Homeschooling has seen a significant increase in the United States in recent years, with an estimated 2.5 million homeschoolers in grades K-12 in 2020. This is largely due to school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has impacted at least 55.1 million students.
Nowadays, parents have to manage both their children’s virtual and home-based education. Although there are many advantages to homeschooling, it can be tough for both parents and students.
It can be difficult to create structure in a home learning environment. This can lead to frustration and cause students to fall behind on assignments or learning objectives. Additionally, your child’s curriculum has many moving parts—and if you have more than one child, that complexity only increases.
What are some ways parents can keep their kids focused and doing well in school when they are learning from home?
Yes, Your “Why” Really Does Matter
Should you have a vision for your homeschool? Goals for the year? These might sound like something you would see on a PowerPoint presentation, knowing your larger vision for your kids can help keep you from getting lost in the weeds.
If your goal is to get your kids ready to attend a particular school, your goals ned to center around admissions requirements. If your goal is to de-stress your life and let your kids grow up with abundant free time, your goals are going to be quite different..
It’s impossible to achieve a goal if you don’t know what it is.
It’s important to have a clear vision and concrete goals for your homeschool year, so you don’t end up feeling frustrated and losing motivation.
Do This Instead
It’s important to take some time to think about what you’re doing and why. This doesn’t have to be a long time, just an hour or so. It’s especially helpful to do this before starting a new school year, but if you’re overwhelmed with homeschooling, you can do it this week.
A copy of Pam Barnhill’s “Plan Your Year” can help you to organize your thoughts. This book provides targeted insights about homeschool vision and goal-setting, and then walks you through the process step-by-step.
The workbook-style resource doesn’t require a lot of office supplies. You can just put it in your tote bag and write down your thoughts and responses to the question prompts while you’re waiting for the kids to finish piano lessons. Plus, it’s brightly colored and super-cute, so you’ll feel like a planner girl even without the pretty pens and washi tape!
Filter, Filter, Filter
Although you may feel like you have to do everything, you really don’t. Most of the time, homeschool moms who worry they aren’t doing enough are actually doing too much. (It’s probably because they have an expansive imagination and use Pinterest a lot.)
After you have decided on a goal and a plan, you need to be diligent in your filtering to make sure that only essential activities and events are included. Your homeschool plan must have two key components.
- Resources to help you meet your goals.
- Margins. Plenty of margins.
You only need one tool to help you accomplish your goals. You might need a textbook, an online subscription, a list of read-alouds, or any number of other options, but you only need one of each.
You need margins in your day for your sanity, flexibility, and optimal learning.
We say that we want children who will grow to be life-long learners, but do they have the time to develop the skills they need to be self-motivated and creative problem solvers?
Do they have enough time to explore their projects without interruption? Do they have time to process and make connections with the things they have been learning?
Do you find that your days are full of endless activities that are meant to reduce your anxiety about not doing enough?
Do This Instead
As you are shopping for curriculum or considering adding in extra curricular activities, ask yourself these two questions:
- Does this specifically help me to meet one of our goals? (Or, related, do I already have another resources that works towards this same goal?)
- Will adding this in unnecessarily limit our margins? (Don’t think “Better safe than sorry”; think “Is it really worth giving up margins for this?”)
“Plan Your Year” is a great resource for planning your homeschooling method. Pam provides a lot of information on the most common homeschool methods (from Classical to Unschooling) so that you can choose the one that you prefer.
She will also help you understand the difference between a skill-based subject and a content-based subject, as well as the best ways to approach each. She has included many great suggestions for factors to consider when evaluating resources.
- Schedule regular cleaning times. Add these to your weekly routine and make sure everyone in the family knows when it is time to clean.
- Keep a daily or weekly schedule. This will help you stay on track and keep everyone aware of what needs to be done each day.
- Create a designated homeschooling area. This will help you stay focused and avoid distractions.
- Invest in storage solutions. This will help you keep your homeschool materials organized and easily accessible.
- Label everything. This will help you stay organized and ensure that everyone knows where things belong.
- Keep a calendar. This will help you stay on track and keep your family aware of upcoming events.
- Establish rules and routines. This will help you maintain a sense of order and keep everyone on track.
- Take regular breaks. This will help you avoid burnout and ensure that everyone remains engaged in learning.
1. Create a designated learning space
Homeschooling can be messy and chaotic because children and parents are learning in the same space. This can lead to happy students and parent teachers.
If you want to avoid feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, make sure your children’s study materials are always organized, and create a specific learning area for them where they can keep their supplies and books. Even if they end up studying at the kitchen table sometimes, it will be helpful if their things are always kept in one place. Once they’re finished with their schoolwork for the day, make sure they put everything back in its designated spot.
One way to help your kids stay on top of their homeschooling goals is to post a printed schedule at their hub. That way, they can always refer to it to know what needs to get done and what goals they’re working on that day or week.
2. Follow a daily schedule
Homeschooling gives children a flexible and spontaneous education. However, it can be easy to get distracted and go off track without a clear structure.
If you want your children to do well, it is important to have a daily routine. This will help them to focus and know what is expected of them each day. You can always change the routine as needed, but it is a good idea to have one in place.
Here are a few tips for making clear and effective schedules:
If you want to easily see what you are doing at any given day or time, you can color-code your activities or school subjects. This can be helpful for anyone, but it can be especially useful for younger children who are learning how to use a schedule.
