With the news of the COVID-19 and ensuing school closures, many parents just got a new job: Homeschooling Coordinator.
It’s been interesting to see all of the reactions people are posting on social media. About a third seem to be completely freaking out and terrified of the implications, about a third seem to be curious to learn how this will all shake out, and about a third are low key excited to try out homeschooling on a short term basis.
No matter how you may be feeling about the prospect, I’d like to offer some big picture ideas as well as some practical tips to help get you through this experience. Think of this like you would Rocky in Rocky IV. You have almost no window to prepare and train for your fight to avenge your best friend Apollo Creed. Ivan Drago awaits you but first you need to get into shape. This is me helping you quickly train with a speed bag, jump rope, and some snowy, hilly, Russian terrain for running sprints. You’ve got this.
Here are some thoughts to get you started:
You are 100% in charge.
Up until now, you have mostly had the school system, its administrators, and its teachers governing your child’s education. While they may still maintain that general leadership, for the next few weeks, you will be acting in all of these roles.
You will be the hands and feet implementing their plans. Your kids need boundaries and they need a person who doesn’t shy away from being the boss. I always say that homeschooling exposes any relational strains you have with your kids so it’s best to come out of the gate with some level of authority and assurance.
This doesn’t have to be in a mean or dogmatic way. Just set the tone. Establish authority. Kindly and lovingly make the expectations and vision abundantly clear for what your school situation will look like. Your kids don’t walk all over their school teachers, so make sure you’re setting them up to respect you in this new role.
At the outset, have a conversation with your children to let them know that you are indeed, in charge. This isn’t to say that they won’t test boundaries, whine, have opinions and feelings, or give you attitude. They likely will.
Simply, calmly remind them that you are now acting headmaster and teacher and rest in the fact that they will rise to the expectations and tone that you set.
Include the kids.
I know, it sounds like I’m contradicting myself when I just said you are 100% in charge, but as the person in charge you want to think of yourself not as a dictator but in a more democratic way. Sit down for a family pow-wow before you get your homeschooling endeavor started. Remind everyone that you will be making final decisions but want to hear their input.
Sometimes our kids have great ideas if we will only listen. Maybe you aren’t giving them free reign over all decisions but you can ask if they prefer morning or afternoon exercise? Hear them out on their reasoning. See if they’d prefer to take turns helping with lunch or dinner.
Find out if they prefer to work together at the table or they need some set alone time in a quiet space. Give them a say on how long is reasonable for educational television or streaming. Offer them three or four choices on what show you might watch or game you might play and let them feel some ownership of some decision making. Agree to the terms and then as the one in charge–PLEASE follow through with your end of these bargains. Be trustworthy. Be consistent. Be prepared.
Like it or not, you are all in this together so you might as well learn to work as a team.
You already have everything you need.
I’ve seen a few high-achiever temporary homeschool mamas posting about Dollar Tree and Walmart runs for “teacher supplies.” Believe me, I get it. Any chance to load up on school supplies is something you can definitely indulge in. I do get it. I’m a sucker for fresh markers, new pens, and organizational systems.
HOWEVER, you don’t need anything beyond what you have inside the walls of your own home already. Many schools are providing families with their kids’ textbooks or online learning platform access. Just stick to the plans and do your best to implement their wishes. You don’t suddenly need to invest in hundreds of dollars worth of craft supplies.
I bet you already have a pile of things you can put together in an art basket. You could make a watch list on Amazon, Disney +, or Netflix of some educational shows to watch. I’d say you have some cool games on hand that could count as educational time spent. Print some new recipes that use up ingredients already in your pantry. Pump up the air in your basketball or bike tires. Load up your audio or ebook queue from Audible or the public library. Have your kids come up with an exercise routine to lead their siblings in for PE time. You don’t need to spend one dollar. Just get creative.
Aim for rhythms over schedules.
I’ve seen some fun little color-coded charts floating around Facebook already with some sample “homeschooling’ schedules. These are great suggestions but before you set yourself up for disappointment and frustration, we have always lived by the motto of routines and rhythms over hard and fast schedules.
Take advantage of not having to have your kids up and dressed by 6:30. Let them sleep. Instead of hard start times and finishes, put in place a rhythm that says we do this first, then this, and next we do that. Let activities take the time they will take. You just got thrown into a few weeks of being mostly homebound so you are looking at a “run out the clock” situation here. Let the day flow and let it breathe.
