You’re now a few weeks into homeschooling and hopefully by now you’ve started to find a groove. Or you’ve learned 82 ways that DON’T work and you’re still searching for a peaceful rhythm.
Let me ask you this: Are your kids driving you crazy?
Are you wondering how on earth the veteran homeschool moms handle this gig? How do they stand being with their kids so much? I mean, you love those kiddos to pieces and you would literally jump in front of a bus for them, but they’re like, literally always here, am I right?
You’re probably wondering, when do you get a break? When do you get time to yourself? Your kids seem to need a question answered or a snack approved or a fight resolved every 5 minutes!
So, here’s the veteran homeschool mom secret: Homeschooled kids are actually more independent.
I’m sorry to say it, I hope you don’t feel offended, and I know there will be people who disagree. It just doesn’t fit the stereotype that homeschooled kids can’t “cut the apron strings” or “have no real-world experience.” (Trust me, if there was a fake world I had access to, I’d be seriously considering moving in as 2020 carries on, but no matter where I go, here I am in the “real world”.)
People ask me all the time about when I get “time to myself” as a homeschool mom. And at first, I wasn’t sure how to answer. I mean, when I think about it, you’re right, they ARE always here aren’t they? I hadn’t really noticed… I mean, I know they are here. What I truly mean is, I have LOADS of time alone. Half the time I’m really not sure WHERE my kids are. They are home, that I know. But are they in their rooms reading, in the basement playing a boardgame, outside in the backyard? I don’t know. It’s possible I haven’t heard a peep from them in an hour or more.
I write for a living and my desk is in the living room. The living room! Does that blow your mind? I can work in the living room with my kids also in the living room and no one bugs me for long stretches of time. Did your head just explode? My kids aren’t special. They are totally regular kids. Homeschooled kids.
The problem could just be that the school system actually teaches kids to do all these behaviors you are finding obnoxious. And the only way to really fix it is to wait. This is a matter of time, and patience, while your children unlearnsome of the non-academic things school has taught them. I’ve written a list of things the school system has taught your kids that may be driving you bonkers in your early days of homeschooling, and how to help minimize this type of behavior:
1. Asking permission.
Kids in school learn that they have to ask permission for ev.er.y.thing. Need to get a tissue? Sharpen your pencil? Use the washroom? Get a drink of water? Ask. Permission.
I understand why they do this in school: classroom management. You absolutely cannot manage 30+ children with one adult without a lot of rules and asking permission to do anything that’s different than what the rest of the group is doing. It’s a necessity of the school system. But remember now that your kids are at home, they are used to an environment where they can’t make their own decisions and get up and do something on their own. So when you’re trying to get some work done and hoping your kid can do one simple math page independently, but two minutes after you sit down he’s standing beside your desk chair, saying something like, “Ummm, I need my pencil sharpened…”looking lost and confused and you’re thinking to yourself, “SO SHARPEN IT!!! Why does this need to involve me?!?!!?” Don’t pull your hair out just yet. Take a deep breath, and remind your child that he can sharpen his pencil on his own, he can figure out where and what to do, and in the future he can just do it, without your permission first. Be careful not to simply give the permission they’ve asked you for, or this will just continue. Simply empower them to make their own decisions by gently reminding them every time that they don’t need permission, and they can do what they need to when they need to do it, because you trust them to make those decisions.
2. Being constantly scheduled.
Odds are, if your kids have spent time in the school system, they’ve gotten pretty used to having every moment scheduled for them. Classes are scheduled, breaks are scheduled, which subject is delivered when, for how long, and the content of that lesson, is all planned out by adults, and your child had zero say in any of it. And if you’re anything like us when our kids were in the system, school takes up so much of your life that your evenings and weekends are usually pretty planned out too with extra-curriculars, obligations, errands, scheduled playdates, and family outings. Your kids are just not used to making decisions for themselves or deciding for themselves how to use their own time.
This is why you get the “I’m bored”. And you look around at the dozens of toys, games, books, and technology that litter your house and think, “HOW?!? HOW are you not entertained?” But it’s not a matter of not having anything to do, it’s a matter of not knowing what to, because they aren’t used to that kind of choice.
If you think the solution is to micromanage their time, it’s not. I mean, you certainly can, if that brings you joy, and it’ll get rid of the “I’m bored” dilemma, but it won’t teach them anything. Instead, help them brainstorm a mega list of all the things there are to do in your house, and pin it up somewhere. Forbid the words “I’m bored” under threat of chores if you want to, and encourage them to figure out their own entertainment, without (gasp!) any direction from you.
