By Guest Blogger Hanna @thewhisperingglen
A dear friend of mine who is a new homeschooling mama (her oldest is kindergarten-aged) recently asked me, “What do you do when your kid says you aren’t a fun teacher? I feel like I’m failing him.” Have you been there? Do you feel like you constantly need to be running at 1000% in order to have a successful school day? All the crafts, all the science experiments, and all the sensory bins just aren’t cutting it? I’ve definitely had those feelings of failure, and some of those feelings have occurred in very recent memory.
Every homeschool family has experienced these days when the kids just aren’t into it, and all of our time planning and preparing seems to be for naught. I wanted to encourage you with some simple, easy-to-facilitate ideas for when you are feeling this way in your homeschool. Or for when your child seems to be lacking interest in what you have planned.
Take A Step Back
I spend a LOT of time planning and preparing lessons, reserving books from the library, looking into fun printables and manipulatives that I can incorporate into a theme, and collecting all the things I think will make for a fun-filled day in our homeschool. Then, sometimes, it all falls apart because of attitudes, lack of interest, and just general chaos ensuing. This can be extremely frustrating for me, and I allow the blame to completely fall on me because I didn’t make it “fun” enough somehow. As if that’s why they are not engaged. Or that’s why my 5-year-old is refusing to join us at the table. Or that’s why my 3-year-old is whining for a snack for the thousandth time in 20 minutes (immediately after breakfast).
Whoa, whoa, whoa, Mama. This is simply not true. While you may spend hours preparing for the week and making sure you’ve got everything ready to go, you cannot completely control the outcome, especially with little ones in the mix. Coming from someone who really struggles with lack of control, I’ve learned that all of my best-laid plans often crumble because these little ones are individuals with desires, perceived outcomes, and devised plans of their own.
When things are starting to fall apart, and you can feel the frustration rising within you, take a step back and reassess. Is now the right time to try to tackle this? Do my children have other needs that should be addressed right now? Can we table this lesson for later in the day, or push it out a bit to leave room for something else in this moment?
While walking away from something YOU were excited about is difficult, sometimes (actually a LOT of times) fighting to make it work isn’t worth it. Everyone will just end up frustrated in the end. Just take a step back.
2. Bake A Cake (Or A Pie)
Okay, so this seems silly and super basic, but have you ever had a moment in a homeschool day where you just threw up your hands and said, “That’s it! Let’s bake a cake!” I’m not sure I’ve ever had a time where I proposed this idea, or muffins, cupcakes, or cookies, and I wasn’t answered with a resounding “YES!” Baking or cooking pretty much immediately diffuses a situation, which generally causes everyone to forget the previous frustrations and lack of desire.
While baking a cake or cooking a new dish together, look for ways to turn it into a lesson. A math lesson (measuring/counting), a reading lesson (instructions/recipes), a science lesson (ingredients/combinations), a social studies experience (origin/cultures), and life skills all rolled up into one activity! Lessons can happen anywhere, and sometimes everyone just needs a break from the normal routine and curriculums.
Incorporate questions into your time in the kitchen, “How many cups of flour do we need? How many ½ cups would that be?”, “Read me the next step in the recipe, please. What has to happen next?”, “Do you know what baking soda does for this recipe? What about salt?”, “How many teaspoons of vanilla do we need? Can you count that out as your brother puts it in?”, “Did you know this recipe is from France? Do you know what continent that is in?” The questions are really limitless.
Getting in the kitchen and doing something fun (with sweet outcomes!) is usually a wonderful shake-up to the day, and they will be learning without even realizing it. No pencils here! Just bake a cake.
3. Take It Outside
When you are a homeschooling family and your view is the living room, the dining room, or your dedicated homeschool space for days on end, sometimes you need a change of scenery because the fun has just been sucked out of the room. We school primarily in our eat-in kitchen, but we typically do our read-alouds and weekly tea time in the living room on the floor or couch. We attend a weekly Bible study together and church on Sundays and Wednesday nights. Outside of those regular activities, we have other less consistent playdates and field trips. Even with all of those things, it can get a little stale.
This is when I say take it outside. Getting outside in nature is one of the surest ways to cure the blahs and invite a little whimsy into the school day. This can be as simple as taking a blanket outside, a few snacks (never be without), grabbing some workbooks or manipulatives, a read-aloud, or a science experiment and setting up shop in the great outdoors. Everyone will enjoy the fresh air and it will most likely put a little pep in your step too.
