If you are one of millions of parents who has had to supervise your child’s education because of the pandemic, this article is for you. Or, if you know a COVID-schooler, I hope you will share it with them.
I have heard from a number of COVID-schoolers in my groups on Facebook. While some of them have embraced true homeschooling, many have been struggling. They try to do their best for their children but cannot wait for schools to get back to normal. This COVID-schooling thing doesn’t work, they think.
First, how do you know if you’re a COVID-schooler?
If your student is:
still enrolled in a school while doing online classes at home
using a curriculum or set of curricula to recreate a classroom education without your participation, or
your student is just doing what is required until they can be back in the classroom, you might be a COVID-schooler.
If you are happy being a COVID-schooler, I’m not going to say you must change. For me, homeschooling is about having the freedom to choose what you believe is best for your family. If what you’re currently doing is serving you, continue on! But if you are struggling and worse yet believe that homeschooling is a terrible option, I want to share some things with you about true homeschooling.
Adopt your own schedule
If you’d like to shift from COVID-schooling to true homeschooling, the first thing you must do is adopt your own schedule. As true homeschoolers, our days and our weeks are filled with activities of our own choosing. That’s true, even when we enroll our kids in online or in-person classes.
If you are trying to work from home and teach your children, you can experience a huge relief in planning your kids’ education around your schedule, not a school’s. Teaching time can take place in the early morning, afternoons, evenings, and even on weekends. You can have a 4-day week or a 7-day week. You can teach year-round with planned breaks or you can follow the school’s schedule. It’s up to you! What’s even better is you can change your mind. If a particular schedule isn’t working right now, change it. No school board meetings are required.
In my own family, we have started school later in the day with teens, have taken days off for birthdays and snow days to have fun, and have taken vacations during off-peak times. The flexible schedule is one of our greatest joys of homeschooling.
Choose your own curriculum
If you are using the same type of materials that the school is using, you are missing out an another joy of homeschooling. If you or your child is bored and doesn’t understand the curriculum, you are experiencing unnecessary frustration.
Let’s take grammar as an example. The standard approach is having the teacher explain that a noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. Students then complete a worksheet that asks them to identify the nouns. This is how I was taught grammar. Not so fun, right? And utterly forgettable. Excellent classroom teachers will also incorporate games to teach the concept. But now that students are learning online, playing classroom games becomes a lot more challenging.
When I started homeschooling, I was surprised to find a curriculum that uses songs to teach grammar. The repetition helped my kids to learn their parts of speech. The problem? They hated the songs.
That’s why I created Grammar Galaxy–elementary language arts curriculum that teaches grammar and other concepts using story. Nouns are abducted from planet Sentence and guardians (your students) have to put them back on the streets where they live–Person, Place, and Thing Street. Games, a few songs, and short lessons make this curriculum beloved by kids. But what they really love is having you learning with them. That’s recommendation #3.
Learn with your children
If you are trying to corral your child in front of the computer or a workbook to learn all day, you are missing out on another incredible blessing of true homeschooling–participating in their education.
Parents of traditionally schooled students have been told that education is to be done by the experts. Step aside and let the teachers do their jobs. However, research of homeschooling suggests that parents without teaching degrees can do as well or better in teaching their own children. No teaching model can outdo one-on-one tutoring. That’s just common sense.
The argument against parents homeschooling is that you can’t teach what you don’t know. The rebuttal is that it’s possible to learn as you go. I have shared this before, but I did not study world history in all my years of education. Even though I had no world history experience, I didn’t put my kids in classes with a trained teacher. Instead, I used excellent materials from Konos, Mystery of History, Notgrass, along with historical fiction to learn along with my kids. I have learned so much and I’ve had a blast doing it. If you want to take a teaching role in a subject you haven’t learned yourself, look for curriculum that gives you a script of exactly what to say. There are many of them out there. If you can read out loud, you can teach.
But what if you don’t know the answer to your child’s question? What if your child isn’t understanding a concept using the curriculum you’ve chosen? First, look for helps available with your particular curriculum. There are extra helps designed to go along with many curricula in the form of videos and additional worksheets. I include a list of helps for each lesson in Grammar Galaxy on a website for purchasers, for example. Many homeschool publishers like me also have user groups where someone will be happy to answer your question. If you prefer, you can reach out via phone or email for help, too.
Beyond using your particular curriulum resources, reach out to other homeschoolers for help. You can find other parents with strong skills in areas you feel weaker in. Get help solving a math problem, determining why an experiment didn’t work, or editing a paper. Homeschoolers love giving assistance. My Homeschool Sanity Circle group on Facebook is a great place to start.
That brings me to the last recommendation I have for you to move from COVID-schooling to true homeschooling. Go pro. Stop treating homeschooling like a part-time, emergency-use-authorization form of education. Embrace it as your career.
