"How do I keep my children occupied, not busy?" asked a friend on a local chat group with mostly working women who are now suddenly burdened by this new responsibility to keep the children learning at home while schools across the country are getting closed because of the ongoing pandemic.
'How do we make them do things?', 'How do you do this all day?', 'They don't seem to be interested in anything?', 'They just get on my nerves and each others(siblings)?'. These are some common questions and concerns.
In response to this, It would be easy to come up with a huge list of ideas and suggestions as a home educator but it is simply not enough to say 'what to do at home' but more importantly 'how to do it'.
The way we approach things is of paramount significance. Most parents struggle in such situations because by default, the children and the parents are used to approaching learning as 'something we make a person do'. It is like a requirement (which very often looks like a checklist). It is something a person of authority imposes on the student.
Most parents are grateful that the school plays that authority, but in situations like this parents have to assume this responsibility and they quickly realize how dreadful this experience can be. It's stressful for everyone. Anyone homeschooling for a long time knows for a fact that this approach is a recipe for disaster.
So here are some practical tips you can apply to ensure they are learning at home and everyone survives through this pandemic. (and I don't necessarily mean surviving covid19 🤪)
Before I get into practical suggestions let us talk about how you should approach it to make sure the children do not resist your plans.
Children hate that. I train mothers how to homeschool effectively, so trust me, this WILL backfire. So do not come up with a rigid hour by hour time table. It will frustrate everyone.
A rough outline how your day will flow keeping in mind that the activities/plan should allow them to use different parts of their brain and their body. Be reasonable with your expectations. Remember this is their home. Your goal is to educate them, not to turn your home into a school. It will strain your relationship and make everyone unhappy, the only thing you will achieve is some 'control' over their life.
There must be some lessons that you may need to keep up with from school. Talk to them about these and get them to understand this is a non negotiable unfortunately and you are only here to help them keep up with their responsibilities. Speak from a place of concern and compassion rather than an authority, they will be more likely to comply and own their responsibility.
Beyond the basic lessons mandated by school, try to flip the equation and think of this time as an opportunity 'to do things together'. Mothers are natural teachers(just not the classroom kind). Fall back on your natural, nurturing instinct to enjoy your time together and bond with them. Aspire to learn with them rather than teach them and count these experiences as learning moments. They serve as a great starting point.
Learning is beautiful and wonderfully engaging when there is an element of sociability. 'Shared experiences' put the student and instructor at the same level. This really changes the dynamic and everyone starts enjoying the experience. This facilitates learning for the sake of learning rather than a fixed outcome. So there is no need for consequences or bribes to keep them going. You will be amazed how this simple shift can transform the experience and make it wholesome.
In fact, this is the what most home educators love about homeschooling. The opportunity to learn together, bond and experience life and learning in a seamless fashion. Before you assume this is difficult and it will take too much time, just try it out. Trust me, it is not very difficult. It is only a matter of a few weeks. What can be the worst possible outcome?
Communicate that clearly and with fairness.
Anything can turn into a learning moment if we look closely and it makes for what would be best called 'Inspired Learning'. It is not very rigid and takes inspiration from real life experiences. It is part of human nature to constantly learn, improvise and navigate life. Just think of what is happening around you.
Just to cite an example, last week I shared with them the memes on my phone. That led to some discussions on humor and its effect on stress. We also talked about humor in writing and expression. Metaphors and Sarcasm. Eventually, they made some memes of their own. This is learning what is relevant and within the current context of life.
Adult to child interaction is very valuable. Many years ago I had a huge mindset shift when I read about the importance of adult to peer interactions and relationships in child development. Mixed age social learning is more nurturing in nature. Children in schools generally experience the more competitive learning which happens amongst peers. There is a lot of research which clearly illustrate the the role of mixed age socializing and play and its tremendous benefits. So utilize this opportunity to make that happen in your home.
Now let me list some examples of shared learning experiences and offer some practical tips.
Child's play is a paradox. It is most effective when it is simple and led by the child. You do not have to carry the burden of structuring and planning it. In fact play teaches more when a child structures, plans and controls the playtime. I have written more about this here and have an entire video series on the early years. Imaginative play needs very little special equipment or toys. It is driven by a child's imagination. A simple scarf can turn into a fort, a cape or a blanket. What they really need for this kind of play is freedom and time (which is plenty right now).
Simple materials like water, sand, dirt make the best open ended toys. Most children can spend hours playing in a sandbox, water table or digging in the dirt. It doesn't take much. Just supply a few scoops, shovels, forks and spoons and a few beakers, bowls and cups and let the magic unfold.
Cooking, baking , gardening, composting, knitting, painting are all amazing learning experiences in the home setting. Some of the most expensive and elite schools create a home like atmosphere and recruit a nurturing teacher to facilitate a quality education. You have all this by default.
Reading aloud is one of the best ways to educate because the stories facilitate good conversations. We prefer book series or longer, classics/ literature so that we can dwell on the characters a bit more.
