Wednesday, May 6, 2020


Several weeks ago Toni Mullins (aka Teacher Toni) contacted me about a special project she was working on.  She GENEROUSLY offered to share tips for teaching children at home, as well as her FANTASTIC book full practical ideas.  We have to remember that we are trained educators, but most parents don't have some of these skills. I'll let Toni tell you a little more about it...


Post Promise: In this post you will find my TOP FIVE tips for how to manage teaching your K-2 child at home. If you haven’t implemented these ideas, they have the power to transform your home-school experience. Don’t miss the FREE Home-School Survival Kit included below that can help you implement these ideas as soon as today.
I won’t waste your time talking about all of the chaos right now, (we are all getting our fill of that on social media). Instead I am here to provide you, with some my most essential advice for helping our students learn during this unprecedented time. As a Kindergarten teacher, I’ve dug deep into my own practice and pulled out the most essential concepts that I use each day to handle my job. Specifically, these tips are for Primary Students (grades Kindergarten, First and Second) and should help you find some stability, peace and even enjoyment in your new role as a child’s main source of Education.

Empowerment & Joy
In a World filled with uncertainty, one idea stands true and enduring: growth and learning are the key to happiness. Anything that does not grow is essentially dead. Our minds are constantly shifting, learning and re-creating knowledge and this stimulating process is proof that we are indeed, alive.
Now, I want you to think of the child (or children) who you are now charged with home-schooling. They, as a budding flower, are in the most essential time-frame in their educational experience. There is no time more important than now to instill a love of learning in your little one. You have been provided a unique opportunity to impact a child (maybe your own child) in ways no other era has been able to. This is your chance to take on a new, vital role that you can be proud of.
Let me assure you of this: there is a unique sense of joy that can be found in teaching that drives millions of people to this career. Search for that feeling and let it drive you. I know this may not be your thing but you’ll drown in the trenches if you don’t find happiness in this journey. Our students can sense our feelings and often respond to it in that manner. So, your job is to find some joy in what you are doing with your child. I hope these five tips can assist you in this process.  

Tip #1: Create a Schedule, but keep it flexible.
Routines make us feel safe and productive.  We all need something repetitive and normal in our day to make us feel in control of something, and this even more true for our children. Our kids need the security of a daily schedule.   If you haven’t already, don’t wait another day; make a daily schedule for your child and use it consistently. This doesn’t have to be time-slotted or fancy, it just needs to exist.
When you begin this schedule and do it consistently (just as we do in the classroom), you’ll see many benefits, such as:

-Less resistance to tasks
-More engagement
-Mood improvement
-Quicker transitions between tasks
-More free-time (you’ll finish things at a quicker pace.)

Keep it Flexible. In the classroom, I’m a stickler when it comes to my daily schedule. I have a set amount of time for each activity and any interruptions can reap havoc on my plan. Your day doesn’t have to be this way though. Don’t let the schedule stress you out! Instead, use it as a loose guide to what needs to be accomplished. Time frames aren’t important, only the tasks that need to be completed are.
To help you, I have created a FREE Daily Schedule Card system that you can use with your child. These are perfect for Primary students because they have picture cues for our non-readers.  There are 36 cards included and there are also editable cards in case you need more.  
To use this flexible system:
-Print out your needed cards. (Edit those that may need it.)
-Place on a ring or on display. At the beginning of each day (depending on your needs) rearrange, add or take away cards to accommodate your goals. Flip each card as it is completed as to mark off that task for the day. (My own daughters like to flip their cards after completing tasks, sort of like a challenge.)

Tip #2: Create Designated Learning Areas

Teachers are masters of creating meaningful learning spaces. As a new home-school teacher it is important for you to know that your child is accustomed to having specific learning areas at school. You don’t need a full classroom to achieve this, but you do need to be thoughtful about how you choose and organize the spaces your child will be using to do school-related work and activities.
An ideal learning area should:
-Be quiet and free of distractions. Turn off the TV, put technology out of sight and close a door to prevent excess noises.
-Be organized with supplies at hand. Looking for a pencil in the middle of a teaching session can be detrimental, trust me. I have included a free set of home-school supply labels to help with this step in the Home-School Survival Kit.
-Have visual cues to segment learning areas. Most classroom teachers use signs to label and organize various learning areas. These serve as a visual cue for students to understand that area’s purpose. You can do this at home to, to help your child understand what each area in your home is going to be used for. I have included an array of signs in the free download that you can use for this purpose.

