Five tips for teaching your kids at home (without losing your mind)

Governor Hogan has announced four more weeks of Maryland school closures. Many parents are already tearing their hair out after seven full school days at home with their new “students.” It’s especially difficult for parents who are continuing to work from home, myself included. Not only am I running a makeshift homeschool for my four children, ages 10, 7, 6, and 3, but I am also teaching 92 Archbishop Curley students from home.

With 13 years of experience teaching students from preschool through college in the areas of English, art and drama, I may have a bit of an advantage over many of those frustrated parents and I would like to offer some suggestions to make this time not only easier, but worthwhile. Here are 5 tips for managing your home classroom:

  1. Be patient – with yourself and with them.

With the exception of homebodies like myself, most people are losing their minds being stuck at home, including kids. As much as they say they hate school or some adults say they hate work, it’s difficult to be living in one (increasingly disorganized) setting outside of a comfortable routine, which also includes the friends we see every day.

We have plenty of work, but don’t get to do a hands-on project with a partner or eat lunch next to their best friend. It’s like all of us are being grounded! This social distancing is taking its toll on all of us, but remember that we’re all in this together, kids and adults, and our feelings of loneliness and anger are magnified right now. If necessary, socially distance yourself from the family member who is getting under your skin and escape into a book or your favorite Netflix series. And when you really feel like you’re losing it, bring yourself closer to God.

  1. Start each day with a prayer.

In Catholic schools, we begin each class with a prayer. Some teachers choose the tried-and-true classics “Our Father” or “Hail Mary,” while others begin with a customized prayer, special intentions, a reflection or a meditation. I have always used this time to call upon the Holy Spirit for guidance with this prayer:

“Dear God,

Send us the gifts of the Holy Spirit,

so that we may begin and end

all things well. Amen.”

Choose a prayer that is meaningful to you to ask God to guide you and your children through your day. Also use this as a time to pray for all of those impacted by Covid-19 and for our world in this time of crisis.

  1. Integrate instruction into chores.

You don’t need to spend hours at the dining room table hovering over tablets and worksheets to teach your kids. In fact, it’s not healthy. Take frequent breaks and integrate learning into real life. Many homeschooling families take advantage of everyday activities as an authentic and accessible method of learning abstract academic concepts. Last night, two of my boys made cookies with me. It gave them the chance to work on fractions. Today, my 3-year-old helped me sort laundry. In the coming weeks, we will be starting a vegetable garden, which will serve double purpose as a botany unit and a nutrition lesson that will last a lifetime. As an added bonus, you will have an extra set of hands in keeping your house in order.

  1. Celebrate the special subjects.

I taught art for five years at St. Joan of Arc School in Aberdeen. Art, music, gym, media studies, drama, and world languages have a long history of being underappreciated by adults, but cherished by children. These subjects give the sometimes grueling academic parts of their day a break and offer them the chance to explore their creativity, move around, and access other areas of their brain. Try to include one special area in every day. Get out crayons, paint, and clay. Take a digital tour of the Louvre. Dust off of your piano. Have a dance party, work out to an exercise video on YouTube, or get outside while you still can. Take 30 minutes to have some fun, like we did with the found object color wheel suggested by the boys’ art teacher.

  1. Take advantage of this opportunity to get to know and grow your kids.

So much of our life involves the rush out the door in the morning and the rush around to activities after school, followed by a hurried dinner and fights over homework before bed. This is the chance to slow down and appreciate one another. It’s a rare opportunity for us to see our kids through new eyes, perhaps the eyes of their teachers, and to have a genuine impact on their development. It’s a time for our children to see a new side of us, perhaps through a hidden talent. Now is the time to teach the importance of living conservatively and deliberately. Now is the time to teach them how to live a life of health and appreciation.  Now is the time to teach them that God loves them wholeheartedly and unconditionally and so do we.

Robyn Barberry

Robyn Barberry

Robyn Barberry is married to her high school sweetheart, Patrick. They are raising four imaginative and adventurous children, one of whom has autism.

Robyn teaches English at Archbishop Curley High School in Baltimore and is a former art and language arts teacher at St. Joan of Arc in Aberdeen, where she worships with her family.

Robyn earned an MFA in creative nonfiction from Goucher College in 2011 and she has been blogging for the Catholic Review since 2012. If she could have dinner with any living person, it would be Pope Francis.