When the Homeschool Day Doesn’t Go to Plan…

Family Time, Learning Tips, Tips for Parents
Mary Lonsdale
What to do when the homeschool day doesn't go to plan.

One of the key recommendations for parents trying to homeschool during COVID-19 is to stick to a routine – but what if the day simply doesn’t go to plan? Once the schedule has been disrupted, it can be really hard to know how to get back on track. Here are our top tips for salvaging a day that seems determined to go wrong, despite your best efforts!

Tip #1: Relax the Homeschool Routine

Whilst homeschool routines are often very helpful – familiarity and scheduling can be beneficial both to learning and mental health – if things go awry, this shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

First of all, relax. Some days will go according to plan, and some won’t: that’s life (particularly during a global pandemic!). Even if most days don’t go according to plan, everything will be fine. We’re all in the same boat across the globe, struggling along as best we can, and your child will not fall behind if you don’t manage to perfectly recreate an eight-hour school day every day. Please don’t be hard on yourself: this is an unprecedented, challenging situation for everyone.

Next, have a think about the homeschool routine in general. Is there a particular reason that it isn’t working? Are your children resisting it – or is it just ‘one of those days’? If it’s the former, hold a family meeting and assess. Are there any elements that can be fine-tuned to make the schedule better for everyone? Can you mix things up to make the day equally productive but more enjoyable? Remember, you don’t have to emulate a school timetable: outside of any prescribed lessons from teachers, you can be more creative with your children. Baking, exercise, arts and crafts, nature walks: these are all fun activities that also present an opportunity for learning, and will stop your children from getting bored. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and deviate from the schedule if tempers are flaring and nerves are becoming frayed.

Tip #2: Offer Autonomy – Within Reason

If your children are resisting your best efforts to impose a schedule, ask them what they would like to do instead. You may be surprised by the results!

Be wary of any suggestion that a morning of television or PlayStation is the way forward, though! Whilst virtual contact is so important at the moment, it’s crucial to avoid the development of unhealthy dependency on devices: too much screen time can negatively impact on mental health and disrupt sleep. Variety is essential.

However, you might well find that trusting your child has great benefits. If the homeschool day is simply not going to plan and your son or daughter wants nothing more than to stare at their iPad, allowing this to happen – within reason – can work very well. Too much of anything gets boring after a while, and most children will enjoy their break from school for a fairly short time period, after which they’ll actually want to get on with the work they have been set. As Chris Dyson, Headteacher at Parklands Primary School, has said, giving your children the freedom to get bored with their ‘holiday’ from school can have real benefits: ‘The homework is there not to improve standards but to ease boredom’.

Tip #3: Prioritise Calm and Emotional Wellbeing

This is an unsettling time; as such, it’s no surprise that many children are feeling overwhelmed. You may have noted an increase in emotional outbursts, tantrums, or even full ‘meltdowns’. These can be worrying to witness and difficult to handle, particularly if it’s been a trying homeschool day and you’re attempting to focus on your own work, or if you have other children or family members who need your attention. The important thing to remember is that children are unable to behave rationally when they are overwhelmed with emotions. If they burst into tears, grow withdrawn, or have an outburst, it’s likely to be because they are feeling under pressure.

Our advice is that you don’t avoid such situations – in fact, you should make the most of this time. Remember that whilst at the moment it feels like you’re responsible for your child’s academic progress, they have teachers for that (albeit in a virtual/remote manner)! In fact, perhaps the most valuable thing you can help your child with right now is the development of an emotional ‘toolkit’ for managing stress, as well as the creation of a safe, accepting homeschool environment in which to test these new coping mechanisms.

  • Develop calming strategies. Try a few different calming strategies with your child – squeezing a play dough or a stress ball, for example, or the ‘54321’ senses technique (where you go through each of your senses in turn and name four things you can see; four things you can hear; four things you can feel, etc.) – and see what works best for them. Draw up a list together and put this in a prominent place, like on the fridge. Encourage your child to go to the fridge and try one of the techniques whenever they feel upset, anxious, or emotional.
  • Recommend self-care. When things don’t go according to plan, it can be very upsetting for children – so give them a break. Let them switch off and unwind by climbing into bed with a hot chocolate and an audiobook. This is a great way to carry on learning without it feeling like an effort: snuggling up under a blanket and listening to a classic children’s book is both relaxing and educational. Win-win! There are plenty of audiobooks that have been made available for free during the coronavirus pandemic. Check out Audible, where you can listen to Harry Potter, Peter Rabbit and Friends, and more, without spending a penny.
  • Set an example. If you do recommend self-care or calming strategies, make sure to use these yourself – especially if the day isn’t going to plan! If you’re struggling, be honest about it: use one of the calming strategies that you’ve pinned up, or practise your own form of self-care (go for a run, for example, if that’s something you like to do). Lead by example and take this as an opportunity to connect with your children. No-one is perfect, no day is perfect, and this is the ideal time to let your children know that it’s okay to have a blip – it’s how you deal with those challenges and how hard you try that really matters.

At Mentor Education we focus not only on academic excellence, but also overall wellbeing. If your child would like some support – in any area – please don’t hesitate to contact us. Our experienced tutors are available to work online throughout the current crisis, and will work with your child to ensure that they feel confident and ready to do their best.

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