When my kids were in school, life was a constant rush. As soon as they got up in the morning it was rushing to get breakfast, get ready, get lunches packed, get everyone out the door on time. Kids are rushed and hustled around all day at school:
“Quickly and quietly through the halls please!”
“The bell rang, let’s get a move on!”
“I’m going to count to 3 and by the time I’m done I want everyone in their seats!”
“Get your snowsuit on! Get your boots on! Let’s go, you’re going to miss the bus home!”
The peaceful pace of homeschool can be such a culture shock, for your kids AND you. You now have the ENTIRE day to get 2ish hours of schoolwork done. Do you ever get that anxious, twitchy feeling that there are things that you need to be getting done? You know, that feeling you must be forgetting something important? Kids can feel that too! But they’re less capable than adults of labelling their feelings and anxieties and the roots of them. So, while you might just ring your hands, they might jump around on the living room furniture while you’re trying to have a Zoom meeting with your boss.
Try writing a schedule and putting it somewhere they can see that shows them all their free time blocks. Let them visually see how much free time there is going to be today and talk with them about what they think they might choose to do in those times. This will help them feel less uncomfortable with having open time, and help them learn to entertain themselves, if you begin with helping them make those unfamiliar decisions initially.
4. Fitting In
I’ve talked about the armor our kids wear to protect themselves at school, so I won’t bore you with that rant all over again. But I will say, fitting in is a survival necessity in school social culture.
When it comes to academics, kids also learn to assimilate and blend in. They learn that the “right” thing to do is to have the “right” answer. No outside the box ideas, no brain dumps, rants, or long trains of thought allowed- you’re holding up the class!
As a teacher I know that there’s always those kids who wants to tell you a 20 minute story about what their dog ate for breakfast, or go on and on about the new Pokémon card they got- and you half-listen while bustling around the room trying to get everything prepped and set up. Nodding and giving an “uh huh” as often as you can. Until you finally have to interrupt them with a gentle, “That’s really lovely, but I need you to take your seat now so we can start the class” or “That’s a great story, but we need to let someone else have a turn to talk now.” That child has unfortunately been shut down, shut up, and discouraged. It’s not the teacher’s fault- a classroom is a busy place and s/he has other things to do, other children to attend to. S/he DOES need to start class and other kids DO need a turn to talk. The longer your child has been in the school system, the more this natural curiosity, and love of learning, speaking and expressing their thought process has been shut down.
With your kids learning at home, if your aspiring veterinarian wants to talk about what the dog ate for breakfast in great detail, you can listen. You can google a YouTube video on dogs, you can talk about carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores, you can look at pup’s teeth to see how they differ from our own. You can make that train of thought an entire lesson if you want! Try not to stifle their thoughts when they come pouring out!
Maybe your child isn’t like this though. Maybe when you try to “make learning fun” (what a weird saying- when did learning stop being fun?) by letting them choose topics of interest all you get in response is “I don’t know”.
Maybe you try to teach in a Socratic fashion by asking questions, and all you get for answers are “I don’t know”.
Remember that they’ve learned in school to give the right answer, briefly, so class can move on. And they’ve also learned that if they don’t have the right answer, someone else will. So, what’s the point in giving it any lengthy thought? The answer will be provided by either another classmate or the teacher within 30 seconds! This is why your child is so quick to answer with “I don’t know”. In school, you don’t need to think about the answers to questions, you either have the answer or you don’t, and if you don’t, class moves on.
They’ve also learned to only learn what they’re told to (and because that rarely interests them, they’ve also learned to do the bare minimum required). When you ask something as open ended as “What would YOU like to learn about this year?” that question may just be so big and new that they actually “don’t know”.
They’ve never had a choice in their education before, so that may just be too big a question right now. Grab some pre-made curriculum or make your own plan on a topic you think they will like based on their interests and go from there. Help them re-open their minds and imaginations and rediscover their love of learning, and their ideas will come back to them!
The bottom line is, hang in there parents. You and your children are brand new to homeschooling, and you both have a lot of unlearning to do. Your groove will come. Your rhythm will be found. Be patient, be kind, be forgiving, take it slow. Lower your expectations. Now lower them again. Hang on to your sanity in these early days of this crazy new ride, and before you know it, you’ll have smooth sailing ahead of you.
Lindsey Casselman is a writer, teacher, and mom. She is the founder of Linden Tree Learning and a valued team member at Schoolio. Lindsey is passionate about helping all parents gain the tools they need to have a successful homeschooling journey.