I know women who work full-time jobs and homeschool, too. But this path is not for the faint of heart. In most cases, it will require much assistance from a spouse or extended family member–especially if you have younger children. I did not work a business or outside job when I began homeschooling and I’m thankful I had that opportunity to focus on my family and their education. Homeschooling was more of a joy than a burden. If that’s not true for you, and you can afford to, I encourage you to reduce your working hours to make homeschooling a full-time career.
As a psychologist and someone who wanted to write and speak, I was worried that homeschooling wouldn’t be fulfilling. I thought I would be bored and miserable. My experience was the opposite. I’m not saying I never had days that were difficult. Dealing with messes and bad attitudes (mine and theirs) while changing diapers wasn’t a joy ride. But I know now why the Lord called me to homeschool. Here are a few reasons:
It taught me a love of learning and gave me a front-row seat to watch my children learn to do everything from read to cook to navigate conflict.
It gave me the opportunity to not just teach my children the faith but live it out in front of them.
It built a closeness in our family that I could only dream of.
We have had so much fun. We’ve built castles, hosted banquets, and toured prisons–usually with friends.
I wouldn’t trade these blessings for another career that offered me more free time, more money, or a cleaner house. Homeschooling isn’t for everyone, but if you think it’s for you, I encourage you to fully embrace it.
This summer I played tennis with a neighbor who told me she was planning on having her girls do online classes through the public school this year, though the experience hadn’t been good in the spring. I encouraged her to consider homeschooling, but I checked in with her and learned that she planned to stick with COVID-schooling. A week after school had begun, however, she contacted me, wanting to know more about homeschooling. COVID-schooling was beyond frustrating for her.
We talked and I shared much of what I have discussed in this episode. As a result, she decided to begin true homeschooling. A short time later, after adopting her own schedule and curriculum, spending time learning with her children, and embracing homeschooling as her career, she thanked me. It had not only been life-changing for her, she said, but she was actually thankful that COVID brought homeschooling into her life.
I would love to see more women find the joy that is available in true homeschooling. Please share this article with COVID-schoolers you know.
So, if you’re looking for someone who has an A+ rating in this area to give advice, someone who can guarantee good results for your kids, stop reading now and look for another expert. My kids and I will severely disappoint you. Meanwhile, anything we have done well has not been our doing but is by the grace of God.
Acknowledge that screen time is a challenge.
The first step, I think, is to acknowledge what a great challenge screen time is for most people. There are certainly people who successfully set themselves apart and have allowed few screens into their lives. In many respects I envy them, but I also see many positive ways the Lord has used screens in my family. One reason screens are such a dilemma in my opinion is their power to be used for the Gospel–making them a favorite tool of the enemy.
We recently watched the documentary The Social Dilemma, which explains how social media takes advantage of human psychology to increase usage. Although this particular documentary didn’t mention other mediums, we know that game developers and media companies like Netflix use similar strategies to keep people engaged, even when they have good reason not to be.
Unfortunately, simply being told how screen purveyors use tricks to suck you in isn’t enough to stop a compulsion. But explaining this to our kids at least helps them see that the deck is stacked against them. Maintaining healthy screen boundaries requires concerted and consistent effort. And it’s harder for some kids than others.
Develop teens’ social skills.
In an article I wrote on alternatives to video games, I mentioned research that connects poor social skills to screen time addiction. If you have a teen who struggles to make friends, developing social skills is a top priority.
The best way I found to help my kids develop social skills is to have them involved in a home-based co-op. A few families did classes together once a week in our home for years. As a result, my kids had the opportunity to develop close friendships that have continued into adulthood. But the parents were also there to work through conflicts and take advantage of teaching moments.
Classes in larger learning centers have not had the same results for us. Kids tend to form cliques just as they do in school. It’s difficult for kids to make friends unless they spend a lot of time on campus. Parents generally aren’t there to supervise. Instead, learning center teachers and administrators set and enforce the rules and make judgements about who is at fault. And yes, I am speaking from experience.
Participating in a homeschool P.E. class was another excellent way of building social skills for our teens. Friendships and conflicts both developed, and again parents were there to supervise and take advantage of teaching moments. A dad from the class, whom we knew, called my husband and explained that our son was bullying his son. I told you my family isn’t perfect! We addressed the matter with our son and the problem was solved. This kind of resolution is less likely in a large learning center.
Having our kids work outside jobs has been another fantastic social skill builder. Kids will be exposed to others who don’t share your family’s values, but this can be eye opening for them. They learn how to work with difficult people. And working outside jobs also teaches responsibility. For example, they learn not to stay up late using screens when they have to be at work early.
