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Brian’s Magical Mind-Trick to Get Through Homeschooling the Kids (And Even Be a Better Teacher)

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Remember when your older brother would pin you down on the ground, take your hands and whap you in the face and ask, “WHY ARE YOU HITTING YOURSELF?? WHY ARE YOU HITTING YOURSELF??”? Ughhhhh. It was the worst. Maybe not as bad as when he would snort up a big ol’ loogie and dangle it above your face before sucking it back up (sorry for anyone eating oatmeal right now), but the “Why are you hitting yourself?” thing used to drive me nuts. It made me feel helpless, frustrated, and not just pissed at my brother, but strangely pissed at myself for hitting myself! How crazy is that?? He actually succeeded in making me ask, “Why am I hitting myself?”. Maybe I was a slow child. Well, I’ve recently realized that there’s a pretty good lesson in that little bit of torture. Especially right now. Ok, not in the torture but the question that asks – “Why are you hitting yourself?

I noticed it this week when I was teaching my kids during our “special time at home”. I became the default homeschool teacher of the family because almost all of my work has dried up due to the current circumstances and Emily needs to keep us afloat right now. So she works in the morning while I teach.

Storytime. We had just finished our morning routine, which includes Emily and me drinking coffee on our laptops while the kids play and eat breakfast. Then, after I read the latest depressing news article it was time to start school.

I really didn’t want to do it. The first few days of this whole homeschool thing were light and fun because it was new and felt temporary. But after week two, the reality set in that I would be doing this every day for the foreseeable future. And I felt a heavy sense of “total bummer” set in. I think it set into the kids too, or maybe my vibe was rubbing off on them. But regardless, we all came to the table that morning looking like angry convicts showing up for community service. And things got worse from there.

Because I felt put-upon, I turned into my version of Mrs. Green, who was my fourth-grade teacher and the strictest, most no-fun person I knew as a 10-year-old. I was short-tempered, overly expectant, and rigid. At one point I got frustrated with Charlie because he refused to focus on his writing exercise, and I must have raised my voice because he got up from the table with tears in his eyes and ran to the bedroom. I found him crying on the bed, saying that I scared him. Woah. Shoot. Time out. I took out my feelings on him. I felt terrible. After lots of hugs and apologies, we called it a day. As I was cleaning up, I started to work out what happened and how I was going to get through this whole mess of a time without turning into Mrs. Green. Why did I lose my temper over a story about a monster eating ice cream? Why am I making things hard for myself? Why am I hitting myself?

I went right to my tattoo, which is where I go when I notice my reactions to things are getting skewed. I wrote a whole blog post about it, which you can read HERE, but the short version is that through something called “Narrative Therapy” I learned how to deal with my negative roadblocks. I have a “pipe cut in half” on my arm, and it reminds me that I have a tendency to see things through a tiny dark tunnel. But if I expand my field of view or “cut the tunnel open” as it were, I can usually see there are more ways to view a situation. So I came up with some ways to reframe my view of homeschool and how I can approach it without setting myself up for failure. Without hitting myself. 

I preface this all by saying that it’s way easier said than done. I have to practice it daily and even then I fail a lot. I’m sure it sounds like super ju-ju happy pills, but it works for me. Give it a try. It may not work for you, but even if it helps for a few minutes before reality sets back in, that seems worth it to me. These are things I’m trying to do. Emphasis on trying.

Reframe “I Have To” to “I Get To”  

I told you – it sounds suuuper cheesy and lah-de-dah, but just indulge me for a sec. I’ve started trying to pause every morning before I start school and think “When else in my life am I going to be able to spend this time with my kids?”.  In normal times, I can’t be in school with them. I don’t get to see how they learn or what they respond to. I don’t get to watch them work through problems or figure out new concepts. But more than that, I will never get to spend whole mornings with my kids after this. However, before you think I’m the most annoying guy in the world, who just bounces down the stairs with a big smile shouting, “Oh Boy! I can’t wait to start school!” let me stop and say this isn’t meant to be a sustainable state of mind. It’s a trick, a tip that I use at specific times. When I feel a fight coming on, like when my kid is refusing to focus and finish an assignment, and I’m about to take my annoyance out, I try to remind myself to reframe it, to remember this is a special time, not a time for me to waste energy on going dark. It usually changes my mood, which then changes theirs. It doesn’t always work, but I’m trying. Dear lord am I trying. 

Reframe “I can’t do this” to “This is mine”

These days it feels like we’re in the backseat of a car and the driver has jumped out the door. It’s almost impossible not to bring the outside world into the home. I feel hopeless and anxious all the time. But when I really try, I can actually use homeschooling to fight the whole thing. I try to remind myself that this is one of the few things that I can control, that it’s my little world that I get to create and moderate. I’m slowly finding power in that. Whenever I successfully get my kids to finish a little assignment and move onto the next one, I find that I’m not thinking about the outside world. Instead, I’m getting the endorphins going from achieving a little goal that I set and helped shape. It’s almost like the school day is a little bubble where news can’t reach, where I have control of things, and where I can allow myself to feel happy. I just need to remind myself to indulge in the small little victories and give them more weight than I normally would. 

