve probably gathered from the post title that I am no expert when it comes to teaching. My intention is to give you guys some tricks that are mostly useful for when your kid/turd is having an off-day. As you’re reading this, please know that our formal, dedicated school time usually lasts an hour (my son is in kindergarten). Although most of these tips are for combatting bratty behavior, most of my school days with my son are not bratty. So, maybe I am an expert.
Trick #1: Leave the Room
There’s a good chance your kid is going to “act up” more around you than they would a teacher. They know your weaknesses and they’re going to try to exploit them. There are days when my son wants to sulk and pout simply because I’m sitting there. It’s a performance and I’m the audience. I noticed that if he has to do independent work (e.g. math problems, copy work), the performance starts up. I get it. It’s boring. Sometimes I want to whine when I’m pulling clothes out of the dryer. One technique I learned is to quickly say, “I need you to copy this sentence. I’ll be back. I have to get my coffee/go to the bathroom/check on something.” In reality, I just leave the room and come back in 3 minutes. Most of the time, the work is complete by the time I come back. Sometimes I have to go in and encourage him to finish (“Oh, just two words!”) and sneak out again to “check on something.” If I’m in the same room, he whimpers and it takes five days for him to write, “The cat is fat.”
Trick #2: Play Dumb/Let Them Teach You
Kids get insecure or frustrated when school work is a challenge. My own thoughts have sabotaged me, so I understand the need to shift my focus from feeling sorry for myself and to a “greater good.” Sometimes “playing dumb” looks like me reading a book to my son and pretending to struggle with words/sounds that he knows or is currently learning. He’s always happy to sound them out for me. If I’m introducing a new math concept, we work on the first worksheet together. He does one problem, I do the next, but I will often struggle to find the appropriate blocks or I’ll choose the wrong ones. Make sure you don’t go too far and enter the realm of comically dumb. I once went overboard and my son thought it was fun and also wanted to be dumb.
Trick #3: Have a Checklist
I’m satisfied when I get to mark something off a list and apparently kids are, too. I keep a schedule of what we’re going to do each day. I started posting my schedule on our cork-board in the office and if my son is being particularly impatient, I’ll show him he only has three tasks. Then I let him check them off as he completes each one. He gets a bit more pumped when he can mark something off. This would also work on a whiteboard or just a sheet of paper.
Trick #4: The Earlier the Better
This may not be true for everyone, but I’ve noticed if we wait until after lunch to do school, it is always worse. Our magic hour is 10 am. I’m reminded of my days working full-time in an office and how work was tolerable before lunch, but torture later in the afternoon. Still, I know people like to take advantage of the flexibility that homeschooling allows (I agree, it is a luxury), but I personally like a schedule and I think children respond well to a predictable routine. Even though kids are the ultimate bringers of chaos, they are happier and less anxious with routines. I read that on the google.
Trick #5: Don’t Do Anything Too Fun Prior to School
“Hey, I see you’re having a blast. Why don’t you stop and come in here and learn to read?” My husband and I let our son play video games. He is not allowed to play them before school. There have been mornings in the past where I was like, “Sure, go ahead and play Mario Odyssey for half an hour.” Bad move. And that’s my fault. Back in the old days, I would wake up early, make coffee, and play Fallout or whatever Zelda game came out at the time. Then I’d have to do work. I wanted to cry. Why do that to my son? Anyway, it’s easier to drag your kid away from a coloring book than a swimming pool.
Trick #6: Put on Instrumental Music
My son likes video game soundtracks. The only downside is if it’s “boss music” he gets worked up. Music helps me chill, too. Still, if your child is easily distracted, pay attention to what distracts them and remove it from your school area beforehand. If my son so much as sees a crumb on the table, that crumb is suddenly a wonderful toy. I don’t always use music, but I think it helps pep things up when he’s doing independent work or a craft.