Why I don’t use tech tools to limit my teens’ screen time
Developing social skills in our homeschool has been more important than strategies to limit screen time or inappropriate content. Earlier on in my homeschooling, I tried many website and screen blockers for computers and kids’ devices. When the program became a nightmare to use, I would search for something that was simple. Invariably I would read a review of how the kids could circumvent the new system I was considering. That’s when I realized something: I didn’t want to keep trying to outsmart my kids’ use of devices when the real issue was their poor boundaries.
This is where I depart from homeschoolers who desire to keep all teen screen use under control. I am not saying that this approach never succeeds. I have seen families who make it work. But these are the reasons I have stopped controlling teen screen time in a Stalinist manner:
First, this approach backfires with many strong-willed kids. I have some of those. I didn’t want to risk removing the power of relationship to influence my kids. I have seen some strong-willed kids go into full rebellion over this issue of screens and I didn’t want that.
Second, this approach puts the responsibility on me as parent instead of on my kids. I knew that without tech solutions and controls from me that my kids would struggle with screen time, and they have. But if I keep them from every struggle, how will they ever learn to seek God? Believe me, I don’t want my kids to experience any of the horrors associated with screen time. But an even greater horror to me is that my kids would leave my home thinking that they don’t need God.
Third, my kids will be making independent choices soon. My kids go to college out of town and I have no idea how late they’re using screens or what kinds of sites they’re visiting. I want them to have my help managing screens and handling consequences of poor decisions before they leave home.
What I do to guide and protect my teens’ screen time
You may be curious then about what I do to guide and protect my kids with screen time.
The first principle I rely on is coaching. When our kids became teens, we took on more of a coaching than an authoritarian role. Reb Bradly has some excellent parenting videos on this changing role. Rather than switching off the Internet at night, we have asked our teens who struggle with going to bed early what an appropriate bedtime is for his work and life. We have pointed out the problems with staying up all hours playing games and even doing homework. We have made our case for an earlier time and have negotiated a reasonable time.
Coaching has included having our kids watch documentaries on the risks of excessive screen time and inappropriate use of social media. It has also included discussions of God’s Word with respect to sexuality and the dangers of pornography.
Excellent coaching includes if-then questions.For example, “If you miss work because you stayed up late watching a movie, what will you do? If you stumble on to a pornographic site, what will you do? If someone messages you something inappropriate, what will you do? What have you done?” These kinds of questions can help you guage the maturity of your teen.
The second principle I rely on is safety in numbers. I have six kids who still play games together, though one son lives on his own and two are in college. My kids know what the others are up to, frequently call them out on it, and sometimes tattle on them. In addition, they connect with friends whose parents I know well. Several times I have been alerted to a problem that another parent has discovered and vice versa. I don’t feel comfortable having a teen spend time online without friends or family members being there for safety. That hasn’t been an issue in our family but if it were, I would make having a friend participate a rule.
The third principle I rely on is intervention. Rather than trying to prevent our teens from making mistakes, we intervene when we discover bad judgment and poor boundaries. When there is evidence of poor choices, we have reviewed our teens’ posts and usage. We have had our kids delete posts and write formal apologies for things they have shared. We have taken devices away for short periods and enforced earlier bedtimes. We follow up intervention with more coaching on how to make better choices.
I see a lot of discussion on what age is appropriate for a teen to have a phone and which kinds of phones and games are appropriate. I don’t think details on what we do will be useful because some of you will think we’re too stringent and others will think we are too lax. My advice is to consider your children as individuals. I have kids who were mature enough at 13 to handle having a phone and others who had struggles at 18. I also think we have to consider each teen’s motivation for using screens. For example, I had a child who felt entitled to a phone. That child didn’t get one until the attitude and motivation changed. I had another who benefited from the humility of having to borrow phones until he was an older teen.
If you are disappointed that I didn’t tell you which types of screens your teen should have at certain ages and for how long, and that I didn’t give you a list of tech solutions to keep their screen time under control, I am sorry. If you feel strongly that these kinds of controls are what you need, I will provide some resources below. I don’t know your kids and your circumstances, and I am in no position to judge another family’s choices on screen time.
But if that’s not your situation, I hope that I have given you some encouragement. I am much more relaxed now that I know the primary responsibility for screen usage and management is my teen’s. I believe it is our job to train them up in the way they should go rather than making sure that’s the way they go.
As a clinical psychologist, I know that most organizing plans and programs will work if someone is motivated. The trouble is that motivation wanes after the initial excitement of starting a new plan. I had a woman call me to ask what book she had purchased from me months before at a Great Homeschool Convention. It was The Organized Homeschool Life. We both laughed.