Reframe ” I need you to finish this” to “Sometimes a crab pinches a man’s butt”

This one is probably specific to my situation – I have young kids who are in public school, and they haven’t been given very strict work requirements. Our youngest is in preschool and the oldest is in kindergarten, so they aren’t being asked to pass a bunch of quizzes and specific assignments. Although our teachers are AMAZING and have created helpful and fun online tools for us to follow, I’m able to freelance a bit. And because of that, there can be a feeling that I’m not doing the correct workloads or I’m not giving them enough to do, or they’re not learning things well enough. We’re not doing enough! And while I’m all for structure and curriculum (see my typical school day below), I found that when I put pressure on myself to be a “good teacher,” it’s led to me getting uptight which then leads to fights and friction. So I pause and try to give us all a break. 

When I can’t figure out how to get Charlie to focus through a lesson, and I’m about to lose my temper, I remember I AM NOT PROFESSIONAL TEACHER. Why am I hitting myself? We can only do our best. So guess what? This morning after I tried a few times to get Charlie to finish a letter-practice sheet, I just said “screw it” and drew a picture of a crab pinching a guy’s butt. It made him laugh, and he was excited to write the corresponding sentence. And I remembered, duh, kids respond to fun things more than threats and nagging. And I didn’t correct his misspelling, because the little battle I won was worth more to me as a father than I care about being a teacher. He learned some letters without a fight, and I learned that I’m pretty good at drawing buttcheeks.

I also noticed that my focus on my kids finishing certain assignments has been coming from an ego-driven place. Which was super humbling when I realized it. Why did I care SO MUCH if Charlie got through the three pages of math problems that I arbitrarily assigned? Because I wanted to feel like I had done my job, which is insane. This is not about me. I’m not a teacher, and it’s pretty pompous to assume that my version of teaching is the correct one. So, I let go of the reigns a bit, and when I feel myself getting worked up. I give it my best shot and if that doesn’t work I pivot to something else that makes everyone less stressed out. Like a story about buttcheeks or poop. Poop always works. And if it doesn’t, I just bail. IT’S OK TO BAIL.

I guarantee that in ten years, it’s not going to matter if I got my kids to perfectly write a lowercase q while we were in quarantine. It’s going to matter how close we are as a family.

My whole thing right now is just trying to figure out how to make things easier for myself. We’re going to be in this for a while, so how do I keep it going without turning into the worst version of myself? What are the things that I can control so I don’t make things harder in these hard times? How can I keep from hitting myself? I’m learning new things every day and am trying to change my view of it constantly. But I’m also failing constantly. It’s f’ing hard. I have to keep trying these things, otherwise, my kids would be asking why the teacher’s math lesson is having them count the empty beer cans at 11 am. I can do this. 

Just because I’m curious about what everyone else is doing daily, I’ll share my ideal school day with you, and please let me know what I’m doing wrong or what you guys are doing to get through this insane time!

Wake up – Kids play while Emily and I drink coffee and catch up on work stuff on our computers. Breakfast is normally 7:30 or 8 am.

8:30 am – Everyone gets dressed! I tried to teach in my sweats and it really pulled me down into the chair. I don’t know why, but it totally affected my mood and reactions in a bad way. So from then on, I insist that we all get dressed for school. Are you guys doing this?

Supply Caddy | Sight Cards | Easy Peasy Alapbet | Alex Little Hands Writing Book

9 am – Reading/Writing. We usually start with Charlie doing sight words that we have on flashcards. We were supposed to be doing this nightly when he was in school, but who has time to do that after school and before bed? So we totally slacked. But now, we’re doing them like 2-3 times a day. Elliot tries to read them too, but she usually just watches.

Then we work on a lower case letter. We ordered some handwriting workbooks from Amazon that have sections for tracing and then sections for writing on your own. We started with ‘a’ and are working through the alphabet. I have Charlie write all the letters that we’ve worked on as a review, then start on the letter for that day. Elliot usually only has the patience to get through a couple traces and then she wants to draw. So she draws through most of the first section of school.

Then I’ll have Charlie write out a few words that start with the letter we’ve learned. It’s a work in progress. His teacher sent us a pdf of these sheets that have an area to draw in and lines for writing. He can do either do a step by step ‘How To’ or a story that he creates. I usually try to get him to do three different steps or parts of the story, but sometimes it’s just one page. Like when a dog barfs.

10:30 am – Snack and recess. Usually 20 min. I’ll sometimes go do a workout with weights during our snack break, because someone has to protect the family from the wolves and bears up here in the mountains. 

11 am – Math and more reading. We use number bonds and number sentences. I have never seen bonds before but figured them out pretty quickly. Take that C- in high school math!! Elliot works on counting while Charlie does math. If it’s nice outside, I’ll send her to get a number of leaves or pieces of bark. Then we do adding or subtracting with those. And then she wants to draw again. She really likes to draw.

One more round of sight words then I have Charlie read three little books to Elliot. We’ve burned through all of our Bob Books and the Little Comics ones. They’re really good but I think Charlie is ready for level C. Any recommendations? Also, is anyone else dealing with their kid looking at the pictures instead of reading the actual words? Cheaters! I’ve started covering the pictures so he has to use the words. I’m mean. **UPDATE – After a barrage of comments from informed people, I’ve learned that this is NOT cheating, and therefore will be allowed in my school district going forward. Thank you, Superintendent Henderson**

12 pm – Lunch and recess and DONE. 

