Everyone gets a case of the blahs from time to time.
To stay motivated can be especially tough during a long stretch of school with no breaks.
Whether your kids attend school at home or outside the home, finding a rhythm after a school break can take time. Or sometimes, you are waiting for the next school break to come, and it seems to be taking forever.
We hear you.
Parents and students need ways to shake up school and homework routines to make things more interesting.
Here are a few tips and tricks:
1. Songs: Start each morning with a song you know your children love. Even the grumpiest of morning people will warm to an upbeat favorite. (If your kids all like different songs, make a playlist to start each morning that covers all the favorites.) This can be a song that signals the start of a learn-at-home day, to listen to during breakfast or jam to on the way to school. It is a simple way to start the day on fun footing.
2. Seasons: Instead of looking at a school day or an at-home learning day as a means to an end — getting closer to the weekend — try to think seasonally. Encourage your kids to do this too. Here is how it works. For at-home learning, think of your subjects in blocks rather than a checklist of daily to-do items. Some weeks you’ll cover history, and some weeks you won’t. Spend a few weeks intensely diving into a historical time period and then another few weeks exploring the ecosystems in various countries (bonus: geography and science in one!).
If your kids attend school outside the home, this can look like taking the school week a chunk at a time. Instead of working through a list each night — which can feel boring and humdrum to children and teens — help them reframe their homework. Let them get out a huge piece of poster board or write on a dry erase board the title for their week. Maybe it’s Amazing Math Week or Chemistry Lab Week. This doesn’t mean, of course, that your child gets to leave off all the other subjects. But it does mean pinpointing something important that is happening at school that week and focusing on it.
Children can have a very hard time just working through a checklist with no real goal or reason behind it. Helping them look ahead to see what’s a “big moment” in their week can teach them how to zero in on one specific goal. Maybe there’s a big math test that week or a Spelling Bee they’re in. Help them see that focusing on one particular goal keeps them from getting overwhelmed by too many assignments. It means they do the other core subjects, but they really try to focus on just one theme for the week and make it their best effort.
Adults do this all the time without realizing it. Some weeks, we try to meal plan five nights a week. Other weeks, we’re just happy to get the laundry folded and put away. We forget that our kids also need to learn how to prioritize one thing each week. It sets them up for less anxiety too.
3. Scavenger Hunt: If you are rushing your child out the door to catch an early school bus, it may feel like you are playing a “scavenger hunt” to find socks and school necessities every day. However, for those who need structure in their mornings, starting with a five-minute fun activity can help kick off the morning well — especially if it’s a hide-and-seek routine that happens daily.
For example, on Monday you hide an object that moves. Tuesdays are for table wear (who can find the spoon first?). Wednesdays are for wisdom — hiding something that involves learning. (Hide a book or a stack of notebook paper — a pen — anything that coincides with the theme you create.) And you continue the themes for each day of the week. It helps younger students get a taste of calendar and time-keeping, and it can be a motivator to start the day for older students. Even better if there is a prize attached.
Finding it within the five-minute time frame? Stay up 30 minutes late that night. Finding it first? Get extra screen time after school work is finished. Guess what the themed item is and find it on time? Choose what’s for dinner.
Once the limited-time scavenger hunt becomes a routine, kids look forward to the start of a day that could otherwise be difficult.
4. Setting: You learned about setting in school. It’s the time and place in which a story is set. And sometimes, to shake up a case of the blahs, it just takes a little divergence. If your child comes home at 4 p.m. every day, gets a snack, and sits at the kitchen table to do homework, throw him a curveball. Swoop him out to the front porch with a popsicle. Let him start his homework there. Or if it’s too cold to go outside, let your child choose an indoor spot that would be a little less boring for him to do the assignments. Is it the library? A cafe? Under his bed? On the couch?
If your child is an at-home learner, this can simply mean letting her go outside for spelling or hang upside down to recite multiplication tables. Or in the afternoon, you let her chill by a roaring fire in the fireplace while reading her novel in a cozy chair.
It’s easier when our kids are young to remember this strategy of change. But as they get older, we forget that a simple shakeup in place or time can really make a difference. One of our Learnwell parents has an elementary-aged child and a middle schooler. She recently let her younger child go outside to ride bikes in the driveway while she called out answers to multiplication tables. The older child decided to join them for a short bike ride. When he came inside, he grabbed his laptop, headed for the cozy couch (instead of his desk), and got straight to work on a writing assignment.
It’s all about balance and noticing when our kids need something different.
5. Stars and stickers: Believe it or not, even older kids like a gold star or a sticker every now and then.
If you teach your children at home, this can also be a strategy to keep you from feeling frantic about fitting it all in. Just draw a star by an assignment your child didn’t get to finish. Or put a sticker next to a subject you did not have time for before rushing out to an appointment. It is an easy way to get back on track the next day.
And for learners who attend school outside the home, this can simply be a sticker somewhere they least expect it. They may find it at lunch or in the middle of class. But it’s a small way to bring a smile to their day.
It can also be a sticker that they receive when they walk through the door — signifying it’s time to do something they love. If they enjoy cycling, give them a bike sticker and tell them to go for a bike ride before settling in for homework. If they’re huge fans of Star Wars, let them watch part of the film while eating an afternoon snack after you give them that Yoda sticker.
This practice doesn’t need to be an everyday thing, but it’s a great way to break up a long stretch of school days. It also reminds you and your child that schoolwork isn’t everything. Relationships are what is most important.
6. Stretch time: Every person on the planet needs restorative downtime. Even when our kids are busy with after-school activities, it is important to give them a few minutes (at the very least) to unwind from school.
If you have an extrovert, he or she may feel better just chatting over a snack. “Stretch time” is just a portion of the day that gives your child ownership and freedom to reboot. Introverts may need alone time. Stretch time acts as a transition from one thing to the next.
7. Schedule: Having a schedule is something almost every parent has heard. Young and old, children thrive on routine. However, at times we overschedule our kids.
We think they need this lesson or that sport, plus we let their desires dictate what we spend our afternoons and evenings doing. It is okay to want to play at a friend’s house, play basketball, or learn how to play the violin. But scheduling something every day of the week can disrupt your child’s ability to do homework, to have stretch time, to connect with family, or to get to bed at a decent hour.
When a rushed pace becomes routine, it may be time to shake it up by taking something off the calendar.