I want to help women maintain their motivation for organizing because I know the peace and joy that are available when we establish the habit of organizing. To that end, I am writing devotions for an organized life. They will include a tiny organizing task to complete each day. When published, there will be a devotion for each day of the year. But for my own accountability and your benefit until then, I will publish a devotion here and to my subscribers each Friday. Click here to subscribe to the Psychowith6 newsletter to receive your weekly devotion.
All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of god may be competent, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
I had read a number of books I hoped would help me get my act together. But I had never read the entire Bible. I didn’t even think that was advisable! To me, the Bible was a reference book. You looked up the verses you needed and back on the shelf it went.
That is until I heard Becky Tirabassi speak. She gave a full-day seminar on changing your life as part of a Women of Faith conference. Becky shared how God had lovingly and dramatically delivered her from alcoholism. After she came to know Jesus, she committed herself to what she called “an appointment with the King” each day.
Her daily appointments with God included reading enough of the book He had written that she would finish the entire Bible in a year. I didn’t know what that entailed, but I knew I wanted to change my life. I stood up when she asked who was committed to having an appointment with the King each day.
There were challenging days of reading ahead, like the day I gave birth to a nine-and-half-pound baby and could barely keep my eyes open. But I persevered, spending an average of just 12 minutes a day reading the Bible.
A year later I had read the entire Bible and could honestly testify that my life was changed. I still needed help in the organizing department, but I knew that God loved me. And I knew there was hope for a messy woman like me.
TINY TASK: Commit to having an appointment with the King each day. Choose a Bible or Bible reading plan that will allow you to read the entire Bible in one to three years.
After 21 years of homeschooling, I know that motivation runs high at the beginning of the year. But it doesn’t take many weeks before that initial enthusiasm starts to cool. You begin looking forward to Christmas break sooner than you thought you would.
We realize that we need to use some motivational tricks for ourselves and our kids in order to finish the things that we’ve planned. The problem with our motivating efforts is we often buy into several motivation myths that I’m going to describe in this episode. If we do, we will likely continue to struggle.
If you are interested in motivating your homeschooler, I’ve created a video class that you can you use with your spouse or other caregiver that will help you create an effective motivational plan. It includes a handbook for taking action and not just taking in information.
Myth #1: Being the Tough Coach Gets Better Results
The first motivation myth we need to let go of is that being the tough coach will get better results. We had a basketball coach in my high school who was a tough coach and that is putting it nicely. He constantly yelled at players, mocked players, and gave serious harsh consequences for what he considered to be lack of effort. You will not be surprised to learn that he was not loved.
When we play the tough coach, we may think we are motivating but what we are really doing is cutting off relationship, which is the most motivating tool we have. Most kids and adults are motivated more by an encouraging coach who likes and respects them than someone whose own ego is driving their behavior. The basketball coach didn’t want to look bad in front of the fans. He wasn’t as concerned with his players’ feelings and needs. He also lacked a sense of humor. He took being a high school basketball coach in a small town way too seriously. If he had been able to laugh at himself and apologize when he got carried away and yelled, little harm would have been done. But as it is, I only remember his negative behavior.
My 5th grade English teacher was also a tough coach. She didn’t tolerate any nonsense. We were all terrified of her, even though she hadn’t hit us. One severe look from her was enough to have us shaking in our desks.
I wrote a research paper for her class on violent behavior of elephants in captivity. Why I chose that topic, I have no idea. But I took notes on the physical signs of impending elephant violence. After turning in my notecards, my teacher informed me that she was destroying those notes because they were inappropriate. She looked at me as if I had submitted pornography, and that’s exactly how I felt. I am in my 50s and cannot remember a word of praise from her, but I remember that reprimand.
Both the basketball coach and my 5th grade English teacher had skills in their respective areas, but their tough coach approach did not motivate.
Myth #2: The Approving Friend Motivates
The second motivation myth many of us believe is related to the first. If the tough coach approach doesn’t work, we try to be the approving friend. Anything our child does is good and anything our child doesn’t see fit to do is okay. The approving friend doesn’t necessarily have to applaud our choices, but staying silent serves the same purpose.
I had a German teacher who played the approving friend. He would begin teaching and someone in the class would crack a joke, start talking, or interrupt in another way. Rather than take points off for bad behavior or send disruptive students to the principal’s office, he laughed along with us and ignored the lesson for the day. Sometimes he pleaded with us to cooperate. “Come on, guys!” he would say as though he were helpless to stop the melee.
Do you think we were motivated to learn German in his classroom? We were not. My memory of him is of someone who did not deserve our respect.
My chemistry teacher was also the approving friend. He would hand out solutions for us to analyze. If we were stuck at any point, we approached him for help. Rather than ask us what the difficulty was and suggest ways of getting past it, he would tell us exactly what was in the solution. Everyone loved having him as a teacher for an easy A, but we weren’t motivated to learn chemistry.