After lunch, we usually go outside and get some nature time. We can call it P.E. but it’s usually just a chance to feel like we’re not stuck indoors. Emily usually does arts and crafts with them in the afternoon or they help her with a project or they play with legos.  And that’s how we end the school day. We feel very lucky that they are young enough that we can really just feel good about playing with them a lot (which we do) and because Charlie is in public school there isn’t a rigid program or a bunch of zoom classes that we have to do, and Birdie is 4 so we feel like building a fort is more important than practicing her letters. 

That is like the “goal schedule” by the way, we don’t achieve it every day. In fact, the kids are downstairs right now on the iPad doing a learning app recommended by Charlie’s teacher, called ABC Mouse, because I have to write this post before Friday and Emily is on a conference call with her employees. And guess what? I’m gonna stop early and let them play because I don’t want to teach after writing this. I know that I’d be a Mrs. Green today because I’m tired, so I’m not gonna “hit myself”. And guess what else?? Tonight we’re gonna watch some TV with the kids, which we never did on most weeknights back in real life, but in crazy life, we watch way more tv than normal. And maybe that will change the longer this goes, but we’re totally fine with it for now because we all need joy right now. And guess what else, else??? We’re letting the kids stay up wayyyy later than we did in normal life because they’re sleeping in wayyyy later here in crazy life, which means an extra hour of quiet coffee time before school starts. And that’s why it’s nice to be the principal – I MAKE THE SCHEDULE! HA!

So, we are only 3 weeks in so it’s hard to make big statements. But if we look at this awful COVID thing as just a menacing older brother sitting on our collective chests, grabbing our wrists trying to make us hurt ourselves, maybe we can find little ways to fight back, stay sane and even enjoy some moments as wildly unprepared “teachers”. I know that little victories can seem insignificant in the face of such a daunting crisis, but if we open up the tunnel vision a bit, try to reframe it, we can carve out a little space that the darkness doesn’t own. And I think there’s hope in that. We can own our good times on our terms. If we are gentle with ourselves and our kids, if we take pride in what we’re able to do for our families during this sh*t-storm, if we give ourselves permission to fail and to make things easier for ourselves, if we can stop hitting ourselves, we can make the little victories feel enormous. 

In a weird way, we’ve been given an opportunity to spend some important time with our kids, and I know there’s a lot of pressure to get it right, but I’m learning that the thing I want to get right is my relationship with my kids so that after we get through this they don’t remember shouting about math, but laughing about buttcheeks. 

Stay safe and keep looking for the silver linings. And the white wine. And if you are a parent turned home school teacher, let’s collectively stop hitting ourselves. 

– Brian

Fin Mark

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Lily

Brian, this was so lovely to read. *wipes away tear* thanks for sharing.

Such a great dad.

He is 🙂

Melissa Farran

Hi! Great article! I am a kindergarten teacher and it’s not cheating if he looks at the pictures- they are there as a support. Please don’t cover them up! It’s still “reading”. Sight words ARE crucial. There is a C/D pack for First little comics. Type scholastic level C books parent packs into amazon and you will get a bunch of options. If you are ok with more digital reading, email me and I can add you to my class online subscription. Happy reading! I would totally suggest continuing to draw funny pictures and have him write the captions- don’t correct spelling- teachers don’t in kindergarten. It’s about being independent and putting down the sounds he hears. He is already an EXCELLENT kindergarten speller. Conventional spelling comes later!

Jillian

Former first grade teacher (now with high schoolers) ??‍♀️ and I came here to say the same thing. You’re doing a great job! Reading the pictures is still reading. Have him practice his 1:1 correspondence by tracking each word by putting his finger under it. He will start to notice that the words he’s saying don’t fit with the amount of words on the page or their initial consonant.
Invented spelling is developmentally appropriate at his age. Krab is a total win!! All of the sounds match. Good job Charlie!!
You are doing your best and your babies will remember this time with their “teacher” dad fondly.

ha. yes! so many people mentioned this so he’s like ‘whoops’ and is definitely not going to do that anymore. thank you 🙂

Kelly

YES!!!

M

Great tips. I’m going to learn to draw butt cheeks. A tip for you that has worked with my K boy. All classes are taught by an animal or figurine, with a special voice. Mom (me) becomes the assistant and has a diff name. I have a theme each week so during super hero week I was Ms Marvel. And during farm week I was Ms McDonald. British voice is always a fave. And we decide I’m advance what to do when we feel frustrated. Tap the stuffed animals toe. Or rub Iron mans head. You get the idea. Oh – and the teacher is a surprise each morning. So, coming to school has an exciting element for my kindergartener. Next week is space week!

Lauren

I love this. It’s brilliant. My husband is off work this week, a superhero nut and special effects/voice doing connoisseur And we may just have to implement this fun idea on hard days. Amazing.

that is awesome. I tried to put on my teacher voice and they hated it (it was british and silly), like they kept begging for me to be mommy again, but doing a character – they’d like that. xx

rosemarie

My younger son does NOT like my british voice either!

Cari

You’re brilliant!

Jessica

Thank you for writing this! I’ve gone through a similar journey with my two children (6 and 8). I do a short school day from 9 am-12 pm, with afternoon open for outdoor play or arts and crafts (knitting, woodworking). Games that incorporate math and reading or movement work so well and seem to create less resistance with my kids. I agree with you though—the best thing in this crummy situation is spending this time with family even though it makes you nuts sometimes. Best wishes!

Karen T.