Trick #7: Be Honest
My son likes to say, “I’m scared!” whenever he doesn’t want to do something. Sometimes I say, “Me too!” And it’s true. I get worried when I’m going into a task knowing that the one I’m working with is gearing up to be a monster. He did this today and I replied that I was scared, too. He calmed down immediately and we had a great school day. There are times I’ve told my son that being disobedient or having a bad attitude makes it hard for me to teach. I get grouchy or sad when he’s being a turd. We usually come away from these chats ready to work together as a team. However, I make sure I only address the effects of things he has control over (e.g. his behavior). I never say things about homeschool in general being tough. All that said, I try to tell my kids that they can be sad, grouchy, hungry, thirsty, bored, or whatever, BUT they don’t get to rant and rave. Just let me know how you feel and I’ll help. Don’t kick me in the chest.
Trick #8: Mirror Back Their Annoying Behavior
Sometimes kids don’t “get” how they’re sabotaging themselves. I have tried to explain to my son that the sooner he does his work, the sooner he can go play. In the heat of the moment, many kids (and adults) don’t listen to reason. One day I was on the verge of plucking my own eyes out and juggling them in a fit of insanity. Then an idea came to me: I told my son to tell me to write my name. I told him to count how long it takes me. I wrote my name correctly and quickly. It took five seconds. Then I told him to tell me to do it again, but this time I did all the annoying things he does when he doesn’t want to do his work. He started counting and a look of horror came over his face as I twirled my pencil, fell out of my chair several times, referred to the task as annoying or stupid, etc. This was actually one of the biggest turning points in schooling for him. I should also add that I did not mock him or over-exaggerate my impression of him. I tried to keep it exactly as he was acting. He needed a visual of the time he was wasting rather than just hearing it from me.
Trick #9: Don’t Hover Too Much
I enjoy watching my son work, but it sometimes annoys him or makes him uncomfortable to have my big head casting a shadow on his work. I’ve almost punched people for hovering while I was working. Sometimes I do have to watch how he’s doing things (like with handwriting), but I remedy this by pretending to do my own work at the table or tidying up the office while I watch him. I try to alternate between sitting next to him and observing from afar. Constant hovering is annoying and discouraging.
Trick #10: Do Hands-On Crafts/Lessons as a Family
If there are any lessons/activities/crafts that I can do at the breakfast table with my son and daughter (she’s two), I try to do that and keep these activities out of our normal 10 am school time. This makes “school” go faster. Social studies, science, and art normally have hands-on activities that I can print duplicates out for my daughter to do one, too. If you have a set time for doing school, I would recommend using that time for the necessities (language arts and math) and if you can sneak science and social studies into other areas of the day, do that.
Trick #11: Occupy Younger Siblings
I read a parenting book and the author referred to toddlers as the “weakest link” in the family. It’s true. I’m giving you permission to let the little ones watch TV or a show on the iPad. They won’t die and their brain isn’t going to turn to foam. I watched TV growing up and look at me. I have a blog! There are loads of educational programs for your kids to watch. Or just let them watch stupid garbage once in awhile. Another way I distract my daughter is I will get out some toys that we don’t let her have ready access to (play doh, kinetic sand, etc). Or I will set up her doll house really nice. She can’t resist when the doll house is setup nicely and all the rooms are decorated. Now that she’s getting closer to turning three, I just tell her we’re doing school and to go play. I know. That’s super abusive.
Trick #12: End School if Your Kid Is Being a Nightmare
There have been a handful of occasions where my son is resisting school to the point of throwing a fit and I knew it was a lose-lose situation. It’s tempting to lose my temper in these situations, but if I do, he wins. I see this in adults. They want a fight and the best thing for you to do is take control and walk away. When my son is in such a bad mood, I shut the books, put things away, and tell him to leave the office. But, I always tell him we are going to finish; at some point today, he will circle which one is bigger: the dime or the quarter. If I don’t end it, the lesson can drag on for hours and be the start of a bad habit. Plus I’ll end up in prison. By ending school, I set the terms and place the blame on his shoulders. No exaggeration, within 15 minutes, he’s ready to do school and he’s in a good mood.
Let me know if you try any of these tricks and whether they worked out. If so, please send me $5 for every time it works. It’s the least you can do.