In these unprecedented times, parents now also have the task of homeschooling their children.  You may have gotten a packet of work from your child’s teacher or some sort of instructions for distance or e-learning, but may need some guidance on how to structure the day or how to teach certain concepts to your child. As an educator, I would like to help all of you navigate this new dynamic and help to keep you sane! Here are my tips for parents for setting up home learning…

1. Create a Schedule

This is the first thing I do as a teacher, even before I plan on what I am teaching. A schedule is helpful because you and your child know what to expect and there are endpoints to certain activities. Here are a few tips on creating a schedule: 

  • Mirror their school schedule- You can ask your child’s teacher (or your child) what their school schedule is and have a similar schedule at home. You could have lunch and “recess” at the same time your child normally does these activities during the week.
  • Make the schedule work for you & your child- If you need to work from home at a certain time, that might be a good time to give your child a quiet break or an activity they can do independently.
  • Use a schedule format that works for your childSome students use picture schedules or written schedules depending on their level. Use a schedule that is best for your child and know that a written schedule on a piece of paper works during this time!
  • Make it consistent, but give room for flexibility- It is important to maintain structure and routine (especially during uncertain times), but it’s okay to allow for a little flexibility. If there is something you need to do for work on a certain day, you can tell your child ahead of time that there will be no “school” that day.
  • Use timers- I use timers all the time. You could use a kitchen timer and set alarms on your phone. This benefits your child because they can see how much time is left and it helps keep you on track too!

2. Make Rules for Learning Time

Have rules during “school” or learning time. Even if you have house rules, creating rules and expectations for learning time will make things go a lot smoother. Here are some tips for creating rules:

  • Have a small number of rules- Depending on your child, about 3-5 rules should be enough. Too many rules will be overwhelming and not effective.
  • Tell what behavior you want to see-When I create rules, I tell about the behavior I want to see, not the behaviors I do not want to see. Instead of saying, “No hitting” or “Don’t flap your hands”, try “Nice hands”.
  • Write down the rules- Write out the rules with or without visuals for your child, that way it is concrete and you can reference the rules.  It also allows you to point to a rule as a reminder to your child instead of saying the same thing, over and over again.

3. Motivate Your Child with a Token Economy

It can be difficult to motivate children to do school work, so allowing your child to work for something can help. Sasha always gives the example of us as adults not working for free-we all work for a reinforcer. As adults, we work for a paycheck, so give your child the opportunity to work for something reasonable that they want. Here are some ways you can have a token economy (a system for your child to work for what they want) at home:

  • Offer appropriate reinforcers/rewardsMake sure it is something your child wants to work for and is reasonable for you to give to your child. For example, if your child likes Lego, allow them to work for a few minutes of playing with Lego (set the timer!). Promising a trip to Lego Land (even before these uncertain times) is probably not reasonable or realistic. Activities are always a good reinforcer or reward. Small snacks or food can be effective too, but make sure you only give your child a little bit at a time (e.g. a few M&Ms) so that it is still effective.
  • Give them the reinforcer/reward right away- If your child has done the work you asked them to do, make sure they get their reward/reinforcer right away. This helps to keep your child doing their work consistently because if they have to wait for it, they are less likely to do their work the next time.
  • First, then chartThis can be used as a schedule or as a motivator if the first activity is work and the second activity is something your child wants to do. They know when they are done with their work, they get the reinforcer/reward or activity that they wanted to do.
  • I’m working for chartThis is a visual that can have spaces at the bottom for stars or checks. When your child completes part of their work or does what you ask, you can check off one of the spaces. You can decide how many stars or checks your child earns before they get their reinforcer/reward.
  • Use pointsI use points in my classroom. Give your child a point for doing what you have asked them to do.  It’s a great way to teach tallies and students know they are doing well when you give them points. The points can be strips of paper or tallies marked on a paper.

A note-allowing your child to work for something isn’t bribery. Working for something (reinforcer) is set up beforehand. Bribery is when your child is not cooperating and you offer something to get them to stop in the middle of their behaviors. Reinforcers work long term; bribery does not. For more information on a token economy, check out my post, Benefits to Using a Token Economy.

4. Use Simple Teaching Strategies

All parents were suddenly put into this role of home school teacher, so unless you are a teacher yourself, you are probably not familiar with teaching strategies, so here are two (with videos!) to help guide you: 

  • I Do, We Do, You Do- This strategy has you show your child what to do at first; then, guiding your child on doing the task or activity and finally, allowing the child to do the task or activity on their own. Check out the video below for more on this strategy.
  • Errorless Learning- This strategy gives the student many practice opportunities to do something the correct way-it’s like giving them the right answer first and letting them practice. Usually, we teach by having the students answer or do something and then we correct them if it’s wrong. With errorless learning, students are learning the right way to do something from the start and don’t learn bad habits along the way. Here are two videos about errorless learning below.

Give your child lots of practice opportunities. The old saying “Practice makes perfect” is true. Your child may need a lot of practice opportunities and that’s okay. Repetition is also helpful. You may feel like you are saying the same thing over and over again, but hearing it repeatedly is helpful to children learning a new skill.  

5. Practice Life Skills

As a teacher, I often have a hard time figuring out how to bring certain chores or life skills from home into the classroom. Make this an opportunity to teach your child life skills- laundry, cooking, cleaning and organizing.  Your child will gain more independence and you might get some help around the house! Here are some ideas for practicing life skills at home:

  • Break Up the Task-Many household tasks have a lot of steps. Have your child start with sorting by color or folding a certain item of clothing, like socks.
  • Partial Participation-Find ways your child can participate in part of a household task. Even if your child is too young to use the stove, they can open up the food packages to help with cooking. They can hand you the laundry soap or dryer sheets.
  • Focus on Hygiene-I know that this is something parents focus on daily, but now there is more time to make sure they are doing it correctly and independently.
  • Toilet Train –This time is a good opportunity to attempt to toilet train your child if needed. There are probably not a lot of other chances you get as a parent to stay home from work for an extended period of time in order to do this-take advantage!

Extra Tips 

  • Check out free resources onlineMore free resources are becoming available because of the Coronavirus, so keep checking back. The Autism Helper has some free downloadable activities on our Teachers Pay Teachers page (I especially like the 180 Questions & Prompts to Build Expressive & Receptive Language). YouTube is also one of my favorite platforms for learning new things-they have videos on teaching strategies, content for students (e.g. sight words, time, money) and fun videos your child can work for. 
  • Communicate with your child’s teacherAs a teacher, I am more than happy to offer support to my students and their families at this time and I’m sure your child’s teacher feels the same way. Don’t hesitate to ask any question-I love sharing my teaching knowledge to empower parents!
  • Give yourself some grace (and some self-care time)This hopefully isn’t frustrating advice coming from a non-parent, but working with children all day I learned that I needed to take care of myself first. You need to help yourself before you can help others. Anything you can do to be patient with yourself during this time and any small safe care activity you can do during the day will only benefit you and your children

Finally, check out these two videos from Good Morning America and the Today Show on tips for parents homeschooling their children during this time. 

Please let me let me know what other content that would be helpful or useful to you or any questions you have as parents teaching your children at home.  Stay healthy, safe and sane!

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