Students who have an approving friend teacher will be motivated in the short term to get out of challenging work. But with time, behavior problems are added to incomplete studies. Your home is disrupted and everyone is miserable.
Motivation Myth #3: Your Child Has to Agree
Motivation Myth #3 is that your child has to agree. It’s wonderful to give children a voice in decisions like which curriculum to choose, when school and chores will be done, and how much screen time is appropriate. But children do not have to agree to what you decide. Too often we are in a filibuster as we negotiate to motivate them. Only if our child agrees will he be motivated, we think, when our own lives argue the opposite.
How many times have you disagreed with a work or church policy and followed it anyway? Most of us also obey laws we don’t agree with. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we are to submit to authority because authority is God-given. Only when authority is in conflict with God’s law are we to resist. Just as an aside, that doesn’t preclude political resistance in a democracy. We currently enjoy that privilege.
If you as your child’s authority decide that a certain curriculum, workload, or schedule should be used, your child does not have to agree. But they do have to submit to it. Your home is not a democracy. If you are a Christian homeschooler, your home is a theocracy. God is the head of your homeschool, you and your spouse are under His authority, and your children are under yours.
Motivation Myth #4: Punishments Are the Best Motivator
When you believe that you are the authority, you can fall prey to motivation myth #4 that punishments are the best motivator. Punishment can absolutely be a powerful motivator. We obeyed my 5th grade teacher because we were afraid of what she would do to us. What’s funny to me is I don’t remember her doing anything but giving us the Clint Eastwood “Go ahead and make my day” kinda look. We were also motivated by our track coach to work hard or face the punishment of wind sprints.
But the problem with punishment is fear of it fades. We simply can’t stay afraid all the time. When you first start homeschooling, you may be terrified of being investigated by family services. The fear has you keeping meticulous records. But that fear fades when months and even years go by and there is no knock on the door and no recent terrifying tale of someone who knows someone being investigated.
Our kids are also not motivated by fear of punishment long-term. And punishment has an unintended consequence of making us seem like the tough coach. Our kids can resent us as they see us as the speed trap cop who is always trying to give them a ticket.
Punishment can be effective in your homeschool, but if it isn’t working and you keep trying to make the punishment harsher to motivate, break out of that vicious cycle. Begin using rewards to motivate instead.
Motivation Myth #5: We Shouldn’t Have to Reward Good Behavior
That brings me to motivation myth #5: We shouldn’t have to reward good behavior.
The idea is that our kids should do their work and obey out of respect for us and for the Lord. And that is correct. They should. But in all likelihood they will not. Am I suggesting that we have to pay kids to do their homework and their chores? No. But I am saying that there has to be something in it for them until the desired behavior becomes naturally rewarding.
A reward can be praise. And depending on your child’s personality, that can be very powerful.
Reward can be performing well in front of peers. Typically that reward is avoiding the punishment of looking foolish or being ridiculed. My kids and my friends’ kids were more motivated in their writing, literature studies, and public speaking when in a homeschool co-op class with friends.
Reward can be time with you, privileges, and yes, cash. Rewards given consistently for completed work–not perfect work– can motivate your child.
Motivation Myth #6: Nothing Motivates My Child
But that brings me to motivation myth #6: nothing motivates my child. If that myth speaks to you, my question is what does your child like to do? Even if your answer is nothing, you have told me that your child is motivated by leisure time. Giving leisure time in return for completed work can motivate.
Some children exert their power like POWs in pretending to be unaffected by anything you do. Don’t fall for that act. Loving consistency can motivate kids like these who may be testing your love for them. Your child may wonder if there’s something they can do that will cause you to give up on them. That’s such a terrifying proposition that they’d like to find out now if that’s what you’re going to do. We can use our words to reassure our kids that we will always love them, but our actions speak louder in this case. Children want to be disciplined. That’s how they know we care enough to take the time and energy that discipline requires. I encourage you to listen to a recent episode I did on discipline. I’ll link it in the show notes.
If a reward works for a while and then quits working, your child is normal. We all get tired of things that used to motivate us. In this case, you have a child who craves variety. You can create a reward jar or use an app like the Random app to give your child a surprise reward every time. You will have to change these out regularly too, but you can motivate your child.
To encourage you, I just want to say that now that my kids are self-motivated teens, I don’t have to use reward strategies. If you invest the time and energy into motivating your kids when they are young, they are much more likely to form good habits later on.
If you want a motivated child, get my motivated student class and then stop acting out of the motivation myths I describe above. Stop playing the tough coach and the approving friend. Stop waiting for your child to agree and relying on ever harsher punishments to motivate. Finally, understand that using rewards is natural and that every child is motivated by something. Your job is to keep harnessing the power of rewards until your child finds the rewards that are intrinsic to studying, hard work, and respectful relationships.