Tip #3: Use a Behavior Management Plan
I’ve seen numerous posts from parents frustrated with their child’s behavior during their home-school work. “How do teachers deal with this?” you might ask. Well, not all Teachers are good with behavior management, but the ones who are have a great plan in place. If your child lacks focus, attention and makes you want to seek early-retirement from this home-school gig- you NEED a behavior management plan. Don’t think your home discipline is equivalent to school discipline- we teachers use tricks of the trade to keep your child engaged.
My best advice for this section is to find what works for your child. No plan fits all students (or the Teacher), it just isn’t that easy. What I do suggest is a positive behavior system. This is a system that commends positive behaviors rather than focusing on negative ones. Most parents naturally discipline in a way that corrects their child’s mistakes- but in the classroom most Teachers agree that encouraging and recognizing positive behaviors is most effective.
In today’s download, I am sharing my favorite positive behavior tool. In my classroom, I use a wide plethora of tricks, games and incentives to keep my students engaged and under control- but what I’ve found works best is a “Sticker Card” system.
It works like this:
-Each student is provided a blank sticker card.
-Before beginning, I explain the rules and emphasize their importance. (Don’t skip this step, it is VITAL to this system.)
-When they exhibit positive behaviors, students earn stickers on their card. (Alternatively, you can just put a smiley face in marker.)
-When the card is filled, they get a pre-determined prize. You can also track the number of cards filled and have a bigger reward when your student reaches that long-term goal.
I have included this system, complete with editable rules, pro-tips and sticker card templates in the Home-School Survival Kit included below.

Tip #4: Utilize Brain Breaks
During your at-home learning, don’t fail to give your child a proper amount of cognitive breaks (we call them brain-breaks in the classroom.) This may sound like a waste of time, but trust my years of experience with working with young children- they have to have breaks between learning tasks. It is for their sanity and yours too.
What is a brain break? It is a short (less than five minutes) break placed between learning tasks to give students a mental transition and opportunity to rest their cognition. In the classroom, this can be singing a song, doing a quick dance or even a couple minutes of physical exercise. Without this break, our students can lack focus and mental clarity on the next task at hand.
To use them effectively, plan them strategically as a transition between two different tasks or after a certain amount of work is completed. In my Kindergarten classroom, I give my students scheduled breaks after about 20-25 minutes of instructional time. You can increase or decrease this time depending on the child’s age.
In the free download you’ll find a compilation of my most adored Dr. Jean brain breaks. Just open this on a laptop or device and you’ll have a library of brain breaks that your child will love! I have also included several “Brain Break” schedule cards in the download to help you mark the times when this is most appropriate.

Tip #5: Schedule Screen Time
Have you ever had a day of Facebook binging and felt like a big, lackluster blob afterwards? It is because our screens drain our brains of engagement and focus. This isn’t productive or helpful time and leaves us feeling what I can only describe as “disoriented.” Can’t we decide that long, unmarked periods of useless technology time could be ever-more damaging to our children? Yes! This is one of the many reasons we need to limit screen time during these long days at home.  
Years of research have proven that too much technology use can be damaging to their brains, but technology time can also be ruining your learning goals for the day. If your child is only focused on when they can get more tech-time, whines when you put away the iPad and is lackluster during all of your work time together- you need to limit and schedule their screen time. This may be a daunting task if your child is accustomed to technology freedom, but after a week or so of intentional technology time- you’ll see the benefits.  
Be very thoughtful about when and how long your child is spending on their technology each day. My top recommendations here are:
-No free-play screen time during the instructional day. They’ll either rush through tasks to get to their screen time or be resilient and annoyed when having to separate from their screen time to do another task.
-Don’t replace play time with screens. Play is the work of children; they need real play time to stimulate their brains and form new knowledge. Technology time and play time should be two separate areas in their day. There should be no exceptions to this rule.
-Embrace their boredom. Don’t feel guilty when your child is bored and in turn provide them technology as a distraction. From boredom flows ideas and creativity- concepts every child will need in their life to achieve anything. Think of meaningless technology instead as an enemy to these concepts, a barrier that could prevent your child from learning real-world concepts. This should make it easier when they meet you with defiance about new technology limits. This is what’s best for them, whether they realize it or not.

Get your FREE Home-School Survival Kit Here!
I hope these tricks-of-the-trade will help you find new joy in your home-school experience. You can download your free Home-School Survival Kit with all of these mentioned resources here.