8 Tips and Tricks from a Mom who Homeschooled for 18 Years

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There is a new reality every parent is currently facing: school at home. It’s different, it’s weird, and, all too often, it is very, very hard. I want to help however I can. So, I went straight to an expert: my mom. In case you did not know, I was homeschooled from Kindergarten all the way through High School, and so were my two brothers. My mom spent all day, every day, corralling three energetic, rambunctious boys and somehow got us to sit down long enough to do school. She did a good job too. We all wound up getting into good colleges and, so far, are leading successful lives. Here’s some of the pro-tips we came up with together that might help you as you are homeschooling your child through this lockdown.

1: Realize it’s messy

Full confession, I cheated in math for a month. So did my brothers at different points. Another confession, sometimes I’d stop listening to the online class I was in, run to the other room, tackle my brother, and run back for no reason. Here’s one from my mom, sometimes she’d be reading us a book and would fall asleep halfway through reading the sentence because we had so exhausted her. The point is, it’s messy. When you look on Pinterest or Instagram and you see these perfect lesson plans, ideal families, and #HomeschoolGoals realize it’s not reality. It’s messy for everyone.

2: Remember the Ultimate Goal

What’s your goal? For your kids to get good grades? A warm relationship with your children? Future workplace success for your kids? My mom decided early on her primary goal was for us to grow up into healthy adults who knew their strengths and used them. Because she knew her ultimate goal, when I was terrible at reading and got poor grades in that area, it was okay. She knew it was not my strength and grades were not her ultimate goal. I needed to pass, I needed basic competency, and I needed to do my best, but results were not the measure of her success or my success.

3: Relationship First

There’s a balance between nagging your kids to do what they’re supposed to do and trying to maintain a warm relationship. It’s a struggle for every parent. Every parent I’ve talked to about this has worried, at some level, that they will damage their kids or wreck their relationship with them. Two tricks my mom mentioned to help with that: 1) prioritize your relationship as mom or dad over your relationship as schooler, and 2) You’ll get that balance wrong sometimes. We all do. And you have to forgive yourself. Truth be told, your kids probably won’t remember the times you blew it anyway. As we talked, my mom related stories of times she felt like she messed this up. I didn’t remember any of them.

4: Measure your own success

When you look at everything your child is supposed to get done that day or that week and then only half of it gets done, it’s easy to feel like a failure. Here’s the reality, your life is crazy and unprecedented right now, children are often irresponsible, and some stuff will get missed. My mom said, “some weeks we did everything. Some weeks we only did half. I had to lower my expectations and be okay with 80%.” I don’t know what your specific school is asking your child to get done but accepting that perfect isn’t possible for most kids is okay. This is particularly true in the pre-high school years where grades tend to not have long-ranging implications.

5: Movement is good

If your kids are anything like me growing up, they have a lot of energy. My mom would channel that by letting me read my schoolbooks outside, upside-down, and while bouncing on an exercise ball. If there was a recorded lecture, she’d let me play with Legos on the floor while listening. Whatever could be done to get my energy out.

6: Bribery is your friend

My mom bribed us. We would earn more time on video games, more desserts at dinner, or sometimes even actual money in exchange for getting done our schoolwork, chores, or getting along. There’s a lot of parents out there who feel guilty or like they’re a bad parent for bribing their kids into good behavior. Here’s the truth, every parent does it. Of course there’s limits, but I think in these trying times we can all forgive each other for using it too much.

7: Sibling fighting is real

My bet is that sibling fighting has increased since you all got locked in the same house together. None of you are probably used to being around each other as much as you are. Neither my mom nor I have all the answers to solve this problem that’s been around as long as humanity. But one thing that helped our family was this idea called “The Prince of day.” Each of us three kids got two days every week where we were the “prince.” That meant if there was an argument over what show to watch, the prince picked; if we were deciding where to order food from, the prince decided; and if there was an extra chore to be done, the prince did it. If there was a decision or task that needed to be done, the prince got to do it. It saved us from so many arguments. My mom made a chart that got put on our fridge that always showed whose day it was and who was up tomorrow. We decided who got what days in a football draft style pick. Sunday was known as “Parents’ Day” where they picked everything (and did the extra chores), and every other day one of us ruled. Looking back, it saved us a lot of trouble, especially for my younger brother who would have been steamrolled over otherwise.

8: Leverage their interests

I’ll be real with you, I was way more into video games than I probably should have been as a child. My mom embraced those as learning opportunities. There was this game I loved playing as a kid where you controlled armies during historical battles and tried to defeat the enemy. She would ask me all kinds of questions about who the generals were, what the political situation was, and why one side beat the other. I learned my first and most memorable lessons on economics, politics, history, maintaining a budget, and critical thinking from video games. What I thought was just me having fun, my mom used for school. It was devious.

8: Don’t go at it alone

Just like everything else in life, together is better. You need other parents you can cry and laugh with about what you’re struggling with. You need support systems through grandparents and friends. Raising kids is tough, especially these days. Reach out to people around you if you haven’t already. Talk about what’s hard. My bet is you’ll discover that many of the same things are hard for them. They might have thought of some good tips and strategies they can share with you. Best of all, they will understand and sometimes being understood is enough to keep you going.

I hope all of those ideas and perspectives were helpful for you. My family is different than yours and your kids are different than I was at that age. So, adjust as you need and do not forget we’re all growing through this tough time together, it is only temporary, and, no matter what, God’s love still shines upon you.