One of the biggest challenges we face in homeschooling and life is distraction. There are many obstacles in the path to focusing on what really matters. And ignoring them is quite a challenge. But it’s possible! That’s what I want to share with you in this article.
But before I do, I want to invite you to engage in the distraction of Homeschool Sanity Circle. Yep, it’s on Facebook. But it’s an encouraging, supportive group. Have a question, a problem, or something funny to share? We are there for you.
Before we discuss how to ignore distractions, let’s define them. Distractions are anything unimportant that doesn’t help you achieve your goals in homeschooling. Let me give you an example from my own life. I have a newfound love of fashion after joining Get Your Pretty On. Read more about it here. As I was out for my walk one morning, I thought about adding a fashion section to this blog. Then I had another thought as though the Lord were consulting with me. What’s the end goal for that? Uh, I had no answer. I don’t intend to become a fashion blogger or Instagrammer or to make an income in the area of fashion. While fashion continues to be a fun hobby for me, it could serve as a distraction from my homeschooling and my homeschool business.
Hebrews 12:1 says “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” When I’m making a decision like whether or not to add a fashion section to my blog, I can lie to myself that I don’t know the race marked out for me. I do know it. I know that time with God, time with my family and teaching them, and time spent creating resources like Grammar Galaxy for homeschooling families is my calling now. That may change later, but right now it’s clear. What is also clear is that I do not have hours of leisure time to devote to another goal. If you don’t know how much time you have to devote to something else, use my schedule worksheet.
When we remind ourselves of our goals in this season and how our time is being allotted, it’s easier to recognize playing online games, watching the news, and scrolling social media for the distractions they are. But what about things like new extracurricular activity, a new job, or new curriculum?
How can we know if these are distractions or part of achieving our goals?
First, use your schedule worksheet to determine if you have time for the new option. If you don’t, what will you eliminate to make room for it? I didn’t have time for fashion blogging and I had no desire to eliminate my podcast to make room for it. You may also benefit from basic tracking of how you spend your time each day. It’s like a monetary budget that keeps you from buying a boat you can’t afford if you’d also like to pay off debt. Be sure to listen to the podcast episode I did on margin. Don’t underestimate the importance of breathing room in your schedule for your physical and mental health. Several people have told me that while they hate the pandemic, they love having a more relaxed schedule.
The second issue to consider with distractions is boredom. Many times, we get tired of the same old, same old and look for something new. In the meantime, we create stress because we add on commitments or get behind because we are spending so much time researching the new and shiny things. If boredom is the issue, make sure you have fun days and breaks planned into your schedule. That will reduce the need for you to look for a fun distraction that can get you off track. Making my afternoons and weekends unscheduled has helped a lot with my boredom. Family outdoor activities have helped, too. I have resumed sharing my daily outfits on Instagram at Psycho_with_style. Wearing a new combination each day is a way of preventing boredom that doesn’t take hours of my time that fashion blogging would.
Finally, are you facing a challenge? When we have a difficult parenting issue or we come to a concept that is difficult in a curriculum, our natural tendency is to escape and focus on something new and easy. The trouble is the problem remains and will eventually give us grief and will have to be addressed. Delaying rarely makes the problem easier. There are aspects of my business and home life that I don’t enjoy. One issue is website management. I’d like to skip that, so thinking about fashion blogging is a great escape. A better strategy is to deal with the challenges head on and get help if you need it. I hired a web designer to create a new website for Grammar Galaxy Books. Now I’m as excited about it as I am about fashion.
When you are tempted by something you know is a distraction from what’s most important to you, consider these tips:
Take a short break. In my 3-hour Caveday Zoom sessions, we take a break after every 45-50 minutes or so. I am amazed by how invigorating the breaks are. But the key is what we do and for how long. In the past, I was using social media as a break. My breaks usually broke my focus and tanked my productivity. Now my breaks are active. We stretch, exercise, talk, leave the room, get a drink, and chat. But the breaks are very short. In no time we are back at it. If your distraction is calling, choose an active break instead and set your timer. When the timer goes off, get back to it until the next break.
Give yourself guilt-free leisure time. If you feel guilty every time you scroll social media, you’re more likely to get stuck there. Instead, have blocks of time or even entire days when you can engage in your distraction without guilt. Most of the time, you’ll be less drawn to it. This principle works well for kids, too.
Imagine how you’ll feel after the distraction. If you give in and start researching a new math curriculum instead of doing the science experiment, how will you feel? In most cases, you’ll be down on yourself for making that choice. This works for other bad habits like snacking when you’re not hungry, too.
