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How to Create an Environment at Home in Which Your Children Will Thrive

By Lockey Coughlin

Reboot: How to Create an Environment at Home in Which Your Children Will Thrive Because Schooling at Home is not Over Yet.

Obviously, all our lives are changing rapidly. If you have school-aged children, this means adjusting to schooling at home. Whether you are assisting your children with distance learning or going it on your own, if this is new territory for you, help is available. Even seasoned homeschooling parents will be struggling right now with the closing of libraries, cooperatives, and specialty schools. Remember that we are all in this together.

This could be such an incredible period of growth and bonding for you and your children that you might not want to let go when this is all over. Hey, it could happen. Until then, make the most of your time with your children and try to enjoy the process, adding in some levity to a rather daunting situation. Having homeschooled my three children into college, I have twenty-one plus years of experience making a lot of mistakes. I am here to help you avoid the big ones, but also to create an enriching and warm environment in which your children will thrive.

The most important thing right now is to establish a predictable routine and a sense of normalcy for yourself and your children. Establish clear goals and expectations upfront. This will help to balance the craziness outside your front door.

The next most important thing is a shift in perception. Let go of the traditional classroom. Let it go. Traditional classrooms are designed for multiple students at varying levels. Your situation is altogether different.

There are always multiple ways to both give and to absorb information. The ones that are most effective for your child will depend on their learning style so try a few approaches and see what sticks. Do they need to move? Legos are a great learning tool, used to teach physics, history, architecture, and logical thinking. Do not feel guilty about taking a hike and getting outside or playing a game. These are part of a remarkable life and a comprehensive education.

General Tips

1. Remember that no two families are alike. The endless flexibility and possibilities make home learning completely customizable for you and your children.

2. Set up an area close to you – or several areas near where you will be throughout the day. Your children want to be where you are and that will make it easier for them to ask you questions, as needed. I liked having a playroom just off the kitchen when my children were young. When they were older, they would sit at a table near or in the kitchen.

Pro tip: During designated study times, make sure you can see computer screens from where you are working. This keeps everything transparent.

3. Find a support group and utilize it often – three or four people really should do it. You can still engage online and by phone with your children’s teachers, your friends who already homeschool, other parents who are also new to this, family, friends, co-workers, etc.

The key is to find individuals who know you and your children, well. These people need to be supportive, honest, and really should share your sense of humor. Laughter is truly the best medicine.

4. For children utilizing distance learning, rely on your child’s online instructors to provide constructive feedback where necessary and then focus on helping them to address those issues, if they want your help. It is very important to allow them to come to you for help. Do not force it on them. They will ask and when they do, enter the fray slowly and gently.

Do not take over projects or do the work for your child, ever. This is very, very easy to do, but resist the urge. This behavior sends the message that they are not capable of doing it themselves and creates one of two outcomes: 1) they will not ask for help the next time or 2) they will ask and expect you to do it for them again.

Pro-tip: The art of strewing is a sneaky trick. Leave books out that you think your children will find interesting. It is immensely gratifying to watch them pick up a book and plop down to look at it with no prodding required. Switch books out often to keep them interested and perusing.

6. Try to discuss options with them, instead of giving orders or yelling. I promise that they cannot hear a word you say if you are yelling at them, but an honest, calm question, they will think about, even if it is not in the moment. Maintain your composure and remind yourself often that children have a very difficult time thinking and planning ahead.

7. Limit screen time to an age-appropriate amount. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “for children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them. For children, ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.” For more guidance on this important topic, check their website: https://www.aap.org/.

8. Do not burden your children with your stress. And you will get stressed. You will feel claustrophobic; you will feel like a failure, you will always feel that you could be doing more and doing it better. You will also experience unbridled joy and a connection to your children that is deep and profound. Remember, children are eminently adaptable. Relax, take a walk, take a bath, put on your favorite music and dance. They will be fine … they will be fine… they will be fine.

9. Check the Sentinel online often for great curriculum ideas, movies to watch with your children, and more!

Elementary School Children: Memorization through Imitation, Play, and Storytelling

1. Their space: If you have not done this already, get down on your hands and knees in their space and look at the furniture from their perspective. Adjust to make sure there is room for movement and play. They will need to practice both fine and gross motor skills. Yoga and dance are wonderful for gross motor skills. Any art project is great for fine motor skills.

2. Scheduling: Yes, have a detailed schedule and checklists, but keep it very flexible. At this age, your schedule is a guide.

Remember that a little bit of daily practice is much better than a long block of weekly practice. 10 – 30 minutes a day is more than enough of anything. If they want to keep going after 10 minutes, wonderful! If they don’t, move on to the next thing.

