Homeschool Checkup: Keeping Them Interested and Learning


My youngest three, pretending to be sad…..probably about something school related. 😉

We have been plugging away at our school year. Lesson plans finished on time each week with little to no items carried over – just the occasional audio book that no one is in the mood to listen to (sometimes it is the book’s content – mythology/fables – and sometimes it is the heavy accent by some of the readers…turns a 10 minute listening period into 20 minutes because we have to keep rewinding!).  I checked our calendar and compared them with our lessons; I had given us a couple of weeks of flexibility in case of sickness or impromptu stuff, but we haven’t used any of it. So, it looks like our school year will be done May 12! I was so excited to see that date. We will enjoy a nice long Summer break.

One of the things we struggle with constantly is keeping kids’ attention. Whether it is nice weather or public schools’ days off or library activities or just plain old disinterest, we struggle (weekly!) with getting all the school-aged kids to actually pay attention for the full 2 hours of intense school work. I am a little more laid back with the earlier items of our school day – Bible (I let them speak up and ask questions), poetry (giggles usually ensue while we work on memorization….or hand motions for the words), nature study (lots of observations or questions pop up), and a few other casual things. I don’t get on them as much about focus or sitting still or being quiet; we just kind of talk and bounce ideas off each other and work to help the boys with memory work, too.

Once we get into the meatier subjects (math, history, science, Shakespeare), I tend to enforce more quiet and staying in one spot. When I find us all losing focus and interest, these 3 things help us get back on track:

1.Find another way to present the information.

We struggle, but digging into the info a different way helps us focus. In Addy’s history book, just read about how the Romans built a wall for the Britons to separate the lower part of the country from the Scots up north. Honestly, I would rather just show her Braveheart with Mel Gibson to cover that time period ;), but since that probably isn’t appropriate, we settled on finding a map that showed the island divided up and even showing the walls and castles. It was interesting, especially comparing it to a current map of the island. And I can honestly say I learned some things.

Iris and Lily have a more current history, one that I find a little more exciting. They are learning from This Country of Ours about the history of the United States. It includes a lot of detail, things I don’t remember learning in school. And we are finally moving into more about settlements along the Mississippi River, so it is fun to see things moving into our region of the country and noting places in relation to where we live. I probably find it more exciting than they do, but they are retaining names and places better than I thought…so I’ll take it. The one thing that really catches our attention is when there is a description of violence or death; I suppose it is because we are used to history being so dry, but this book definitely doesn’t gloss over things. Indians scalping settlers; the English scamming the Indians; a French guy lying to people in Paris about the awesomeness of Louisiana and into buying a bunch of shares of the Mississippi Company – all these have been pretty interesting and incredibly sad bits of history. We are learning to appreciate it. And finding our location on our big U.S. map and then all the places we’re discussing really helps them get into it. When I can take the information from the book and show the girls where it all occurred on our map, they find it a little more interesting. These things happened not too far from us and have named a lot of places near us, so they find it neat. If I had just read from the book and made nothing applicable to us, they probably would not have cared as much.

2. Get off track….a little.

This week, we were learning about the tower at Babel in our Bible lesson. We discussed all the details we already knew, and then part of the lesson broke off into cavemen. Then we started talking about cave dwellings, and we were able to look up Coober Pedy, Australia (click on it!) and the folks that currently live underground in the cave-like homes. All five kids and I were glued to the screen, reading and looking at the pictures. Then we hopped on YouTube and watched a guy give a tour of an underground cave home. Practically the whole town lives underground!

We would have probably become bored with talking about cavemen and cave homes had we not expanded our search to online, where we found all this cool information! NOW, we will probably remember a ton more from the Bible lesson than I had first thought. It helped us to get a little off track from the information to really dig into an aspect of the lesson we would have typically skipped over.

3. Take a break.

Sometimes, it does not matter how creative I get with presenting the lessons or reading. And sometimes it doesn’t matter what cool videos I found about an obscure bit of info.

Sometimes…we just have to walk away from it for a bit. I know that if I have tried a bunch of things and kids are still not responding (or they are responding with that whine that makes me want to tear out my eardrums), we need to do something else. This could be moving on to another, more exciting, subject, or it could just mean taking a snack or game break.

One of the most wonderful things about homeschooling is that we can utilize our “golden hours” – those couple of hours when we are at our best for working. For us, this is usually mid to late morning; the kids’ bellies are full, everyone is dressed, I have deodorant on….things are good. If we can pound out 2 solid hours of school time, we are set for the day. When someone is off and our golden hours are not working for us that day, we can adjust. Maybe someone is super tired, didn’t sleep well, is hungry, has to poop, lost a sock, whatever the case may be, we can pause, go play a game or have a snack (or use the bathroom) and come back to it later. We don’t have to force a subject; it won’t work anyhow – everyone will just be angry. I am so happy that when our funky moods get in the way, we can take time to adjust our attitudes and come back to our schooling when we are all much happier. And, honestly, sometimes that means doing no more schoolwork for the rest of that day. Every once in a while, usually if a few haven’t slept well, we just cannot get through our work. Those days, we just pack it up for the day and watch movies or play games or the kids all go to the basement to play imaginary things for hours. And I am totally fine with that (especially if they go to the basement and I can read or crochet uninterrupted for a bit!). We just pick it up the next day, even if it means we have to double up to stay on course.

I have never taught in a classroom. I only know this for my own children, but I assume it rings true for most kids…When you force the learning, no learning actually occurs. I can force Addy to read phonics lessons or her little reader books, but if she is not in the mindset to work on reading…she learns absolutely nothing. I can force Iris and Lily to read their George Washington book and write me things about it, but if they are not in the mind-frame to learn, they will retain nothing. Encouraging learning is a much better way to go. Making learning exciting and the information relevant and having a good attitude about it all as the Mom is a great way to engage the kids and keep the focus. But, on the days one or more of my kids are completely distracted by something (emotions, tiredness, hunger, etc), it doesn’t do any of us any good to force them to learn because the exact opposite will happen.

Can you relate to these kinds of days?? Do you have any tips or tricks that help you and your kids get the information when no one is really interested?



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