10 Tips for Parents Teaching Their Kids At Home

When our son, who is now almost 21, was 6 years old and struggling to learn to read in first grade, my husband turned to me and said, “You are a first grade teacher, can’t you teach him to read?!” It seems so simple. I should have been able to just teach him as an experienced educator myself. Yet, there is something different about teaching your own child. For 26 years, I worked with other people’s children and taught thousands of students to read, write and solve math problems. When it came to my own two children, I could not even help with homework without stress levels rising. As an educator and a Lower School Director, I counseled the families of the students I worked with to leave the school work and teaching to us. Let home life be enjoyable and fun for you and your child. Do not stress your relationship. Cuddle up with a book together, play a fun game, cook together and just make it fun. 

Today, many of you find yourselves in a different position. You need to be the main contact and essentially the teacher for your elementary aged children as your schools close and rely on you to facilitate the learning whether online or otherwise. My children are now 17 and 21 and I won’t have to manage their daily learning. Maybe, I have to make sure they actually wake up and attend their online classes. Here are a few tips that I learned along the way that you may find helpful as you try to wrangle your child away from watching Netflix or Disney and make them do their math or reading. 

  • Create a structure for your day. I am sure you have heard this from many other folks. Here is my add to this advice: keep the structure loose. It’s okay to sleep in a bit. It’s okay to make pancakes together and spend a little more time dawdling in your pj’s. If you are too rigid about a schedule, you will end up in conflict and with stress. All teachers learn right away that flexibility is the key when working with kids.
  • Try to understand where your child is developmentally. This is essential to good teaching and to understanding what a child can and can’t do at the age range. This book, Yardsticks, can serve as a helpful guide for ages 4-14. You can flip to your child’s age and give a quick read. Is your child a 6-7 year old that falls out of their chair a lot? That is normal behavior for a first grader. Are they a 5 year old who writes their 6’s and 7’s backwards? Totally developmentally normal for that age. This knowledge may help you stay calm when teaching your child and will help you understand what is typical. These infographics about each grade level are helpful as they show an infographic about your child’s brain. They are called: The Anatomy of a Kindergartner, First Grader etc.
  • Take a lot of breaks no matter your child’s age. You will need the breaks too. This will help increase your patience as well with this new task of teaching your own children. Typically, a child can sit and listen, taking in new information, for the twice the minutes of their age. So typically, a 7 year old can attend solidly for 14 minutes to absorb new information and then they need to try something or do something that engages them actively.
  • Find joy. The first question I ask in an interview is “What do you enjoy about working with kids? So the question for you is: What do you enjoy about working with your child? Make sure you are looking for those moments that your child and you are laughing together, you are enjoying a messy cooking project or snuggling up with a good book and a snack.
  • Try to only do one thing at a time. This is a big part of Mindfulness that I am always working on! When we multitask, we just do many things less than. As a teacher and as a parent, when I worked on this, really worked on this, my students and my own children noticed and benefited greatly. Kids know when you are listening to them and fully present and when you are not. I know this may seem impossible right now but it may be worth a try! 
  • Don’t be afraid to slow down. We often spend much of our lives rushing from one thing to the next. This may be the time to slow down and reset. Let’s set an example for our kids about how slowing the pace of life can increase the moments of joy and presence with each other. 
  • Take on a new family activity. Try something you don’t usually do together. A thousand piece puzzle, unplugged board game night, silent family reading time, a window herb garden, a new recipe etc.
  • Engage in PDF. Playtime, Downtime, Family Time. As a Lower School Director, when we pulled back from homework in our k-5, we worked with a group called Challenge Success. We promoted PDF as a way for families to spend time together. Play is defined as unstructured, personally directed (by the child) play. Downtime is defined as relaxing, sleeping or daydreaming. Family time is defined as family meals, games and basically any time spent together.
  • Discover and consider the way your child learns best. If you don’t know, ask your child. Do you learn better when you hear directions verbally? Do you learn better when you see pictures and visuals while you hear directions? Do you learn better when you get to try something first and then go back and read about it? Do you work better when you have a snack or a bottle of water? Do you work better standing or sitting? You get the idea. These are just a few of the questions you can explore with your child. Chances are your child probably learns similarly to an adult in your household. So this is actually an interesting time to reflect on the way you learn best as well. Share your discoveries about your own learning with your child. 
  • Take time for social emotional learning. A large part of education in elementary and lower schools is social emotional learning. We know that for students to excel at academics, they need to have a strong foundation in labeling, understanding and regulating emotions. Look for ways to identify and talk about feelings, especially at this time with so many challenges and changes. Read books about feelings. Tell stories about challenges you have faced and how you dealt with them. Here are some resources. Book Lists Publishers WeeklyBooks about Feelings, Develop a Mood Meter for your family. This is a tool we used at my former school and families and classrooms found this so helpful!

I applaud all you parents and guardians out there that are basically starting careers as educators, for the time being at least. I am rooting for all of you! I know from my personal experience that it is not easy teaching your own child and I also know that we do not have a choice right now. I hope that these few tips will be helpful for you as you begin this journey with your child and your family. One last tip or actually more of a wish for you. A few Fridays ago, before social distancing was a term any of us were familiar with, I attended my weekly yoga class. During savasana, the reclining pose used at the end for relaxation, the teacher encouraged us to find the balance between effort and ease. This phrase struck me and it stuck with me ever since. I wish for you all to find that balance between effort and ease as you hunker down and settle into this new phase of family life as parents and as new educators.