Suddenly We're All Homeschoolers- Part 1

10 steps to help you homeschool when you weren't trained or planning for it.

Posted Mar 24, 2020

"I love my children but this Mary Poppins gig with no expiration date makes me nervous. It feels like the ultimate test for my parenting skills." —Mary McCarthy

If you weren't intending to homeschool, then having your child or children home during this pandemic probably feels like someone signed you up for a marathon you didn't train for. Just when you thought parenting couldn't get any harder!

So first, give yourself and your child a break. These are extraordinary times. This is NOT the time to obsess about keeping your child busy learning. 

Second, if you have actually already been homeschooling, you know that what we are being asked to do now is not actually homeschooling. As one homeschooling mother wrote to me, this is "isolation schooling... it in no way resembles a typical homeschool day. Our homeschooling days are spent doing a bit of bookwork for sure, but they are mostly spent going on weekly field trips, local Enrichment co-op groups for art and dance classes, and LARP classes at a local park. It is built around getting together and working on projects with other homeschoolers, and the older kids helping the younger kids or even leading programs for them. My 13-year-old daughter has been homeschooled since day one, and she is just as out of sorts as we figure out these isolation and social distancing days as my 14-year-old son is, who started public school by choice three years ago." So despite the fact that we are all schooling at home, this is a whole new challenge for everyone.

Finally, like all overwhelming projects, this one is best tackled by breaking it down into bite-sized chunks. Here's your game plan.

iStock/Used with Permission
Source: iStock/Used with Permission

1. Did your child's school set them up with work to do?

Then your biggest problem is motivating your child to do the work, especially if they don't find the assignments interesting. That's a challenge, but the good news is that the schoolwork probably won't take long, so you can stay involved during work time to keep your child on track.

  • Every morning before you begin the assigned schoolwork, agree with your child on a fun activity that you'll do with them after the schoolwork is completed.
  • Set everyone up to work at the dining room table together. Get out your own work and sit with your child so you're available for questions.
  • Most schools seem to expect children to have access to a smartphone or a computer to access the work. Be aware that you'll have to supervise your child as they use the screen for schoolwork, and if you have more than one child sharing a screen, you'll have to help them stagger their work periods.
  • Monitor your child's mood as well as their progress. Notice how you can make this situation feel fun for everyone by managing your own attitude. Think of yourself as more of a camp counselor than a teacher. 
  • For most of us, supervising schoolwork brings up feelings we have a hard time managing. That anxiety often makes us controlling, which always backfires with kids. If you see yourself starting to get into power struggles, back off. Take a deep breath. Say, "This must feel really different than being at school. I'm not trained as a teacher, so please try to be patient with me, and I'll try to be patient with you. Your school and your teacher want you to get this work done, so let's make it as fun as we can. Do you want to take a break for some roughhousing for a few minutes? And after you finish your work, we can do that fun activity we are both looking forward to!
  • After each subject is completed, take a break to do something physical that gets your child laughing. Laughter reduces stress hormones so your child can focus better, and it increases bonding hormones, so your child feels more connected to you, which makes them more open to your influence.
  • If your child gets antsy, take another roughhousing break. Children need to move frequently or they have a harder time learning.
  • If your child gets overwhelmed, break the work into smaller chunks, with bigger breaks in between, and use a timer. But be sure those breaks are physical and recharge your child's emotional batteries. (Screen time is not an effective break.)
  • Don't miss #3, below, on setting up a schedule. And the rest of this article will help you structure the time that isn't schoolwork. 

Trying to get your own work done while supervising your child? See: Kids At Home But You're Trying To Get Work Done?

2. No school assignments? Yay! 

It can feel overwhelming when it's all on you. But there's a big upside here. You don't have to motivate your child to do work that neither they nor you are invested in. Instead, look at this as an opportunity to rekindle your child's love of learning. The rest of this article is for you.

3. The schedule is your new best friend.

Use a schedule. You've heard this by now. Otherwise, you have to invent everything as you go along, and every minute is an invitation to a power struggle. Kids are used to a schedule at school. It's the only way to keep screen time in check. And it will save your sanity.

  • Ask your child for input on the schedule. Review daily and revise until it works well.
  • Your child will be reassured by routines during this time of uncertainty, but resist the urge to over-schedule. Include lots of time in the schedule for free play and downtime. Children need unstructured play and creative outlets to work through stress and big emotions. 
  • Mimic the school routine your child is used to, and keep before and after "school" for free play and downtime. 
  • Be sure there are plentiful breaks.
  • Include outdoor time every day. It will make a big difference in everyone's mood. No yard? Get on bikes. Or head for the nearest park. 
  • Everyone in the family should be involved in a fun way in any work that needs to be done, like laundry or cooking, at specific times of the day when you work together.
  • Make "me time" part of the schedule with enforced quiet time for everyone. Siblings will fight less and you'll be able to stay more patient if you get some time to recharge your batteries.
  • Plan on earlier bedtimes to keep everyone's immune system strong. (Anyone who has to be awakened in the morning, whether by a parent or an alarm, is not going to bed early enough.)
  • Don't expect kids to keep to the schedule without your help. You're the camp counselor to keep everyone on track.
  • "Schoolwork" time should include reading.
  • Don't feel guilty about using screens. If there were ever a time to use screens, this is it! But nonstop screen use makes kids (and adults) feel lousy. So keep screens from taking over your child's life by sticking to the schedule.

For more on schedules that work, outdoor activities and using screens well, see 10 Solutions To Save Your Sanity During the Coronavirus Pandemic School Closures.

Trying to get your own work done while supervising your child, and want more screen time management hints? Kids At Home But You're Trying To Get Work Done?

4. Reading is the best learning...

...and it's liberating because it transports kids beyond the confines of your home.

Research shows that reading to children and discussing the book as you read is the single best way to increase your child’s IQ. That's not just because you're helping your child develop reading comprehension. You're also nurturing a deep love of reading because children learn to love reading when they get excited about how wonderful stories can be. When children love to read, they choose to read independently, so they become better readers. Kids who read more score higher on achievement tests in all subject areas and have greater content knowledge than those who don't. School performance correlates more directly with children's reading scores than any other single indicator.

That means that reading to your child is an essential part of helping them learn to love reading. This is true even once your child can read to himself because you'll be reading more interesting stories than he can decipher. Does this take time? Sure, in the beginning. But soon your child will grab the book, insist on reading to himself, and lose himself in books for hours at a time. That's a wonderful way to get through a pandemic.

For more on how to encourage reading, see Raise a Child Who Loves to Read.

To continue this article, please read PART 2 found here.