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Avoiding Virtual Schooling Problems: Procrastination

Working hard, or rushing to look busy before Mom walks in?
Working hard, or rushing to look busy before Mom walks in?
Emily L. Goodman

One of the greatest advantages to a virtual schooling program is that children are able to work at their own pace, without being forced to adhere to the pace of the classroom as a whole. Not ready to move on to the next lesson? Then don’t! It’s just that simple. Children who think in a linear manner, from start to finish, are able to complete an entire lesson without having to stop in the middle to move on to a new topic. Children who learn a little bit slower are able to finish the lesson then and there, instead of having to put it to the side to complete it as homework later. And children who are a little bit faster than the average can get their work done and move on to the next thing, instead of sitting and waiting patiently for the rest of the class to be done.

Unfortunately, this also has its downsides.

Being able to work at a pace that is comfortable for your child may create the illusion that they don’t have to work as hard or as often. They feel that they can get away with wasting time, getting into things other than their schoolwork, playing internet games…after all, they can always do the work “later.”

A good virtual schooling parent will insist that they take care of their work sooner, rather than later—completing lessons daily or at least weekly, before they end up behind and unable to catch up. Unfortunately, this isn’t always easy to enforce.

Virtual schooling is supposed to be a shorter day. Sure, it says you’re spending six and a half hours a day working on schoolwork; but for the most part, lessons are shorter than an hour, and it’s possible to complete the work for the day far faster than that.

Except when your child procrastinates. Except when they disappear into their rooms to “work on schoolwork” and don’t come out for four hours…and when they do, they haven’t accomplished anything. Except when they’ve supposedly been working on a math lesson for an hour, but really they’ve been staring off into space and doodling in the margins of their notebooks.

Keeping a child on task, especially one who has a habit of daydreaming and messing around, can be a serious challenge.

First and foremost, you must pay attention. With these children, you don’t have the luxury of assuming that they’re working and checking in on them infrequently—and just because the computer screen is turned to a lesson doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what they’re doing. They are masters of appearing to complete work while in reality, they’re doing everything but. You have to keep a close eye on what these children are completing. If they have your password, you’ll have to pay particular attention to what they say that they’re doing—because it will be nothing for them to hurry in and take a look at the answer key, or even print the answer key straight instead of completing the work for themselves. Always, always pay attention. Don’t be automatically trusting if your child hasn’t earned it; always double check.

Don’t let it go. It’s easy, when you’re virtual schooling an older child, to let things slide a little bit. You’re busy? Oh, well, you can always check in on them later. Or you’ll check that assignment in a minute. Or you just glance over it and figure that you’ll pay more attention to the next one. Don’t fall into this trap! Your child is well able to take advantage of this kind of behavior. They will learn to catch you when you’re in the middle of something else so that you won’t pay enough attention, and before you know it, they’ve fallen behind.

Make them accountable. If you’re going to be a successful virtual schooling family, then school has to be a priority. It’s easy to say that school falls between the hours of eight and three (or whatever schedule works best for your family) and that there are other activities that take place outside those hours. There’s church, and sports, and family activities, and there has to be a place for those activities, too! Besides, your child can’t spend all day doing schoolwork. That’s just not fair to anyone.

Well…the problem is, your child knows that, and they will use it. Do you always walk out of the house at four on Monday for a sport or a club meeting? Then your child knows that’s their deadline: they only have to procrastinate until that time to avoid doing the assignment for the time being.

Today’s society is a busy one, with children doing more activities than ever before. It’s easy to fill all of those non-school hours with other activities, regardless of whether or not your child has actually completed their schoolwork for the day. Staring off into space while there’s a math screen up counts as a math lesson, right?

Well…really, it doesn’t.

Teach your child that if the schoolwork doesn’t get done, they don’t get to participate in other activities—no matter what they are. Have a family get-together? They can bring along their books and computer and keep right on working. Need to take another child to practice? That’s okay—your procrastinating child can complete their schoolwork while they’re there. After they’ve missed a few things that they really want to do, your child may be much more likely to actually complete work during work hours.

Be consistent. Don’t let it go one day and not the next. If you’re going to have severe consequences for not completing work during school hours, then those consequences must always hold true, whether that means missing a birthday party or other much-anticipated event or skipping a family get-together to work on a math lesson. If they get away with it half the time, they will expect to get away with it all the time, and there won’t be much you can do to keep them in line.

Keep an eye out for “helpful” behavior. This one is particularly risky if you have younger children at home. An older sibling may go to great lengths to be able to play with them instead of doing any actual work. Have a fun activity going on for the little ones? The older child will be right there, pulling out materials, “helping” the younger child, and so on. It seems helpful. They look busy. But it’s really keeping them away from what they should be doing.

In some instances, this is okay. If you have a child who is normally able to complete their work on time, this doesn’t apply—but for a procrastinator, it’s very important to stay on top of time management. For a procrastinator, every missed study minute is one more that you’re going to have to fight over later—so you might as well fight your battles up front. Put your foot down. Insist that the work get done first, before they participate in the fun stuff. It might not help change their attitude; but then again, it might.

Resist the urge to do other things during school time. It’s easier to run errands during the hours when school is supposed to be happening. That’s also a great time to get with friends with younger children, or participate in any number of fun activities.

Don’t make this a regular part of your schedule. Sure, it’s nice to have a break every once in a while; but if you allow your child to tag along on these excursions, suddenly, you’ve made that activity the reason why they didn’t accomplish anything that day. Even if it only takes an hour out of the middle of the day, that hour is enough to set the entire day out of whack—and rarely in a positive way.

School time has to be about school time. If your child is adaptable and can work with you, great! If they’re not, then you have to be the rigid disciplinarian—and that’s part of what you signed on for as a learning coach.