This time of year gets pretty hard. It’s almost the end of winter. It’s been a long stretch of homeschooling without interruption.
Everybody’s getting cabin fever because the weather’s been keeping you all inside.
And this winter is extra challenging because of pandemic restrictions. You’re staying in even more than usual for this time of year.
Burnout and frustration have set in.
It’s hard to keep your kids focused on their school work. It’s hard to keep yourself focused on their schoolwork!
But the thing is, you’re not that far from the end of the homeschool year. You’ve only got about three months to go to cross the finish line for the academic year.
If you want to take a long summer break, you’ve got to get the work done now. And you’re probably waiting for warmer weather to take a short family vacation.
So, what do you do?
How do you keep your kids productive and learning through this particularly tough period of cabin fever?
Whenever your kids start to show signs of burn out -- an uncharacteristic lack of focus, motivation, or misbehavior -- try the teaching strategies below to help you. They’re excellent parenting strategies too! I learned them in the classroom, but they work great on my kids.
1. Be mindful of your tone of voice.
One thing I’ve noticed as both a parent and a teacher is that the tone of voice I use with children is as powerful, if not more powerful, as my choice of words.
When you need to reprimand your kids, you choose words to criticize their actions, not themselves as people. For example, you tell your child they made a mistake or a bad choice, but you don’t tell them they’re a bad person. That’s awful.
Make sure your tone of voice doesn’t do that either.
Too much of an angry or frustrated tone directed at your kids too often will only evoke more negativity and misbehavior from them.
You’re a parent. You know where that right balance of command and love in your tone of voice is. You’ve been practicing it for years already!
Pay extra attention that you keep that balance in your tone of voice. You’re struggling with cabin fever too. Homeschooling is extra challenging for everybody now, especially you. You’re the one who’s spinning the most plates in the air, aren’t you?
You’re a caring homeschooling parent who loves their kids and would do anything for them. But you’re going to have tough days. Don’t be hard on yourself when you’re not perfect.
2. Use I-statements.
When you need to redirect your kids, one quick, effective teaching strategy is to use I-statements instead of you-statements.
For example, say “I need you to focus on your work,” instead of “You need to focus on your work.”
“I need you to sit down and do your math now,” instead of, “You need to sit down and do your math now.”
The I-statement simply states what you need from them. The You-statement communicates the same with some blame. You-statements evoke resistance, and I-statements don’t.
This small change of pronouns can seem silly and inconsequential. But it’s not, I promise. Try it!
Remember to combine I-statements with your loving but stern command tone.
3. Give your kids opportunities to take ownership of their learning.
Traditional teaching philosophy tends to perceive kids as passive recipients of learning. Kids receive their knowledge from their elders or adults only.
That’s not an invalid perspective. But when your kids have no choice at all in what they learn or how they learn it, they become disengaged. They lose interest.
You want your kids to be active learners. An active learner is engaged, curious, creative, and motivated. A lot of kids are born that way. But they become disengaged and disinterested over time because of the way they’re taught.
I suspect that’s one reason why you chose to homeschool.
Take a close look at your homeschool style and curriculum. Does it give your kids enough choice in their learning? Are they given any opportunities to express their own opinions? Make their own decisions?
If not, you can create those opportunities for them.
That’s one of the coolest things about homeschooling. You have the flexibility to experiment with different methods as much as you and your kids want.
Here are a few tips for you to help your kids be active learners:
1. Give your kids a choice of activities when you can, even if you only have one or two alternatives. Don’t diminish the rigor of the lesson.
2. Help your kids set their own personal learning goals.
3. Slowly start to teach your kids organizational skills (blog post coming soon!). This takes time, but it will allow them to manage their own independent study projects when they’re older.
4. Encourage your kids to reflect on their learning. Give them opportunities to think about what they’ve learned and decide on its value. Discuss how they can apply the learning elsewhere. Doing this develops their own independent critical thinking skills.
When cabin fever sets in, it’s a great time for an enrichment project. Help your kids pick a subject that interests them and let them choose a hands-on project to do on it. You guide your kids toward a scope and finished product that’s age appropriate. Then, give them one hour a day to work on it. Let that hour be something they look forward to every day.
4. Is your homeschool curriculum relevant to your kids?
When your kids hit a lesson or activity they don’t like, one of the first questions they’ll ask you are, “Why do we need to learn this?” “Why do we have to do this?”
It’s a valid question! “Because I said so,” or, “to get into college,” isn’t the best answer.
The answers to those “why” questions should be stated in your curriculum and obvious to both you and the kids. If there are a lot of lessons where you all struggle to understand the relevance of the content, that curriculum may not be a great fit for your family.
Look for the skills they’re learning and not only the content. Again, those should be stated in your curriculum.
You’ve got this!