Homeschooling Driving You Crazy? Turn Chores Into Lessons

We need to approach our children's learning differently during this pandemic.

Posted Apr 28, 2020

When my children were of school age and I made extended overseas trips each year, they traveled with me, often being out of school for as long as two months at a time. At first, I would try to follow the prescribed curriculum sent home by their teachers, but I soon realized that it was neither practical nor necessary to hand my child sheets to fill in or have them read books about things they weren’t experiencing.

Don’t get me wrong. My kids had excellent educators and what they were taught in school is helping them even today as young adults, but I would humbly like to offer a different approach to homeschooling when one has a child temporarily out of the classroom: Use the everyday experiences of life, including chores, as opportunities for learning.

A New York Times article today captures the hell parents are living, juggling working at home and homeschooling. A little perspective can help. Traveling with my children, I found a rich environment full of educational opportunities, from my 12-year-old learning about economics, global currencies, and banking by booking our hotel rooms online, to my 14-year-old dealing with foreign medical systems and researching the best ways to prevent malaria (hint, it is using nets over the bed at night).

When they were younger travelers, reading a local fairy tale and practicing math questions on the bus (how far is the next town if we’re traveling at 30kph for 8 hours?) were much more interesting than filling in blanks on a worksheet. Rather than contending with the artificiality of the modern classroom where educators are amazing Gods of creative pedagogy (it is a job I know I couldn’t do), I found out there in the world all the necessary curriculum for subjects from English to biology.

During this pandemic, we are all traveling with our children, at least until the schools reopen. While becoming your child’s teacher is more stressful than most parents can handle, this may be a wonderful opportunity to turn everyday chores into lesson plans.

An hour or two a day of more focused learning is plenty for most children, especially if at some point during the day children read (or are read to) and continue to develop basic numeracy appropriate to their grade level. Everything else should be, at least for a time, suggestions for areas of learning a child should explore.

Here are ways to turn everyday activities that need to get done into opportunities for children to learn math, science, language arts, and social studies.

  • Emptying a dishwasher and stacking plates of different sizes is an excellent opportunity to teach younger children about ratios.
  • Sorting laundry is great for learning the concept of "sets," not to mention expanding vocabulary regarding colors.
  • Preparing a shopping list and calculating the number of people in the household, what they eat, the number of days they need food, and all the other aspects of food preparation is an opportunity to apply math concepts in the kitchen. Baking and measuring ingredients is also a wonderful way to learn everything from math to chemistry, as well as improve children’s literacy and vocabulary when following a recipe.
  • For older children, learning politics and geography is as easy as watching the news and looking up online facts about other countries.
  • Bio-chemistry is as easy as researching the coronavirus pathogen.
  • A class in ecology can be built around understanding how a pangolin got sold in a food market in China, and what happens when wild animals are used commercially (a pangolin may have been the original host for the virus, having been infected by bats).
  • Social studies are as easy as calculating a child’s social network and mapping how it has changed.
  • Civics can be taught by asking children to do a good deed for others like checking up on a senior or doing some yard work (when it can be done safely).
  • Physical fitness and every aspect of health studies should be a breeze when everyone is discussing handwashing, mental health and the right amount of sleep to grow healthy brains. An exercise routine and downtime from being online is all part of a good educational program at home.
  • To perfect language skills, reading together with little ones, or keeping a daily journal or online blog if a child is older are great ways to get children reading and writing. So too are letters and emails to extended family members when visits aren’t possible.

The trick is to be creative. There is no subject that can’t be taught in your home. Post your ideas online for others to see. Better yet, have your child post their own lesson plans and in the process improve their literacy skills.

Let’s face it: Is it really necessary for children to learn the standard curriculum during this pandemic if we can substitute other equivalent learning? The trick, though, is to make that learning meaningful.

In the New York Times piece, a mother struggles to get her child to learn a long list of character traits. That’s an abstract, even boring task, and not something any parent is going to achieve unless their child is unusually motivated to learn. Turn that same task into a matching game and see what happens. Ask the child to develop a chore list for the fridge, and then have them match chores to individual traits. Who in the family is best suited to doing the vacuuming and who should be carrying in the groceries or taking the dog for a walk?

It may seem a little absurd, but making any task into a real contribution to the family and ensuring it is meaningful and timely will help to motivate a child to complete it.

Homeschooling won’t be easy, but it is an opportunity to change attitudes towards learning. It may even make parents once again an integral part of their children’s education.