You know you need to turn off screens while you homeschool. Do you constantly have to say no to a little one asking to watch their favorite show during the school morning? Are you turning off videos before math and grabbing your phone from their hand before spelling? The list of shows, social media platforms, and video games vying for our children’s attention is longer than the list of school subjects we teach each day. The battle against technology during learning time is a huge battle for me and almost every homeschool parent. These constant low-grade battles wear us out as mothers.
Here is winning strategy to keep your kids engaged in the learning process during school hours:
Turn off all screens.
Use technology at appropriate times
I’m not arguing here that you turn off all screens forever. Some people do argue for that approach. Perhaps it is better for children, especially very young children. However, we are a real life family, not an ideal family. My kids have always watched a little TV. They have always played a few computer games. Our goal as a family is to keep the content wholesome, use technology in limited amounts, and use it at appropriate times. Homeschooling hours are not appropriate hours for screen time.
I am suggesting you block out the active learning hours of your day and never, ever, allow your kids to waste time on their favorite tech during those hours. Do not allow preschoolers or teens, or anyone in between, to be on a screen. Have all your kids turn off screens while you homeschool.
What about computer based learning?
You may ask, what about video courses or online learning? First, that’s a different use of technology. Using technology for education is far different than an endless string of inane videos. Using technology for teaching subject matter is a good use of technology. Make sure you choose your courses wisely.
Second, I limit, limit, limit my kids’ use of educational computer programs any way, and I think you can achieve better results without them (that’s the topic of another post). We only have one course that uses videos; it is easy to schedule it for the end of our school day so that we’re not distracted. For example, we use Latin videos, because we want to pronounce the language the same way other people do. We watch those for 10-15 minutes a day and chant along with them. Occasionally, we watch speeches or travel videos online; we watch videos that complement our book learning. But we always save these activities for the end of our school morning. We do all the hard, laborious work first.
Be absolutely certain your kids stay focused on the educational content. It is so easy to click back and forth between screens, and all those quick breaks to check social media can take a big chunk out of their school day. Worse, humans are much worse at multitasking than we think and it probably changes the way we learn. See this article.
Turn off screens while you homeschool to avoid arguments
Here are three good reasons to block out school time as a technology free time:
First, if your kids are never allowed to use technology during school hours, they will eventually stop asking, or worse, sneaking it in behind your back. You will have won a little peace in your day. Who doesn’t need a little more peace in their homeschool day?
I would implement this rule right from the beginning. Your first day of pre-school or your first day home with them from public school is a day they are fully engaged with you. Even if there is not enough school work to fill the entire time block, your kids can default to play instead of screens.
If you have been homeschooling for a while and implement this as a new rule, expect arguments in the beginning. And expect those arguments to last for weeks. You will call me a liar when your home is anything but peaceful. Stay strong and stick to the plan. It will get better.
If you never make a rule to turn off screens while you homeschool, you will fight your kids every single day of their entire home education. Every time you leave the room they’ll pop back on a screen. Trust me: teens like technology as much as little people. Fighting this fight every day for 12 school years will wear you out – you’ll be exhausted. You’ll blame homeschooling, but the real problem will be the habits you’ve allowed your kids to develop. Develop good habits, turn off screens while you homeschool, and enjoy the peace you’ve created in your home.
Create a habit of focused learning
Second, when you turn off screens during homeschool hours, you will develop a habit of focused learning. Habits are wonderful things! When we automatically do the things that are good for us, without conscious choice, that’s amazing!
Technology allows for distracted learning, brains thinking about one thing, then another in thirty second increments. We want our kids to start their math lesson, and think about math until all 30 problems are finished. If you leave the room and ten seconds later your kids are on your phone, they were not focused on math even when you were in the room. We don’t want kids who pick up their iPad and start playing games while we’re reading aloud. We want kids who never even think about it.
Train your kids in the habit of focused learning and they will not have to fight every urge and impulse. A habit of focused learning gives kids concentration that allows them to ignore the lure of technological distraction and keeps their minds actively engaged in their work.