You are both doing an AWESOME job–loved this post. As the mom of two teenagers (who works full-time from home) my biggest challenge is waking them up before noon. So thankful for the amazing e-learning provided by our schools and that my boys are (mostly) self-motivated once they’re awake and moving. Mad props to anyone with kids under the age of 13 during this crazy time!

Shannon

Brian, thank you, thank you, thank you!
My kids start home school next week and I am feeling terrible anxiety over how I am going to be teacher and do my own job from home. Your post has totally helped settle my mind and guess what? I’m not gonna hit myself either!

Susan

I have a kindergartener and our routine is pretty similar. I had ordered this book before, The Reading Lesson: Teach Your Child to Read in 20 Easy Lessons by Levin. We always do 4 pages of that every morning. My son puts a sticker on the spot he finishes. I like that the skills build up. Also, I find doing the computer reading and math games after the paper and pencil work is often motivation enough.

OOh i’ll check into that book. thank you!

Sara Carter

Thank you for your perspective Brian. Its fresh and helpful!

Lauren

Loved hearing how another family across the country is doing this. We, too, are doing young ages: kindergarten and first grade. We’ve kept it simple, hour and a half max usually. I’ve enjoyed it, because as you said, when will I ever get to do this like this. There are certainly days where we’ve had to bail, schools been canceled or shortened for sunshine etc.

One recommendation for Charlie with reading, check out “The Good and the Beautiful” homeschool curriculum and find kindergarten language arts. They sell e-files of “mini books” that you can print, cut into pages and staple. We’ve been practicing those with our kindergartener and in a week her reading has improved. The la gauge arts curriculum is simple and quick if you want something to work off of. We’ve really enjoyed it. The mini books were $5, the whole kinder curriculum is $20 and it’s all digital which was ideal for this time.

Best of luck and blessings on your family as you pour into each other.

THANK YOU. looking into it now. That’s so great. These are tools we never thought we’d need 🙂

Marisa

Watch out for Christian home school curricula like this that teach “creationism” and “biblical womanhood”, aka sexism. Among so many other problematic things.

Jillian

Reading A-Z is now free due to quarantine. Those books are amazing and leveled!

Wendy

These are the books you need for Charlie! The online version is great too. They can listen to the story, then read it, then answer questions.

Julie M.

Brian, I love this! I’m going to use your tips and share with my husband (who like you has taking on the primary teaching responsibilities for our two kids, kindergarten and 2nd grade). BTW – it’s ok to let them look at the pictures! It’s totally fine if they use a picture to figure out a new word instead of sounding it out. It builds confidence in reading. Most books geared specifically toward learning to read have pictures for that purpose.

Rusty

Brian. You. Are. Woke. Man! ? I was a secondary school teacher at the beginning of my career (it went wild 8 years in and I did loads of other things I never planned or dreamed of … I was head hunted and went along willingly: (PR, Training Manager, OHS, education and training consultant, freelance writing…) and was sent to the Goldfields region of Western Australia… think wild, verrrry wild, west! Nuff said that a couple of friends and I considered designing and printing t-shirts with the words “Home of the Knuckle Draggers” … only … we dared not if we truly wanted to make it out alive! Nah, it was great. Nup! BUT, it taught me so, soooo much and I’ve used those lessons since, right up to now, in this crazy life of Covid-19. The overarching thing I learned from those kids who taught me all there was to know about managing student behaviour while remaining calm and nice (on the outside), was to lean into the crazy. Find what they were into and manipulate the curriculum into that. Just like you are with butt pinching crabs and poop! I’ll even admit to the fact that I challenged… Read more »

Principal Henderson 🙂 I just read him your comment and he smiled ear to ear with the ‘woke’ part 🙂 thank you Rusty. xx

Rusty

I wanted to add a book suggestion that will help both Principal Henderson AND his pupils.
It’s aimed at Charlie and Birdie’s ages and so very useful for ALL of us.
It’s titled “Breath Like a Bear”
It’s about stopping before a meltdown by recognizing what those feelings are and then how to breathe through them.
I bought it for my two great nieces, 4 and 2 1/2 and it’s made a hee-uge difference to the whole family. Lilly, 4, was quoted to say “Papa, just breathe. Breathe like a bear. It’ll be okay!” ?

Rusty

*BREATHE*

KT

Brian, this was great! I’ll admit that I almost didn’t read it, because I don’t have kids, but I always enjoy your posts.

I’m in my last semester of law school and trying to complete a writing project that’s been hanging over my head for a while. I am totally using your first two tips next week.

P.S. I am so glad that Bob books are still around! I loved them as a kid and adored the feeling (false, I’m sure) that I was teaching myself to read.

Elizabeth

Brian, this is awesome! You are doing a great job, and I love your tips about staying positive and keeping it fun. As a former kindergarten teacher who is now at home teaching my own first grader and kindergartener, these last couple of weeks have been a great reminder that no one in my house cares at all that I have a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education. Homeschooling is definitely a humbling experience for us all. One tip for you, don’t cover the pictures of Charlie’s books! Little ones who are learning to read use picture clues to help them figure out the words, and even though it seems like he’s cheating, it’s a really good strategy to help his brain connect all the dots. Just remind him to point to each word as he reads it, instead of just looking at the picture and saying what he thinks it says. This way he’ll be able to use the pictures for clues to tricky words but his eye will be forced to go to the words and use his sounds as he points. Does that make sense? Also, this doesn’t always work for me and my kid because, well,… Read more »

that totally makes sense. I mean there is a reason that they draw the picture so clear and that’s probably it – to connect those dots. Just read it to Brian and he was like, ‘oh yah, that makes sense’ so thank you !