Take frequent breaks and get outside in the fresh air often. Just a quick walk can do wonders!

3. Listening: Use the same technique with your child when they are telling you a story that you use with your spouse. Just repeat the last few words they say and add the occasional uh-huh or I understand.

4. Curriculum choices: I use the very technical “follow your nose” curriculum. Essentially, whatever is of interest to your child, go with it. They love “Little House on the Prairie”? Wonderful, there is a lot there to go with, especially if you have a little blackboard and chalk. Tangential, cross-curricular work might include learning about Westward Expansion, cooking like a pioneer, making candles at home, putting on little vignettes of plays, sewing your own clothing, and so forth. All of these could include simple lessons in kitchen chemistry, math, or even physics!

Use songs to memorize everything from U.S. History to times tables. Yup, School House Rock is still a pretty good resource.

Middle School Children: Reconfiguring the Brain

Please refer to my last column on Middle School Brain.

1. Their space: Keep them close, don’t let them live in their rooms and watch what they are doing on their computers. A table near the kitchen or your office is great, just make sure you can see their screens.

2. Scheduling: At this age, the schedule is your mantra. “Did you check the schedule?” Or “What does the schedule say?” are simple answers to many questions. When setting up a schedule for your middle school student, ask for their help and guidance. Make a list of all the things that need to be included and work out something with them that is mutually agreeable. Keep track of what is working and what it is not and agree to make changes on a weekly or biweekly basis when you are both refreshed and willing to compromise. Middle schoolers love to make deals and negotiate. This is a wonderful way for them to do this that will work for everyone involved.

Add in more structure in terms of math, writing, and reading. These should be scheduled 4 – 5 times per week. Be sure to include science and history.

3. Listening: With this age group, you really need to listen to what they are saying. I refer you to my previous column on the Middle School Brain.

4. Curriculum choices: Once again, the very technical “follow your nose” curriculum works wonders. At this age, the topics are more likely to be lasers, football, music, anime or art, but the plan remains the same. There are books, movies, and cross-curricular education opportunities everywhere. For example, ESPN has a fantastic series called ‘Sport Science’ that introduces the concepts of physics as it pertains to athletes.

Other cross-curricular topics might focus on the food, culture, and language of a country or culture. If your child is interested in anime, Japan or Korea make terrific topics. Make Japanese food, learn to make the perfect cup of tea, try your hand at Sushi and look closely at Japanese geography.

Most of you will be working with some form of distance learning at this age. Try to keep informed on the topics your child is learning about and use the strewing method referenced above shamelessly.

High Schoolers: Independent Thought and Action

1. Their space: IF your teen requires a little additional motivation, then keep them close. A table near the kitchen or your office with their screens in full view during study time is an appropriate choice. Otherwise, they require – and hopefully have earned – a little more privacy.

2. Scheduling: This is important to keep everyone on track and to maintain some semblance of normalcy. Once again, you will find the response “What does your schedule say?” more helpful than you can imagine. Schedule time for chores, homework, and being off the phone/computer. Once again, give them a list of what needs to be accomplished and let them set it up however they like. Their circadian rhythms are different from those of a fully formed adult, so they will put a schedule together that looks much different than yours. As long as they stick to it, that is totally appropriate.

3. Listening: With this age group, make yourself available after 10 pm. I go into this in more detail in my column on Happiness and Communication.

4. Curriculum Choices: These students will benefit greatly from reading, watching movies, working through online courses, and discussing weighty topics with their parents. Whatever they are watching, watch with them. This facilitates discussion.

If you have a high school senior, make sure they are writing, writing, writing. The more, the better. This will help them to focus their thoughts and to prepare for the workloads in college.

Pro-tip #1: Check their work. Even if you are working with online professionals, don’t just ask if they did their work, look at it. No need to correct what they have but peruse it for quality and ask them to do another edit or clean it up a bit if it is not to their usual standard.

Pro-tip #2: When watching a documentary or educational film, have your child put the phone away. This will help them focus on the film. Discuss the story or topic with them after watching it and bring up similar topics for a week or so after to help it move from short term to long term memory. They may protest that they already know the topic or have seen the movie, but most humans only retain about 10% the first time they see anything.

Get out of your pajamas and get dressed. Make sure everyone pitches in with chores. Teach them to cook, do laundry, drive a car, plan a garden, vacuum, dust, keep a checkbook. You’ve got this. You are a parent, and no one knows your children as well as you. You were their first teacher and you have always been their best teacher.

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