Encourage active learning
Finally, creating technology free time creates an active learning environment. In order to really learn we must be an active participant in the process. Our minds need to be thinking, mulling over ideas, and problem solving. Hands should move. We use our voices to chant, repeat, recite, and narrate. When our child sits on the couch reading, their brain is incredibly busy. In contrast, when we turn on a screen our minds become passive and brain activity slows.
Create an entire school morning during which your kids’ brains are crazy active. Even small children who can’t focus on seat work for an hour straight (half an hour? fifteen minutes?) need an active break from school work. They need to be out in the back-yard running, yelling, and imagining. Children’s brains are active even in their play. The passive couch potato watching TV has the brain of a slug. Turn off the screens while you homeschool and learning will sky-rocket; both school work and play breaks keep their minds active.
Using technology to keep toddlers busy
Keeping toddlers busy during the school morning is a huge challenge. Using TV to keep them entertained feels like the only way you can give your older children undivided attention to help them with their school work. If you use those thirty or sixty minutes wisely, it is okay (I often used to have my little ones watch TV while I made dinner). TV can be a good babysitter.
Here are two cautions to keep in mind if you use this approach. First, keep the time limited. Toddlers will only sit still and watch TV for so long, then they’re up and active again. Don’t let the TV be running all day in the background. Second, expect your older kids to gravitate toward the screen. Find a way to supervise the kids who are supposed to be doing school independently during this time.
A better approach is to train your toddlers to play quietly. They can spend a little while playing by themselves each day. You can have older siblings take turns playing with them. And don’t forget, toddlers need time with mom too. Schedule a time every day to play games or read books one on one with your toddler. They are desperate for a few minutes of undivided attention.
Screen free time for moms
This rule applies to moms too! I cannot tell you how important this is. You need to set a good example for your kids. It is unfair to ask them to do something you will not do. And providing your kids with a great education will demand your undivided attention. If you allow yourself to be distracted all morning, every morning, your kids’ education will suffer for it. Answer only essential phone calls and texts. Period. You’ll survive.
How to create tech free time
So, how do you do it? You just do it! That’s it. No fancy planning. No special equipment. You don’t even have to write it on a schedule. Start today.
- Pick your screen free hours and tell your kids. I find it easiest to keep my kids off screens from the time they wake up until after lunch. But if you only do school from 9:00-11:00 and a whole morning without screens is too long, make your rule, “No screens from 9:00-11:00.” That’s the rule. Every. Single. Day.
- Expect arguments. Expect more at first and fewer as your kids adjust to a new schedule. Some kids have an unlimited capacity for argument and will never stop trying to change the rules. That’s okay. These fights will still be less exhausting than not having the rule in the first place. If you keep finding older children on their phone or tablet, put them all in a central location during the school morning. Then you’ll avoid the arguments when you walk in their room and find them online.
- Your will power as the mother and teacher is the key ingredient to success. Once you have decided it is important to turn off screens while you homeschool, you will figure out how to get it done no matter what the obstacles are.
- Expect screen free hours, don’t reward for screen free hours. For example, don’t create a system where every hour off the screen earns them 30 minutes on the screen later. First problem: you’ll have to track those hours. That’s tiring and you’ll lose track. Second problem: You’ll waste time negotiating. When they spend 53 instead of 60 minutes, they’ll try to negotiate the reward. It’s ridiculous. (I know because I find myself caught up in all kinds of ridiculous negotiations. I work hard to figure out how to avoid them.) Set screen free hours. Set hours when they’re allowed to watch something or play video games. Make those two independent of each other. The time you don’t spend arguing is a reward for everybody!
- Enjoy your school mornings! This is one of the best choices you can make so that everyone involved loves homeschool! In the beginning you’ll hear nothing but how much they hate this new lifestyle of deprivation. But later, years later, they will love their learning lifestyle.