Claire

So many great thoughts-thanks for writing this.
I used to think reading the pics was cheating too but our K teacher encourages it as a strategy.

Patricia

This homeschooling thing has a very steep learning curve. The first day my internal monologue sounded like Samuel L. Jackson (“F#ck! What’s your f*cking password for THIS motherf*cking website?”), BUt now we are getting the hang of it and it’s not so bad. My girls are in first and second grade and their teachers are wonderful and have been so helpful in helping us navigate all of this. We usually start around 9:00 and finish by 10:30. If there is more to do, we do it around 3:00. I am loving all of this free time and family time, but I know my girls miss their friends and their teachers. We’re just taking it as it comes, like the whole rest of the world. Happy spring!

I love hearing that other families are only doing like 1-2 hours of school. 🙂

crcr

Former HSing mom of two grown boys here… 8-12 is a looong day for kindy at home. I would maybe do an hour after breakfast, then play, then an hour after lunch, then play, then maybe a bit more later in the day. Or if a solid hour is too long (depends on the kid), break up deliberate learning episodes into 15-30 minute increments more frequently.

And please don’t forget – Baking is math and science. Gardening is science. Dress-up play can be turned into a history lesson. Rigid structure is not necessary for learning to occur, and in very young kids is not even desirable.

I had one kid that could sit and do worksheets for hours and another one that couldn’t focus unless he was bouncing on a yoga ball. Each kid if different, do what works for you and for them, but never stress over covering a certain amount of material in a certain period of time simply because you feel you have to. 🙂

Leigh H

I don’t even have kids and this was so enjoyable to read! So well written and funny. I love hearing about narrative therapy. We definitely need some narrative adjustment over here! Hang in there, sounds like you all are doing a fabulous job!

Marianne

Doing “picture walks” and using pictures as clues to the text are a totally a part of developing early reading skills. My husband good explain it better, he’s the teacher. Now if I could only remember algebra and trigonometry, I could help my high schooler!

Totally makes sense. It’s almost like we aren’t trained 🙂 hahahahaha

Amy

I needed this post. Thank you! Sounds like you’re doing awesome. I also have a kindergartner and preschooler, but my third child, the 18-month-old is the wildcard. Some things that have helped me: 1) we start with a mini show-and-tell. Kids practice listening/speaking and they get so excited to talk about their own passions. 2) it’s helped me feel less overwhelmed to have a rough “theme” for the day or week. Probably not pedagogically sound anymore, but it helps me plan if I know we’re sorta learning about spring, space, flowers, animals, etc that day. 3) there are lots of cool internet resources, like Mo Willems art classes or videos “field trips” from zoos/aquariums but 4) too much screen time, even when it’s all learning-based, makes everyone grumpy. I’d much rather them just play imagination games than learn for hours from a screen. At the end of the day, I reassure myself with the idea that as long as they’re reading and being read to, practicing writing letters here and there, and just playing with each other, preferably outside, they’re going to be fine. Check out the Magic Treehouse series. Your kids might like to pretend to be Jack and… Read more »

Oh awesome. we’ve done the audio version of the magic treehouse and its so fun. we haven’t done the field trips yet, but that’s mostly because like you they do more imagination play in the afternoon or we get them outside. But its such a good shift that we are holding in our back pocket. Excited to try Mo Willems art class, too – didn’t know about that!

Krista

I teach Grade 1 (remotely now, much to my horror). Go with your gut, you’re completely right!
1) Even if all you did during this time was read a tonne, your kids would be doing great
2) Starting with show & tell is a great idea! In education we have had a big focus on “oral language skills” in the last few years which basically means being able to speak clearly and share our ideas, and listen to others and understand them.
3) Organizing your teaching around themes is a super effective way to teach young children. I love teaching themes!
4) At the K/1/2 level 1hr tops is all you need, preferably broken into 3 chunks with breaks (snack, outside time/free play) in between.
5) Limit the screen time! It’s terrible for kids’ creativity and imagination & physical health. Make sure they get free play, art/music/dance & exercise instead.
You are doing a fantastic job!!

Kate Frey

What a wonderful post and your advice is spot and so helpful . Love your outlook on appreciating this gift of time with your children. You have learned the secret to teaching which is making learning playful. If you are looking for leveled books a great app is https://www.biguniverse.com/app/library. and Raz-Kids. Both have hundreds of leveled non-fiction and fiction books to choose from and offer free trials. Using pictures to sound out words is a great strategy so let Charlie notice everything about the pictures! One of my favorite resources for math is Greg tang. https://www.gregtangmath.com/games He has all kinds of free games and puzzles that students love.

Terri Simmons

You are doing a great job. I would suggest you get away from the pencils and paper every day and try other ways to see those letters: fill a cookie sheet with salt, shaving creme, pudding and write your letters. Go outside with a paint brush and a bucket of water. Color macaroni with alcohol and food coloring and form some letters. Use string to shape letters. You have four bodies in your house. How many letters can y’all make together? Give yourself freedom to let learning happen anytime and anywhere. It becomes a lifestyle and not two hours of forced labor.

Heather

Brian,
Butt cheeks are spot on. I’m also pretty impressed with the crab.

