Keeping Kids on Task When the Classroom is Your Living Room

2018_2_3_7 - When the Living Room is Your School Room_Jessica Cole2.jpg

As those who know me could probably guess, I take a fairly relaxed approach to schooling. We have a general schedule for our school day, but we don’t follow it very strictly most of the time. I love the flexibility that homeschooling provides, and though the loose structure is not always the most efficient, I’d say we’ve developed a system that fits pretty well with our family overall.

One area in which I still struggle, however, is keeping my girls on task during group discussion times. We have Bible study each morning and group science or history a few days each week, and there are some days when these sessions drive me just about crazy. On the one hand, I love that the relaxed atmosphere means we can chase down rabbit trails that happen to pique our interest. Just this week in science, we talked about marsupials and ended up watching all manner of animal videos on YouTube. It put us a bit behind on our usual schedule that day, but we all enjoyed it immensely.

On the other hand, the fact that school happens in our living room means that sometimes the kids have trouble respecting its dual function as a classroom. In other words, I must frequently remind them that although these things are fine at other times, during group discussion time they are not allowed to play with their toys, wrestle with their siblings, interject their commentary, run to the bathroom, or grab a snack and drink whenever they please. Even as informal as I tend to like things to be, I sometimes consider setting up desks and a chalkboard just to help them understand that it is now school time, and I really don’t want to spend all day getting through one lesson!

Some homeschoolers may actually take this step by setting up a more formal classroom (which is great!). But in our case, there is not enough space for that setup—and frankly, I’m not sure that by itself would help us anyway. So instead, I’ve begun trying to establish a few more rules to give our living spaces more of a classroom feel during our class times. Here is what I’ve come up with so far . . .

  • My husband and I are working to establish the idea that I am not Mommy during school time: I am the teacher. I sometimes ask them how they are expected to behave with their teacher in Sunday School. Are they allowed to interrupt the teacher? Is it okay to argue with the teacher? No, and they shouldn’t do those things with me when I am the teacher. (Really, they shouldn’t be doing those things with me as a mother either. We are also working on that, but I tend to give a bit more grace when I’m wearing the “Mommy” hat.)
  • I try to remind them that whatever snack, drink, or bathroom trips might need to occur within our class time ought to be done before it and not during. Of course I’m not going to deny a child a true need for the toilet, but I often find myself telling certain children that they truly will not die if they postpone their drink of water for another 15 minutes.
  • I want their posture and their behavior to demonstrate that they are paying attention. I know that doodling and the like can actually increase concentration at times, so I am somewhat lenient in that area, but I frequently remind them to sit up in their chairs and stop doing things that can be a distraction. (Often they will protest that it’s not distracting them, and I must point out that it may be distracting someone else . . . such as me.)
  • Just as in a formal classroom, I ask them to raise their hand when they have a question or are giving an answer. They generally do well on the latter . . . and we’re working on the former. Which brings us to my most recently-added rule . . .
  • If you have a question, it had better be related to the lesson. All too often, the questions I field in the middle of history or science range from, “What are we having for lunch?” to “Is it supposed to rain today?” to “When am I old enough to shave my legs?” In the past, I would often begrudgingly give them an answer and attempt to proceed before another unrelated question followed. But in more recent weeks, I’ve realized that it tends to work best to completely deny an answer to such questions until our lesson is over. If the question is important enough, they’ll remember to ask it again afterwards!

    Living Room.jpg

We have a long way to go yet, but I think we’re making a move toward habits that may help me maintain my sanity. 😉 What do you do to help your kids stay on track in your home classroom?


Photo Credit: Courtesy of author.

12 thoughts on “Keeping Kids on Task When the Classroom is Your Living Room

  1. Thank you, Jessica! This is exactly how my kids act. I have contemplated going against my gut and leaving them in the part-time co-op when I really want to homeschool full time. I haven’t because we get sidetracked ALL the time. Everything you’ve said, we’ve experienced. I would have to say that too much comfort can be distracting as well. As least in my house. I did have at one time, and would like to again, a podium for reading aloud. Anything for keeping group sessions interactive.


  2. I’m not a homeschooling mom yet (my son is only 3) but I am a licensed teacher with some insight. If you are having trouble with keeping your kids on task, you may need to take a brain break. That can include playing a short game, dancing to a song or something else that includes movement. Studies show that there is positive correlation to taking breaks involving some kind of movement and increased attention and focus. It helps get the blood flowing and as well as releases helpful brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin.


  3. I relate to you on EVERY level. I have two children 4.5 years apart. My son is in 3rd grade and my daughter in 7th. I live in a 2 bedroom NYC apartment, so space is a luxury for us. Each child has their own work space and use a wall mounted folding table to their seat work on. It has been working for me us in our close to two year home school life. The younger child tends to look for ways to interrupt his instruction time while the 7th grader occupies her space and needs periodic day dreaming interruption. I too group History and Science and often get the abrupt interruptions. Thank you for sharing your experiences. It definitely is an encouragement for me as I at times get frustrated with maintaining order and consistency in my classroom. God bless you.


  4. oh my goodness! This post just made my day! We are implementing these things as well. Or at least trying to! I am so glad I am not alone & the things my children do are ‘normal’


  5. I have three little ones ages 6 3 and 2 omg this is something we haven’t mastered but I’m encouraged to know I’m not alone in this. All of your suggestions sound great by the way and I’m sure with consistency will pay off.


  6. When my children are having trouble paying attention, or doing any of the things you mentioned above, I have them stand in front of me like a choir. The oldest in back, youngest in front. Standing seems to help them focus better. Plus they know that they will have to stand longer if they make the lesson take longer. I also use a when-then approach. For example, “When we finish our bible lesson, then you may have a 15 minute recess.” I say “recess” rather than break because “recess” conjours up images of children on a playground having a good time. These things have helped reduce the amount “goofing around” in our living/classroom time.


  7. I know from personal experience that distractions take a lot out of teaching at home. I have two grandchildren I am raising and getting back into homeschooling. I am experiencing challenges in “this is school time, not play time”. My schoolers are kindergarten and first grade.
    Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.


  8. This is indeed a challenge. My most successful days are bounded by time: during these hours we do school, with breaks of this length at these times. But as the teen years approach and the students become more able to do things on their own, supervision and pacing become more problematic! Also when life or social obligations and extracurriculars proliferate in the teen years, schedules can truly go off the rails. One thing that helps is depersonalizing the demand: the book, coach or virtual school teacher requires this by this date. That way mom’s not the bad guy. I also think an appeal to the common sense of teens can be motivating: you only have this much time left before applying to college to do A,B and C. And they will invariably cast their eyes around to see what their peers are doing and try to follow suit. Good luck!


  9. I‘m sorry but I found it terrible to read. The freedom of homeschooling is gone with this behavior. That’s exactly like in public school. Why then Homeschooling if the children have to follow the teacher, not the mom or themselves. I feel heartbroken.


  10. We do group discussions in the van. We live in a rural area so it is an hour to anywhere. We also listen to a lot of audio books.


What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s