Amy Asks Amy: Homeschooling Tips

homeschooling tips

Amy Asks Amy: Homeschooling Tips

They say life is what happens when you’re making plans. Here we are again, five months after schools abruptly closed amid the COVID-19 lockdown, gearing up for yet another round of distance learning.

This time, we have time to prepare, and that’s half the battle. So, I called my very dear friend Amy Baez and begged for some insider homeschooling tips a la the famous Ask Amy advice column. Let’s call it: Amy Asks Amy.

Amy Palma: Last March, we were thrown into ambush homeschooling while struggling to keep our jobs and businesses afloat. The kids were in shock too. Creating a sense of normalcy for our elementary school children after half a year without school is still a struggle. You work with children all day long. What’s your secret, other than those magical occupational therapist powers you have?

Amy Baez: My secret is coming up with schemes to make learning fun. I turn everything into a game so that kids don’t really realize they are learning. Exercise and planned fun breaks are crucial, as well as observing how your child learns best, whether by reading, listening, or learning through movement. I used a lot of puzzles, card games, or drawing activities and more.

Palma: What about handling frustration like when my 3rd grader crumbles up his paper because he’s lost and doesn’t understand? Distance learning on an iPad all day is much more difficult for children than in person instruction with their teacher and class.

Baez: Take a 5-minute break. Get up, walk around, and get a drink; and then go back to it. Maybe play music, dance, or go outside. Do anything to change the environment. Take a deep breath and calmly respond, “I hear you. I know this is confusing and you’re frustrated. How can we make this more fun for you?” Physically ask him and see how he responds. It helps to involve kids in coming up with a solution.

Palma: Good point. Sometimes we forget to sit and have conversations with our cute little humans. When I do, it’s really amazing what we can learn from them. It offers a lot of insight.

Baez: Another tip to consider is skipping over the items that are the hardest problems giving them trouble and prioritize. Then say, “We will go back and tackle those harder ones if and when we have time.” At some point, you have to decide, Is this worth driving myself crazy?

Scheduling brain breaks and movement breaks throughout the day is also very important. A child cannot be expected to sit in a chair for more than an hour. Set up an actual written schedule so they know what to expect. Mark it off so they know when breaks are coming and set up a timer. Recess is a very important component built into the school day and the simple act of walking around school warms up the brain to focus and engage in thinking activities. At home, we need to do that too. It’s not the same walking from the kitchen to the bedroom.

Palma: Yes, outside time and getting off the computer screen is crucial. I see how their mood improves when they go out in the yard in nature and look for rocks and caterpillars. It’s their meditative time.

Baez: A lot of time kids are bored. They don’t know what to do, and they just check out. Or, it’s the opposite, and they are too smart and not being stimulated. So, we have to find new ways to approach their learning. Some kids learn better visually. Some learn better by hearing or doing.  See what works for your kid. If you see your child is bored being on the computer all day, try to teach the subject doing a drawing or coloring. If your daughter is a movement seeker, create an obstacle course so she can run around in between questions. Do other activities besides sitting at a desk all day.

Palma: Those are great ideas. The thing is, it’s hard for parents who are working from home to find time to do all this, let alone dream up fun silly ways to learn about trapezoids too. I’ve forgotten how to be silly and fun like my kids. Any tips? I’d like to engage with them more on their level.

Baez: It’s worth it for the positive results. I have lots of videos to help you be playful and relate better. Playapy’s YouTube video, 8 Play Personalities, is like The Five Love Languages but related to how you seek joy and based on the work of Dr. Stuart Brown. If your son is a Joker, add silliness into homework. Your daughter loves movement, then do a dance routine while doing math. Sometimes I have to make up elaborate scenarios for the kids that are Storytellers. To get a child to jump, I might say that we’re traveling across a mountain, and we can only get to the other side stepping on the lava rocks.

Figure out what kind of kid you have and ask yourself how to incorporate his personality into that activity to make it joyful. You can also think about how you seek joy and incorporate your personality into activities as well.

Palma: I’m lucky my children like to exercise. Their PE Coach Marco posted great videos, and my kids like to do them. What are some easy exercises you can suggest to parents?

Baez: Jumping jacks. Snow angels. Dance routines. Animal walks. Yoga poses like cow, cat, and downward dog to name a few.

I like to create dice and card games so they think its fun. The reason why I come up with these schemes is because if I just tell them to exercise, that doesn’t work. You have to either be involved or make it fun. All I can do is tell you how to do it. I know it’s very hard for working parents. But, if you don’t find the time to do it, you will struggle somewhere else, with tantrums or other examples of poor behavior. You have to figure out, How can I use these techniques to help me?

Palma: Great advice, thanks Amy. These homeschooling tips will help.

Baez: You’re welcome! Everything goes back to, How do I turn this into play? You have to remember a child’s way of learning is through play. Most kids don’t learn like adults by reading a book or sitting at a screen.

Amy Palma is a journalist in Miami who writes about parenting, real estate, and self-help among other topics.