Make distractions more difficult. I keep my phone muted and out of sight when I’m in the cave, writing. When I plan to workout first thing in the morning, I wear my workout clothes to bed. I’m less likely to scroll my phone. Turn off your notifications. Use app blockers on your phone or computer. Unsubscribe from emails that are selling you things you don’t need or want. Let your friends and family know when you’re engaging in focused work and shouldn’t be disturbed.
Recognize distractions for what they are. Ask yourself if you are bored or anxious. If you had a friend who was entertaining the same distraction that you are, what would you think? I have struggled with FOMO, fear of missing out. Reading that FOMO is really covetousness in disguise has helped me a great deal.
Finally, meditate on Scripture and pray. Repeat this verse from Hebrews on throwing off everything that hinders. Read the New Testament accounts of Jesus not letting anyone or anything distract Him from what He came to do. Then ask the Lord to give you Jesus’ single-mindedness.
When you identify distractions, use breaks, have guilt-free leisure time, imagine the future, make distractions more difficult, recognize the real reason for the distraction, and meditate and pray, I believe you will overcome distractions in your homeschool.
Science has been in the news a lot lately. And misunderstanding about science has me taking action this week. You may not know that my education and even my training as a psychologist centered much more on doing and analyzing research then it did on clinical practice. In fact, my job in graduate school was coordinating clinical drug trials.
In this article, I’m going to use what I know about science to share three principles our kids must learn while they are in our homeschools. If they don’t, they can be seriously misled, even if they do well on their college entrance exams.
Speaking of college entrance exams, I want to make it clear that this post isn’t about helping kids do well on them. Many homeschoolers believe that they must teach their kids science information in order for them to do well on the ACT and SAT. The SAT does not have a science section, however, and the ACT’s science section is not a test of knowledge as much as it is a test of nonfiction reading comprehension speed. Your student will have to pick out information from tables and graphs and text that is all new.
I include science vocabulary and nonfiction reading comprehension in grammar galaxy elementary language arts curriculum because learning these concepts is important. My newly released volume blue Star is a great place to look for these lessons. You can still use code podcast to save 15% on your grammar galaxy order. To see if it is right for your students, go to GrammarGalaxyBooks.com/samples.
What does your homeschooler need to know about science?
#1 Science isn’t just facts.
The first thing your student needs to know is that science isn’t just a collection of facts. While it is useful to know that water boils at 212°F / 100 degrees Celsius and interesting to know that Neutron stars can spin 600 times per second, science isn’t just a body of knowledge. This notion of science as fact is what leads to labeling of people as science deniers and the popular sign platitude “science is real.” If science is established fact, we must believe it or be ignorant threats to society.
But science is not just a body of knowledge. An online dictionary defines science this way: “the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” In other words, science is a method of inquiry by which we seek to understand ourselves and our world. The study is ongoing and is not one and done.
I invited my friend and evolution researcher Dr. Carl Warner to join me on The Homeschool Sanity Show. His research is convincing that macro-evolution is not settled science that belongs in the body of knowledge category. I was just reading an astronomy paper that described the dilemma of dating a star that appears to be older than the universe. Even evolutionary scientists have to reappraise what they consider to be facts.
#2 Science is not opinion.
The second principle we must teach our children about science is that it is not opinion. When it comes to mask mandates in the midst of a pandemic, I have heard people say we must follow the science. Science cannot give us a mask mandate, nor can it tell us that we should not have one. Instead, people have to give us their opinion of the research that has been done.
A variety of studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of mask wearing. Some are studies of health care workers. Some are comparisons of infection rates in areas with mask mandates and those without. Still other studies are conducted only in the lab, with no way of knowing if the results translate into decreased infection rates in everyday life.
Research papers accepted for publication generally begin with a review of research in that area of study that leads to the investigators’ hypothesis about what results they will obtain. After the data are presented, the study authors give their opinion on what the results mean. Researchers generally admit to the flaws in their study design and call for further research in other settings and populations to determine if their results hold up.
But this is not the type of scientific opinion we get in the media. One lab study on masks I read concluded with the opinion that mask wearing might prevent sick people from spreading infection. This opinion would likely be rewritten for the media as “masks work” when that wasn’t the researchers stance.
When I have shared my contention that science isn’t opinion, a few people have said, “So you’re saying that you don’t believe masks work.” My response is, “No, I’m saying we don’t know.” Science is ongoing investigation. We need a lot more types of study in a variety of settings and populations to feel confident in giving an opinion. Of course, that hasn’t kept a number of professionals and politicians from confidently giving an opinion. You and I may already have an opinion, but that opinion is not science.