If you have more than one child, use swimlanes to keep track of each child’s daily schedule. That way, you can see when children are working together on a project or when they have something like a meal or other activity together. Swimlane diagrams help you see a workflow and different roles by using rows and columns (which are like lanes in a pool). With swimlanes, it’s easy to see who is assigned to a given project, when schedules match up, or when there might be a problem with the schedule.
Creating a flowchart with your child can help them to see the order of their daily activities and focus on specific tasks rather than the time of day.
You can use flowchart schedules to show your kids when they can take a break or have screen time and when they have chores. For example, one prompt might be “If you have finished your schoolwork, then you can do A, B, or C. If you have not finished your schoolwork, then…”
Choose a system that is best for you and your child. You can be as detailed or relaxed with the schedule as you want. The most important part is having set routine and structure so that you can both stay on track.
Lucidchart makes it easy to visualize your schedule, track assignments, and customize your schedule with features like color-coding, swimlanes, and flowcharts.
3. Map out the school year ahead of time
To stay on top of your goals and big projects throughout the school year, map them out and break them down into smaller steps. By doing this, you’ll be more likely to succeed in completing the project as a whole and pay better attention to the details.
There are lots of ways to map your curriculum and goals including:
- Org charts
- Mind maps
If you create a visual representation of your plans, it can help you stay on track and see how far you have come at a glance.
4. Set learning goals together
Homeschooling provides your child with the ability to control and personalize their education. Having goals is a vital part of that. If you can see where you want your child to be and have a plan for how to get them there, you are more likely to be successful in teaching them what they need to know on a daily basis.
Talk with them about their interests, and possible ways to incorporate those into the learning objectives. Some key learning objectives for your child could be: -To understand and apply basic arithmetic concepts -To be able to read and comprehend texts at an age-appropriate level -To develop basic writing skills -To be able to effectively communicate with others -To develop an understanding of basic scientific concepts These are just a few examples, but the important thing is to involve your child in the process of setting learning goals, so that they are more likely to be engaged and motivated in their learning.
Establish learning goals with your child on a yearly, semesterly, and monthly basis. This is an excellent opportunity to impart your child with goal-setting skills and knowledge of best practices (e.g. the SMART formula).
5. Take learning beyond the classroom
Homeschooling has the advantage of being flexible so you can learn outside a traditional classroom setting.
Look for learning opportunities beyond the textbooks:
- Play board games.
- Practice baking and cooking.
- Learn household management skills like laundry or simple budgeting.
- Write emails to friends and family.
- Visit local businesses.
- Go to the farmer’s market.
- Go to the library.
Build time into your daily schedule for new opportunities, and be open minded about them. They are important ways we learn and grow. Include those experiences in your homeschooling for a more complete curriculum.
6. Make learning a family activity
Let your kids know that you, too, are growing and learning alongside them. Make learning fun for your kids by sharing your excitement for it with them. Find a subject or activity that the whole family enjoys and focus on that. Show your kids that you are also growing and learning right alongside them.
For example, you could:
- Read together.
- Explore a new hobby or have a family member teach a skill.
- Make crafts.
- Be a tourist in your own town.
- Go geocaching.
- Take a family hike.
- Visit a museum.
There are many ways to involve the family and make learning fun. A trip to the zoo can teach everyone more about animals and ecology. Home economics skills can be practiced by cooking together and planning meals. Apps like Duolingo turn learning a new language into a game – see who can get the most points.
This is an activity that the whole family can enjoy together. It will be a lot of fun and something that everyone will remember.
7. Collaborate with other homeschoolers
Even though you are responsible for your child’s education, you are not alone. There are thriving homeschool communities all over the world.
Other homeschoolers can be a great resource when it comes to both collaboration and sharing resources. This can help take some of the load off of you while also providing your child with more enriching educational opportunities both in and out of the home.
8. Ease into school
Don’t worry if you’re finding it hard to get back into your schoolwork after a break.
It might be a good idea to start off with one or two subjects the first week, and then add a subject to your schedule each week after that. That way, you and your child will have time to get used to being back in school and can start developing a regular routine.
Although homeschooling may be different from public schooling, do not be afraid to try different methods of learning. Be attentive to what works better for your child and make changes as needed.
Distance learning and at-home education can be daunting and overwhelming to start. With so many things to keep track of and energetic kids (or apathetic teens) to motivate, it can be tough to stay organized and create an engaging learning environment.
There are a lot of free homeschooling resources available for parents and students. The tips above can help you get started, and Lucidchart can help you stay on track.
Flexibility is a Must
Homeschoolers have a lot of freedom and flexibility, which are great assets. But I often see homeschool moms choosing to give up some of that freedom by following a “classroom” approach, or using a curriculum as a strict guide instead of a helpful tool.
You are not obligated to use a curriculum or resource just the way it’s written if you’ve decided it will help you meet your stated goals.
There is no need to complete the lesson-plan guide activities every day for 170 days in a row, nor is it necessary for kids to write out answers to all discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Additionally, there is no need to do all math problems on every page.
You will become very unhappy if you do not accept the everyday problems that will affect your homeschooling. It is not enough to have a positive attitude, you must also be aware of the reality of the situation.
Do This Instead
There are many ways to think outside the box about your homeschool day. It is difficult to do this when you are in the middle of everything. Step back and ask yourself how your family and your day naturally flow, and then make a schedule that conforms to this organic atmosphere.
Instead of six subjects a day, five days a week, what about a four-day week? What about loop scheduling (like rotating through a handful of content subjects during morning time) or block scheduling (taking a deep dive into one subject for a period of time and then moving on to another one)?