I’m homeschooling four kids at home now, and I love the way you are reframing it. What a privilege to get this time with my kids every morning. I really do hope when people talk about COVID-19 years from now, my family will remember all the good times we had together. Also, the sleeping in is really great.

Mary

Brian, I appreciate your perspective, humor, and insight! Your experience and tips are very relatable. I have difficulty reframing and frequently get stuck. I’ll be invoking the butt-pinching crab for sure! Thank you for adding your voice to this conversation that is so relevant these days.

Laura

Reading using the pictures is a milestone and part of the learning-to-read process! We were told that it’s a good thing so I wouldn’t discourage it.

I think the important thing to remember is that most of us aren’t truly homeschooling; we are overseeing distance learning with ideas and materials from our schools. My older kids are also in public school, but in 2nd/4th grade, so we do get a decent number of focused assignments. We are still limiting our work time to a few hours a day—I’ve read that half of the average school day is spent transitioning big groups of kids! (Oh, and about correcting spelling—you’re just doing the developmentally appropriate thing! “Emergent spelling” is how both of my older kids were taught—letting children spell the way they hear while they are learning to read helps strengthen their understanding of phonics, and then by about 2nd grade they start correcting as needed. It was hard for me to accept at first but then I ended up learning so much about how my kids hear and how English works (oddly!).) Right when this all started, a friend who actually homeschools wrote something like “some homeschooling, with no museums, no library, no coffee shop, no playground, and no friends to meet up with! This isn’t homeschooling, this is HARD.” It was helpful for me to hear… Read more »

Rachel

This is a great post! Thanks for sharing, Brian!
Our kids are 11 and 13. They go to private school and the teachers gradually ramped up the assignments and now they’re doing their full coursework. Our days are as similar to the daily school schedule as possible.
7: Normal wake up time and get ready for the day.
8: start school. If I’m around, we do a little devotional together.
10:30 snack and break time
12:00 lunch
3:30 snack time and drawing lesson. We’re following along with Mo Willems from the Kennedy Center
5:30 or whenever dinner
Some days they finish mid-afternoon, one day my oldest finishes at 7pm, and yesterday they both finished before 10am! I’m trying hard to give them no time pressure at all.
Next week is their spring break though and I’m not sure sure to do with so much free time. We’ll see!

AG

Loved this post! I’m in the same situation, and this gave me a nice boost 🙂

CLJ

Same here exactly! I feel like, ok, I’m not alone in this trench. It’s ok to freak out a little and readjust your thinking/expectations.

Thanks for another rad post, Brian! And for the butt drawing ?

Kristin

I think you are doing great! If anything, you may be spending too much time on it. We’ve been doing online learning through my kid’s (excellent) school district for a week now, and my youngest is in 2nd grade. He gets through all of it in an hour. Then he has 20 min of independent reading to do. So 1.5 hours max total a day for him. The rest of the day is a very loose mix of art, playing outside, quiet time, and tv/tablets. My 5th grader finishes her work in about 2.5 hours, and my 7th grader finishes in 3-4 hours, depending on the day. So I think you could spend less than the 2.5 hours you are currently doing for sure. 🙂

Ashley Fraser

Really appreciate this post and it gave me lots to think about and I don’t even have kids ? Being home alone during all this sounds dreamy to most of you at home with kiddos but I gotta say I’ve been struggling and focusing on my loneliness and lack of human contact (gosh I miss hugs!) but I’m going to sit down now and cut the pipe open and try and rewrite my experience! Thanks so much Brian!

Kim B.

What a wonderful post. My hat is off to each and every parent home with a child or children and trying to figure this out.

And surely this, this is the point:

“ I guarantee that in ten years, it’s not going to matter if I got my kids to perfectly write a lowercase q while we were in quarantine. It’s going to matter how close we are as a family.”

Whatever any of you are doing, that is the important point.

Sending positive thoughts to all of you making the effort and doing your best in these crazy times!!!!

Vicki Williams

Well one thing I know about Emily Henderson…is why she married Brian, why she loves Brian, why she stays with Brian. Oh and me? I love it when Brian posts. Amaaaazing! Ever think of starting your own blog? I would follow you in a heartbeat. You are an amazing writer. Thanks for being there for your family! Stay well all of you!

ah, thanks Vicki. I’ve tried to convince him as well, but then he was like ‘why wouldn’t i just write for a blog that already has an audience’ and that made sense. 🙂

Lindsey

Love this! It’s very wise to see that spending family time together is more important than making a lower case Q. Every article I read makes me love this blog more and more.

ah, thank you. xx

Em

You need to give yourself a huge break Brian. As a teacher I promise you that the only thing that your young children need to be doing now is free play. Give them space to get deep into their imaginations. Read to them. Do puzzles. Get involved in anything they show interest in. They are much too young to have any pressure. You are not failing them by not doing lessons. You guys are lucky to have young ones! Take all the pressure off and enjoy this time as a family.

we are, i promise. I think doing the work makes Brian feel good as even grownups need structure and purpose, but most of the day is just having fun. xx

Lilit

I’ve been reading the blog for years, and while I’m obsessed with the content, I’ve never been driven to comment or join a discussion. This did it. This was brilliant. It made me feel so many things, and made me laugh – hard. Definitely needed the humor and the tips. Thank you, Brian. And, thank you, Emily.

thank you for commenting (and reading for so long). Thank you thank you. It means a lot to us. I laughed hard reading it, too. And he didn’t even spend that much time writing it!