Most libraries have electronic resources which give you access to hundreds of audio books. Discuss the book, the characters and the lessons. Opening up meaningful deep questions is not difficult if the experience is a shared one.
When you ask questions from a place of curiosity, they would know that you are not quizzing them for comprehension. In fact it would tell them that you care to know their perspective. When you approach teaching in this manner they will not resist it, in fact it will be an amazing bonding experience and may just inspire a genuine love of learning.
If you have an older child and if it's not possible to read to them, you could still engage in a deep, meaningful conversation by asking thought provoking open ended questions. The way to know whether a question is open ended is making sure there is no one single right answer. This allows them to express themselves, interpret in their own unique way, even do literary analysis. You could follow it up by watching the movie on the book and do a comparison. It all counts as learning!
Gardening (It is spring!), composting, baking, home projects/home decor, candle making, woodworking... the list is endless. You can teach them life skills at this time and they make for easy learning/Teaching units. You can easily expand and build on something they get engaged with. For example, Gardening can open up the way to study seeds, germination, plant structure, classification, soil quality etc. Project based learning would be a great way to achieve something meaningful in this short period while keeping them engaged. Just keep in mind that they should be interested in the project.
In the evenings as a family watch a documentary and on the next day have them look up one thing from it and research on it. They can share what they learnt presentation style with the family or put a quiz together for the entire family.
For example, the current situation with covid 19 can pave the way to discuss some medieval history and the Black Death and how it spread through the trade routes in medieval Europe.
Discuss how to process and take from the constant influx of information. Use the current situation to demonstrate that. Social media is overloaded with information. Take this opportunity to highlight human behavior and how this can quickly turn into chaos and spreading of misinformation. This will be a useful skill our children must possess in this Information Age. We have no shortage of information but what is authentic, verified and reliable is hard to decipher.
There are hundreds of board games that can teach everything from basic turn taking and executive function skills to strategy, math, economics etc.
Children would love to go centerstage and be a host for the family game night! This will bring out their creativity and help them think backwards or reverse engineer so to speak.
Whether it is a folk tale or a story from your own childhood, children love stories and they are a great way to teach some moral lessons.
See if the children are interested in collecting stories from their grandparents, uncles, aunts etc. They love playing reporter/correspondent and going about asking questions and collecting information. This can foster a strong sense of identity which has huge benefits for their development and help them learn their family history. It can be expanded upon to draw a family tree, write a biography of a grandparent possibly.
Teach them to reflect on the struggles of those who live in difficult circumstances without any solutions in sight. Ask them how they would like to help. Explain to them using the current situation. For example, How hoarding is harming people who may be in greater need than us of these supplies. Discuss the importance of being mindful of our actions and its effect on others.
If they could come up with an invention that could prevent this virus from spreading? Children are excellent at divergent thinking, use the current circumstances to brainstorm some solutions. It not an actual solution, they will learn to think in new ways and problem solving skills.
You can use your backyard for some simple games. Field day type games, obstacle course and simple games are all possible in the backyard.
As the situation improves and it becomes safe to go outdoors in nature, away from the crowds, go for a walk, bike or hike some trails.
It makes a beautiful family activity which has huge benefits for everyone. You can teach and model observation, curiosity and reflection through this activity.
In the meantime , you can play indoor games like bean bag toss, tug of war etc. Physical play is important and relieves stress, look up some exercise routines and make it a fun challenge and family activity, so everyone keeps up with some movement and exercise.
Teach them to reflect on the wisdom behind such situations. Use this opportunity to teach them to trust Allah and having reliance on Him alone. Understanding and fulfilling the responsibilities of a good muslim in such circumstances. Develop an appreciation for the advice and wisdom from the sunnah and Quran for example: Quarantine and importance of cleanliness, wudu, positive thinking etc.
It is evident that the possibilities are endless... but if I could end with one simple advice, I would say that while they are home with you, educate as a mother and everything will be just fine.
Enjoy this slower pace of life and make the most out of it because it shall soon pass.
For the next few weeks, choose joy over rigor. Even if the learning seems to be falling short, trust that whatever little they learn from you, will stay with them forever and become a cherished memory! You get to choose this for them and you!
All the best.
Sample Daily Rhythm:
1. Breakfast and morning chores
2. Free journaling / writing / drawing
3. Structured / Assigned lessons
5. Lunch Prep & Clean up
6. Free Reading & Discussions.
7. Dinner Prep / Chores
8. Family Games & Activity / Outdoor Play
9. Bedtime Read aloud.
This is just a rough outline for reference. Actual rhythm/routines can vary. There are lots of posts circulating with resources and time tables that show you how to keep the children 'busy' but I have written this post for mothers who aspire for more, like my friend who posed the question. I hope this is of benefit.
Would you like to receive latest posts, videos on homeschooling, parenting or education in general ? Subscribe below