Speaking of steps… taking it outside could simply mean a mid-day ramble through your neighborhood. Push pause where you are, and just lace up and head out. We’ve done this plenty of times when we were all just not feeling it inside. It’s great exercise, wakes up the senses, and I believe prepares for a much more cheerful afternoon. You can resume lessons upon returning, but there is always tomorrow as well.
We have even been known to gather up some of our nature study materials, or just general subjects like math and reading, and head to a nearby park. We enjoy a little walk, and then find a comfy spot or picnic table and do our lessons there. One of the greatest freedoms of homeschooling is living life outside a schoolroom! Take advantage of it! Take it outside!
4. Make It A Game
As an adult, I don’t need things to be super engaging to learn something new, but as a child being engaged and drawn into learning can be really important. Some kids are totally cool with workbooks. I have one that is really into them and asks to use them. A lot of times though, a workbook, even while colorful and full of beautiful pictures, just isn’t engaging for some children. Even some well-meaning curriculums can leave a child disinterested and therefore may cause them to express that “this isn’t fun”. While I don’t think that your energy needs to be poured into every subject every day to make it “fun”, I do think that sometimes a little sprinkle of making it a game or some form of interactive, creative play needs to be utilized.
For literacy lessons, move to the living room and place words on the floor, simply using colored paper and a marker. Have the child jump from one to the other as you call out the words. Use a nerf gun for the child to aim and shoot at the words taped to the wall. Have the child walk around the house as you ask them to find items in the house that start with or end with certain letter sounds.
For math lessons, call out a number and ask them to come back to you with said number of items. As an extra challenge, ask that all the items be of the same color! Go outside and have the child run laps around the yard while skip counting. Play a sort of “find the difference” by laying out objects, have them count the total number, then have the child close their eyes while you remove some. When they open their eyes, they will need to figure out how many items you removed.
For social studies/geography, grab a big map or atlas and call out countries to see how many they can find in a minute. Give them a small piece of candy for each one! Find a simple trivia game online and see how many historical facts they can recall from the topic of history you are currently studying.
For science, my nemesis in this area, it’s not necessarily a game but a plan to do one fun experiment or activity a week that pertains to the concept you are diving into at the moment. Have your children help you get everything set up for it! Get them excited about the idea at the beginning of the week. Knowing that they have something fun to look forward to helps with the interest level in my opinion. My kids really like to get involved, and absolutely LOVE experiments. I’m just bad about actually getting everything prepped ahead of time.
As I mentioned, don’t go overboard and burn yourself out, but just incorporating some more active, creative aspects into your homeschool day really makes a huge difference in the interest levels! Make it a game!
5. Let Them Choose
Have you ever had a list of things to do, fun or otherwise, but feel overwhelmed by where to start? Or maybe there is just something you are trying to avoid until the very end of the day? Sometimes kids just really don’t want to do math first. Some kids on the other hand want to do that first. For some children, reading is really taxing, and trying to do that in the afternoon when they aren’t as fresh can be exhausting for them. Here’s an idea: let them choose what to do first. Then let them choose what to do next.
My kindergartener is all about free playtime these days. She never seems to want to leave her play to “do a lesson”. It’s been a battle I have been struggling to win for months now. So, among other things, I am scaling way back on what I require of her at this point in time. She is still so young, and I believe she needs all of that playtime. It’s not like she isn’t learning whilst in the middle of it. So for now I am letting her choose what she wants to do first, second, third, and so on. I don’t require her to do the same subject area as her older siblings at the same time. If it takes us 20 minutes, it takes us 20 minutes… but sometimes it’s spread out over the course of the day.
A lot of times a child just needs some ownership and control of how much, what order, and when they choose to “do school”. I’m speaking in generalities here because I am all for structure and routine. However, if you find that you have a child who seems disinterested, unengaged, and expressing that things aren’t “fun”... give them some autonomy and let them choose what happens next for a while.
At the end of the day, if your children complain about things not being “fun”, it really isn’t about YOU. It’s a lack of interest in the moment, the desire to do something else instead may be an underlying lack of confidence in a subject area. While it’s easy to get discouraged, take heart Mama! You are doing a great job and sometimes things just aren’t going to be fun. End of story. Invite your children into the planning and preparing. Show them that this isn’t just for them, you are learning alongside them as well! When all else fails, bake a cake, curl up on the couch with tea and a good book, and just take a step back to soak up these fleeting moments. The perfectly planned lessons and structured days can wait. I promise.
- Guest Blogger Hanna