I’m a literacy coach, which means I teach teachers, in Massachusetts. Although I usually resist encouraging parents to worry about or work on their child’s reading level, these circumstances are different. If you’re looking for some reading guidance, I *highly* recommend Pioneer Valley Books. They recently created “Read At Home” books, which are a collection of books printed on magazine-thick paper for levels A-N for only $16.50:

https://pioneervalleybooks.com/collections/read-at-home-sets?page=0

Make sure you’re looking at the “Read at Home Take Home Sets” instead of the “Classroom Sets”.

They also have created some videos to teach interested caregivers how to use the books to teach reading:

https://pioneervalleybooks.com/pages/read-at-home-sets-resources?_pos=11&_sid=02cbb5919&_ss=r

At the bottom of that page, there is a table for each reading level. When you click on your child’s level, there are several video lessons for a few of the books from the “Read At Home” set. If you get the books, maybe you could have your reader watch the corresponding videos until you get comfortable doing them (and also get a wee bit of a break).

I hope this is helpful. I’m so impressed with your dedication. Also, your kids will be FINE. Happy reading!

Sarah

Hi Vanessa,
My daughter has been a very reluctant reader since school ended, and I think it’s because I haven’t gotten the leveling of her books quite right. She gets frustrated if they’re too hard OR too easy, and it’s been a point of discouragement for me because her reading was really taking off before they closed schools! I love reading, we do tons of read-alouds, and she has just reverted to “read to us, mom.” I had her take the placement test on this website and just ordered two packs of books. Thank you for this recommendation!

Renee

You are a great writer and I love reading your posts! I’m an art teacher, so just sharing some great resources… Mati and Dada are short episodes on YouTube about famous artists (perfect for your daughter) as well as Creative Galaxy on Amazon Prime. Creative Galaxy has great art ideas after each episode. And Art for Kids Hub on youtube is great for directed drawing. Cutting, gluing, drawing, etc are great for fine motor control and help with their ability to write. These are also things that are fun to do alongside of them and I think you will really enjoy since you are creative as well. Best of luck!!!

Amy Carter

Love it all! The only thing I would say (as a teacher) is to NOT correct his spelling at this age because he is supposed to sound things out for himself and try to figure it out (plus, it’s so cute) and also it is not cheating to look at the pictures for clues! That is actually part of decoding and reading. He’s smart enough to connect the clues in the pictures to the words and we adults do that all the time. Great job, Dad!

Lia

“I’m learning that the thing I want to get right is my relationship with my kids.” I would love you to highlight this sentence. As someone who was a public school teacher for 25 years I can promise you that whatever content you feel your kids must get through is irrelevant in the long term – the greatest predictor of your kids’ future success and happiness is their relationship with you. Keep on loving those kids up – always make preserving the relationship your priority over “learning”.

crcr

YES!

Alison

My kids are the same ages (plus a 1.5 year old) so I enjoyed reading this and hearing your perspective! I definitely appreciate your approach and am trying my best to maintain the same positive attitude without letting my ego creep in. One other thing I’ve been doing which helps eat up 30 minutes and is enjoyable for the kids and for me is reading a few chapters of a chapter book to them every afternoon. I always read to them at bedtime but lately with them staying up later and all of us being fried at the end of the day, it’s hard to have the attention span or time for a real chapter book. I use it when we all kind of need some quiet time but I don’t want to turn the tv on yet. My 4 year old sometime loses her attention span and might start to play while I read but she still enjoys it and my older son loves it. Some that they’ve both enjoyed are A Cricket in Times Square, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, The Ramona Quimby books, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, The Wind in the Willows and we’ve just started Charlotte’s Web. We also… Read more »

Beth

Loooove all of those books!!! Great stories with wonderfully vivid words. Thanks for the reminders!

I don’t know what you normally do but you are a talented writer. You and Emily should write a book together. But maybe you are actually a writer and this is a dumb comment… Anyway, I loved this post. I have two daughters, ages 4 and 6, and our day is pretty similar although I struggle with my 4 year old a bit. She is HIGH energy and she hates to wait for her older sister to finish school. Yesterday was our first bad day of kindergarten. I had a migraine (I have shingles which is really elevating this whole experience) and so I started school later than usual and everything went to shit. We were all tired and my oldest refused to do any more work after about an hour. She was really having a tantrum and so I a told her to take a break and lay down in her room. Her teacher happened to call right then and told me we could just stop for the day. What a revelation! She was so sympathetic to us both. It really helped. I am looking for reading recommendations too. I will say that your theory about butts is actually… Read more »

Roberta Davis

Thanks for sharing, Brian. This is the year when all the parents became home-school teachers! I don’t have kids at home. I can only imagine how challenging it is to instantly flip into a whole new routine that you would never have chosen. You have the right perspective, I think- to create good memories for them of this time and to see this as an opportunity rather than a punishment. This time is shaping us all for our forever after. I love Charlie’s story! 🙂

Mal

My husband and I are both working full time from home with our 3 and 6 year old, and neither of us can dedicate our workday to homeschooling. It’s pretty much a disaster around here. We try to give them projects in between our meetings and I’m adamant on taking walks 1-2x a day (luckily we have a nearby open space in SF where the kids can run around). We have our 6 year old read us a book at bedtime. And that’s pretty much it! We’re in full survival mode. I’m not beating myself up about it because we are in an impossible situation. Trying to focus on grace and humor to get through!

