(Last Updated on November 30, 2022)
Home sweet home…
The place we feel warm and cozy and free to be ourselves.
The place we live and laugh and love and create beautiful family memories.
The place where naked toddlers run through the middle of the lesson on the Byzantine Empire singing “I’m a Little Teapot” and throwing Cheerios in the air like confetti.
While there’s a lot to love about the freedom a home-based learning setting provides, there are definitely some unique challenges that homeschooling parents need to navigate. Many of these challenges stem from two fundamental characteristics of a homeschool.
Homeschools are often multi-AGE and multi-USE settings.
These two aspects can equate to high levels of distraction unless some thought is given to managing them well.
Don’t get me wrong. The mixed-age situation present in many homeschools is a blessing and benefit – a very good thing in many ways.
However, the noise and mess made by little kids can disrupt older ones who are trying to study. The big-kid content of older kids’ studies and videos can be age-inappropriate and distracting for little ones. And the sheer magnitude of toys, school stuff, and clutter of the combined age groups can quickly overwhelm even the most organized parent.
Similarly, the availability of the comforts of home is an advantage of homeschooling. But trying to concentrate on algebra at the dining table with a food processor running in the kitchen and a dog barking at your feet is difficult to say the least.
Visual and auditory distractions can quickly undermine the very reasons you homeschool. Academic success, family togetherness, and a tailored education can only be achieved to the extent that distractions are managed.
Try one of these ideas the next time your child is struggling to stay focused on their school work.
20 Fantastic Focusing Strategies
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Cover the Basics
Without proper nutrition, sleep and hydration, your kids will have trouble concentrating even in the best of settings.
Invest in Headphones
Headphones help the wearer and the others in the house. We use them on computers (for online classes), mobile devices (for music, learning games, and audiobooks), and musical instruments (with our keyboard, guitar amp, and electronic drum set). If quiet is needed, try noise reduction headphones like these – we use them all the time.
Utilize the Whole House
Don’t limit yourself to just one room or level of your home! Spread out and give each other some space!
Utilize Someone Else’s House
…with their permission, of course. Barter with a neighbor for weekly or monthly childcare. Or work out a deal with friends or grandparents to provide an alternative setting for some of your kids (either a quiet study space or a supervised play space).
Use the Great Outdoors
In all but the worst weather, you can send a couple distracting siblings out to the yard to play. Alternately, keep them inside and send the child who needs to concentrate out to the back porch to work.
Make Learning Nooks
Find areas in your home that can be made into small study nooks to give your kids options when they’re distracted. Let them use a small desk in another room, a cozy chair in the basement with pencils and a clipboard nearby, a private reading tent, or a portable desk like this one we’ve used often.
Create Quiet Play Spots
Give your younger kids fun alternatives so they have safe places to play when your attention is on your older kids’ lessons. A pop-up tent (we liked this one), a special basket of school-time-only toys in an adjacent room, or simply having quiet toys available in different areas of your home can help keep them occupied when needed.
Integrate Your Studies
When possible, integrate your lessons so your whole family can learn together. This isn’t always easy, but when you can get it to work it’s so satisfying it makes up for the other times you tried it and it flopped. When everyone feels included and engaged, they’re more likely to cooperate and not distract each other.
Do Regular Cleanups
Don’t let distracting visual clutter build up throughout the day. Do a quick, 5-minute cleanup every few hours to keep the main study areas looking neat(ish). Or train your kids (and yourself) to do a quick 1-minute cleanup after each subject is completed. I talk more about our own “5-Minute-Pickups” in this post.
Provide Background Noise
Portable fans, bathroom fans, microwave fans, white noise apps (with or without headphones), baby nursery sound machines, quiet instrumental music – over the years we’ve used them all! Mask distracting noises with less distracting noises to help older kids concentrate and younger kids sleep.
Set Limits on Technology
You don’t need a houseful of siblings to be distracted. A phone sitting on the table next to you beeping every few minutes with notifications is not conducive to deep focus. Set limits on your tech and gadgets – even put them out of sight if needed. This goes for mom, too – think about who’s around you trying to concentrate before turning on noisy household gadgets like vacuums, food processors, or blenders.
Create Visual Separation
You don’t need to purchase library study carrels for each of your kids – just make do with whatever you have on hand. Unfold cardboard boxes or use large books, curtains, room dividers, or poster board to create visual separation in shared work spaces.
Use Routines or Schedules
When the kids know what to expect (and what behavior is expected from them) during different parts of the day, it’s more likely they’ll cooperate. If they know play-time is coming soon, they’re more likely to read quietly for ten more minutes while big brother finishes his math. For examples of how our own daily routine goes, check out this Day in the Life post.
Protect Nap and Quiet Times
Schedule in nap and quiet times to provide peace for those who need it. Over-tired littles are less likely to cooperate throughout the day. And it’s not just introverts and easily-overwhelmed people (i.e. me) who need downtime. Everyone benefits from time to think and process life.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Reward your little ones with stickers or other small prizes when they follow the “quiet time” rules or don’t pester an older sibling who’s studying. Reward older kids with privileges or babysitting money when they occupy younger siblings so others in the family can focus.
Give Older Kids Freedom
Depending on their age and level of maturity, some older kids can be encouraged to bike to the library or a local park to study or write up a paper. Besides a quiet place to focus, they’ll learn more about the studying methods and locations that work best for them and become more independent in their work.
Change up the Routine
Sometimes it’s just not working. Maybe your routine needs tweaking (or a complete revamp). I used to try to get math done first thinking we’d get the hardest work out of the way. But, more recently, we’ve found doing some group work and even chores first works better for us now. The youngest kids feel included and the older one can finish up his high-concentration work during nap time.
Use Technology Wisely
Plan ahead so you have appropriate content – pre-selected DVD’s or media playlists, Playa-ways, iPad learning apps, and subscriptions to Pre-K online games like Starfall or ABC Mouse – ready to teach and occupy younger kids while you work with older kids.
Outsource some of your read-alouds to well-made audiobooks. Then you can focus on quietly engaging the younger kids while still in the same room experiencing the story with your older kids. Or, let them sit and listen to the story while you sneak off and eat chocolate in your bedroom (don’t worry, your secret is safe with me).
Select DVD & Online Curricula
Programs that include DVD instruction (like Math-U-See and Institute for Excellence in Writing) or online content (like Teaching Textbooks) can be used so mom can focus on younger kids who need more direct instruction. If the older kids use headphones, they can concentrate on their lessons even while in the same room.
Remember, because your homeschool is also your home, there will be more conversation and more freedom of movement than in a public school classroom – and that’s okay! In fact, these aspects of our homeschools are some of the reasons homeschooling is so successful! (I write a lot more about this in the last chapter of my book, Think About Homeschooling: What It Is, What It Isn’t, & Why It Works)
So, the next time one of your kids needs a little peace and quiet, try one or two of these strategies to help them concentrate and help your homeschool reach its fullest potential!
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