#3 Science requires validation
The third principle we must teach our children about science is the need for validation. I have mentioned previously that I participate in Caveday, a Zoom accountability meeting for productivity. Last week one of the leaders said that she had the unusual ability to put and keep her hands together, with the middle knuckles bent, while being able to separate her ring fingers. I was easily able to do this and said so in the chat. She asked me to show her, so I did. She pointed out, much to my embarrassment, that I had to keep my middle fingers touching at the knuckles. Then I couldn’t do it. I’ll demonstrate on a Facebook Live soon, so you can see what I mean and try it yourself.
My point in telling you this is that I could have gone around saying that I had experimented to discover that I had this unique ability, but my experiment had no validity. I wasn’t measuring the right thing and couldn’t replicate or repeat my results.
Let’s talk about tests for COVID-19 in terms of validity. To be sure that the tests work, we have to have a number of people who are known (via electron microscope image of blood samples) to have significant quantities of the virus in their systems that is also responsible for their symptoms. No other microbe should be present that can explain their illness. Then the test (using a sample from a patient) should be positive only for those people who have a COVID-19 infection. It should be negative for those who don’t. The test should be sensitive enough to pick up true infections in sick people but not so sensitive that it picks up traces of virus that either aren’t related to COVID-19 or aren’t a risk to the patient or others they come into contact with. As with any medical test, data has to be collected and analyzed for a long period of time (typically years) in various settings to determine how accurate the test is. We are continuing to get data on COVID test validity.
The need for validity is important for more than just testing. One of the ways researchers establish validity is through the randomized, double-blind controlled trial. These trials attempt to minimize bias and the placebo effect. We know that our beliefs can easily affect results, whether we are the researcher or the patient. For example, my young children believed that bandages were pain relievers. As soon as the bandage was applied, the tears stopped. Of course, bandages have no analgesic properties. But my kids’ experience would tell me that they do.
A randomized, controlled trial attempts to keep both subjects and researchers in the dark as to who is really getting a vaccine or taking a medication. The problems with doing this with respect to mask wearing should be obvious. But using placebos in drug trials can be just as problematic. The experience of certain side effects can clue both patient and researcher in to a patient taking a drug and not a placebo. In some trials, there is also the ethical dilemma of not giving all patients a treatment that could save their lives.
There has been quite a bit of controversy over the effectiveness of HCQ in treating and preventing COVID-19. You’ve no doubt heard officials argue that randomly controlled trials have not proven its effectiveness. Meanwhile, some physicians have argued that they have case studies (that are not random or blinded) that show it works. They have also suggested that HCQ works when patients aren’t already critically ill and when it’s combined with zinc and an antibiotic. Who is right? You and I no doubt have an opinion on that, but again science is not opinion. Continued study will be required to have confidence in recommendations.
Related to validity is the principle that correlation is not causation. Correlation means that two events or characteristics co-occur at higher rates than would be expected by chance. I have no data on this, but in the early years of my homeschooling, I noted a large number of mini-vans at homeschooling events. My guess is that data collection would have shown that there was a modest correlation between homeschooling and driving a minivan. But a correlation is not causation. When a family decided to homeschool, they wouldn’t feel compelled to buy a minivan, nor would anyone gift them one. There are other variables that can explain why homeschoolers drove minivans more often than other families. One of those variables is likely family size. If we looked more closely at the data, we might see that homeschoolers who have more than three kids drove minivans at a higher rate than those with smaller families. In addition, we would likely find larger families in homeschooling communities than in the population at large.
Confusion of correlation with causation causes us all kinds of grief. This is why people who have panic attacks can develop agoraphobia. If a person has a panic attack at a shopping mall, the mall is subconsciously assumed to be the cause of the attack. Malls must be avoided. When the next attack occurs at the grocery store, they are avoided, too.
Let’s apply this concept to data about health and people groups. If one group of people has poorer outcomes when contracting COVID-19, does that mean that their race, diagnosis, or mask laws are responsible? Not necessarily. A number of variables could explain that association. Medical professionals, politicians, and your neighbors may tell you that a specific correlation is why some people are getting sicker and are even dying as a result of COVID-19, but that’s an opinion and not science. We need a lot more study to inform opinion and that study takes time.
In teaching your children that science isn’t just facts, that it’s not opinion, and that it requires validation, I hope they’ll be confident responding to labels of science denier and assertions that science is real. They will understand, as many do not, that science is ongoing study. Expert opinion will change as we gather more data.
My personal confidence is in Christ. I believe that my days are numbered. If the Lord chooses to call me home via a COVID infection, I know it’s not only the right thing, but there is nothing I can do to change His plan. By the same token, I know that if the Lord chooses to keep me here ministering to my family and others, I have nothing to fear. If you need help trusting God, read the year-long series I did on this topic.