Managing student behavior can be one of the most challenging feats anyone teaching children faces, but this challenge compounds in a home setting or during summer break. Part of the problem is that children are used to home being a place where they may not be expected to complete academic tasks in a structured format. Another issue is that there are several distractions at home that do not exist in a classroom. Lastly, it can be challenging to engage children at home because homeschooling often limits access to resources that classrooms readily have.
To address creating a structured academic format for children at home, it is important that you do the following:
Create a consistent schedule.
Make clear that during scheduled learning time you are in the role of "teacher" rather than "parent."
Create expectations with your children for their behavior during learning time.
Set daily goals.
Creating a Consistent Schedule
To create a consistent schedule, consider when works for you and for your children to sit down uninterrupted to engage in learning activities. These considerations should include days of the week and times during the day. For example, you could decide that the best schedule would be on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9 AM until 11 AM. Your schedule should not change once you set it unless unforseeable circumstances arise as children's brains will learn to perform best during these scheduled times.
Additionally, you should schedule what time you will focus on each subject area. Doing so eliminates any confusion for your children about what they will be learning that day or what time they will be learning it. For example, if you children are not fond of math and you are engaging in learning from 9-11, you might choose to complete math from 9-10 so that they aren't dreading it during the whole first hour of instruction. They, and you, will be much happier to get it out of the way.
Discuss your daily schedule with your children before each learning time so that they can expect what will come next. You might even consider writing the schedule down with the date at the top, as this is a common practice in classrooms. Make sure your schedule includes 15 minutes worth of break time for every two hours of learning so you and your children have time to decompress. Go outside and have a snack to recharge during the break, but avoid activities like turning on the TV as it will be difficult to draw your children back to your lessons. Breaks can also be a good time for your children to get some brief exercise--doing so will reoxygenate their brains and allow for more engagement during your lessons.
Teacher Role vs. Parent Role
When you sit down with your children to engage in learning, it is important to make explicit that your role has shifted to that of a teacher. Before staring homeschooling or summer learning, have a conversation with your children about the differences they observe between you and their teachers. Create a simple chart with two columns titled "Parent" and "Teacher" to record the differences they observe. After your conversation, comment on the differences and provide them with scenarios in which they might interact differently if something happened and they were with you or if something happened and they were with their teacher. For example, if a children are bored when they are with you they may comment about it or complain. If they were with their teacher, they might accept their boredom and persevere through it. Another example would be if children ask for ice cream during a lesson. Normally, as a parent, you might give them some ice cream. If they were in a classroom, however, their teacher would likely say no.
Make it clear that when you are in the role of "teacher," your children are expected to behave in the role of "student." Once your children agree, have them sign the two-column chart you made with them and post it in your learning space. If any behavior issues come up that you do not believe would occur if your children were in a classroom, you can simply point to the chart, remind your children that you created it together, and that they agreed to it and signed it.
This type of contract is a two way street. While in the role of "teacher," it is important that you behave as such. If your phone rings or you get a text message during learning time, do not answer it or check your text messages. Doing so will create trust and camaraderie between you and your "students."
Creating Behavior Expectations With Your Child
Creating expectations with students is a preventative measure that can circumvent potential behavior issues before they arise. These expectations should largely focus on respect. One strategy is the "ROSE." "ROSE" stands for "Respect of Others (you), Self (them), and Environment (learning space)."
Sit down with your children and and discuss what respect means. Gather their ideas about how they can respect others, themselves, and the environment. Remind them about your role as "teacher" during learning time before they share their ideas about respecting others. Create a simple chart with three columns to record their thoughts.
Once you've organized their ideas on the chart, have your children draw 3 rosebuds on a piece of paper--one for "others," one for "self," and one for "environment." Then, have them write the items from the chart to create the stems and leaves of each rose. Explain to your children that roses need to be cultivated to grow, and that how they will cultivate their learning is by following these guidelines. Then, have them color the roses they've created and sign the sheet to agree to follow these expectations. Post it in your learning space for referral if needed.
Setting a Daily Goal
Setting challenging (but achievable) goals each day and in each subject area instills a higher sense of purpose and accomplishment in your children. Goals can be simple and should be specific rather than broad. It is amazing to see the light in children's eyes when they get to check off a goal that they have set, so make sure you write down their goals each day. If a student fails to achieve a goal in the learning time you've scheduled, do not discourage them or yourself by continuing your lessons past the scheduled time. Rather, provide an opportunity for reflection about why the goal wasn't achieved and what could be done next time to ensure that a goal is achieved.
Avoiding distractions at home:
The most important part of avoiding distractions at home is your learning environment. This space, as much as possible, should be free from any televisions, phones, and even pets. It is important to mimic a classroom as much as possible to make clear that the purpose of this space is learning. Of course in a home environment this is not always completely possible, so just do your best. If your children comment that they are hungry, remind them that they have a scheduled break during which they can eat. If you notice their attention wavering, remind them that it's learning time and of your agreed upon expectations.
When teaching at home, the internet is your best friend for gathering ideas. A Google search for "at-home learning activities" can provide you with TONS of ideas for lessons that require little or no materials that you do not already have. Pinterest is another extremely useful resource for parents who are teaching at home. There are also paid resources for teaching at home. One such resource is superteacherworksheets.com. It is $24.95 for a yearlong subscription, and has loads of engaging activities and worksheets across grades and subject areas.
The most important thing to do when setting expectations for home learning is to remain consistent. Be kind to yourself and your children as you adapt to new learning routines, and acknowledge that you both are doing a good job!