Jessica

Love this so much – exactly what I needed today. You are a wonderful parent!

Faith

Brian, Loved this post and so appreciative that you are so honest with the struggles. It’s real, and nice to see that a dad is admitting it too. My 15 year old son was reading over my shoulder, and it was a nice moment that he saw an adult male being vulnerable (and funny) and the would didn’t come crashing down. I’m also a Pediatrician and a mom of two teenage boys. Thankfully, they are at the ages where they pretty much drive their own bus on all of this, and THANK GOD for our amazing teachers that are knocking it out of the park with virtual learning. I’ve said multiple times through this that I am grateful not to have elementary aged kids because it would be so much harder. A couple of tips from many years of learning with boys. They are very different from girls in how they learn. I always say every boy was born with ants in their pants. So sitting for longer than 20 minutes is really hard for them in elementary school. Maybe ‘writing time’ can be outside using a stick to draw the letters in dirt or sand? or using painters tape… Read more »

Sarah

I get so excited when Brian writes. Thank you!

Christie J Priem

Brian, you’re a good man.

And p.s. those spelling “mistakes” are part of the developmental spelling continuum, and it’s amazing to let Charlie figure out the corresponding letters to the sounds all by himself where possible. It’s part of the learning process! You’re doing GREAT! (I’m a Speech-Language Pathologist working with kids with developmental disorders, and this type of spelling is my favorite because it’s SO CUTE! And honestly, most of the time it makes way more sense than the way the word is actually spelled.)

https://www.readingrockets.org/article/invented-spelling-and-spelling-development

Suz

I couldn’t be prouder of you, Bri. Be sure you send this to your brother.

Cari

Hi Brian! I think you’re doing an amazing job! I’m a kindergarten teacher and it’s always true that if you don’t have their engaged attention you all might as well go home. I can’t write about buttcheeks; my stories are usually more slapstick about how I slipped and fell, or how my dog stole food off the BBQ. Yes, in kindergarten, nothing is funnier than the word “poop” and if I could I’d use it everyday! And sometimes, it’s best to just accept that a lesson is going south, and put on a YouTube dance video. Kinder teachers use YouTube videos all the time- there’s a cute song or video for just about any concept you’re trying to get across- sometimes they’re just tired of the teacher talking. EpicBooks is a great, and right now free!, online library and they have a huge selection of leveled readers. These mornings I have to drag myself to sit alone in front of my laptop- this is not the job I want to be doing either, and I’ll also be trying to see it differently. And Emily, I almost lost sight of what I was reading here because I was so distracted by… Read more »

Beth

Thank you for this post!!! We had two glorious weeks of spring break. My work was stopped since I play in a symphony orchestra, and we left the house right after breakfast every day to hike, bike, and go into creeks. Now we are doing school online and my mood is in the dumps! Like, holy sh*t I have to log another kid on? It’s been ugly and so I am grateful to hear others having similar but different experiences and so grateful for the simple ways to try and seitchthe narrative! I had been 100% enjoying time with my kids until school started, and I want to get back to that. Thank you so much!!!!

Beth

Ps, kids are 8, 7, and 4…

kelly

You are doing an amazing job! And having the right mind set is everything. Before having my 3 kids I taught public school Kindergarten, 2nd, and 4th grade. Then finally landed at the high school level teaching Chemistry, since I was a science major in college… Teaching Kindergarten was by far the hardest! More important than a student learning their letters is that they are having fun and learn to LOVE school, which will hopefully carry them through their academic careers. No kinder teacher is ever correcting spelling or which way the b or d faces. They just show correct examples when they present the information. It might take a bit more time but you and your kids might enjoy it more if you pick topics they are into… super heroes, soccer, nature, dance, etc. Then teach a lesson based on those themes. For example if they’re in to super heroes you could have “Awesome Man” and teach about the letter A using different adjectives that start with A. This works for every letter in the alphabet. He could then draw Awesome Man doing something. You could do it along with him or before hand to show an example. Drawing… Read more »

Annemarie

Thank you Brian! Needed this today ??

Julie

Thank you for sharing this. My husband has to work full time from home and I am an essential health care worker and I know it’s a struggle for him to work with our very active 7 and 4 year old (much less try to “homeschool” them). I wish I could be home to help more, and the Mom guilt is strong lately! Like you they do not have a lot of “curriculum”, so we’ve been trying to do some Amazon books as well (scholastic site words for the 7 year old). The 4 year old also does a lot of coloring with just a couple ‘letter practicing’ moments. 🙂 If you need a break (with a screen), TOCA games or Epic (literally book options that highlight words and READs to your kid :)), is helpful and I do not feel guilty at all. 🙂 San Diego zoo website also has free games (and animal cameras if your kids would like to see animals in real time). 🙂 They also have A LOT of free play and our place is a mess, but oh well! I appreciate your writing style and tips very much! It’s already a struggle (and we… Read more »

Suzanne

Brian,

Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am not a parent, but I love hearing about your process. And I am going to use some of your brilliant “mind-games” on myself! I also really appreciated one of your recent blogs about narrative therapy. That helped me find an excellent therapist who totally “gets me” and has helped me improve my life immensely! I also want to add that you are an excellent writer!

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