I’ll also make a plug here for using timers for fun countdowns. Instead of making your child sit for long periods of time to get to the end of subjects and lessons, try suggesting working on math for 20 minutes and set the timer. When the timer ends, move on to the next thing. I also use the timers for quick house resets. “Lets see how much we can clean up in 10 minutes.” Or “You have five minutes to go run around outside before we start the next subject.” We like using the Pomodoro Method here and there are some great apps that help you work through the work/rest cycles. My favorite is Be Focused.
Educate the “whole child.”
Despite the fact that you may have a syllabus, lesson plans, or an entire stack of school books from your kids’ school, I can assure you that you will NOT exactly replicate the school day. The eight or so hours your kids spend at school will likely look more like two or three hours at home spent working. This is going to leave you with A LOT OF DOWN TIME.
Keep in mind that many of us who homeschool are used to this arrangement and that is why so many of us use parts of our school day to lead, guide, and instruct beyond purely academic pursuits.
Use this COVID-19 school break as an opportunity to shape and mold the “whole child.” Think about this in terms of mind, body, and spirit. The school system is covering the mind with their prescribed work, although you could certainly add on some extra reading, reports, or projects of your own.
What about your kids’ bodies? Can you find some pockets of the day where you insist on movement? Taking walks? Group exercise? Flexibility stretching? Nature hikes? Get those babies and big kids some fresh air and vitamin D.
And what about their spiritual learning? Maybe this is a good time to check in with some deeper talks about their emotions, spiritual lives, and good habit formation.
Plan for a quiet hour.
I am an introvert and I cannot stress this enough. You need to quickly identify (and possibly write down) a “Quiet List” or “Boredom Buster” list of things your children can do on their own without your direct supervision. Plan this into their daily rhythm so that they and YOU have some predictable periods of reprieve.
Just about every day after lunch, usually between 2:00-3:00, we have a quiet hour. In our home, this happens before we turn on the television, get on phones, games, Xboxes, or Nintendo Switches. If it’s nice out, kick your (age appropriate) kids outside for an hour. Let them be bored. They will figure out how to spend time developing their minds and bodies on their own.
When my kids were little, this meant they could color or draw, or play quietly in their bedrooms with Lego blocks, Playmobile, or read. The alternative was mandatory naptime. Usually the threat of forcing a nap was all of the motivation they needed to do something quiet. When this time ends, our kids are free to have some screen time.
After my own period of recharging– I usually read or take a power nap or call my mom or sister– I, too, am ready to tackle the last half of the day.
If we are all staring down a few weeks of being confined to the walls of our homes, a little break from each other is a wise investment of time. On a related note, I make sure I have a small “retreat” space of my own if I need to indulge in my own time out. I have a rocking chair in my bedroom where I keep a few books and some essential oils. I can go there at anytime to reset my mind and attitude.
Most of us homeschoolers are not islands unto ourselves. I’d encourage you to reach out to your neighbors and some nearby friends to see what resources you may have available to share.
Can you trade off some board games every few days? Some Lysol’ed toys? Can you trade teaching some academic subjects? What about kid-watching? Hosting for dinner? Consider a book or DVD swap. If you get desperate, maybe swap kids too. We often trade out a sibling for a friend for a few hours just to give each other a break. Be sure to observe good hygiene practices with all of the sharing!
We all would do well to be sure that we aren’t isolating ourselves too much from those around us who may be able to help carry the load. If you aren’t currently living life in community with those around you, this may be the perfect opportunity to get to know your neighbors or reconnect.
Use this as a training opportunity.
As mentioned above, you will not spend all of the time from 8:00 am until 3:00 pm working on school work. This is where you are looking at how you can fill up these hours (and beyond) with meaningful tasks and assignments for your kids.
I am a huge fan of teaching our children independence, responsibility, and habit training. You just got a free two to four week opportunity to begin (if you haven’t already) apprenticing your children in the lost art of doing things for themselves.
A few years ago we spent an entire year doing projects along those lines. Use this time to your advantage to walk your kids through the processes of making a simple meal, learning to completely do their own laundry, deep cleaning the bathroom, simple budgeting, how to iron, basic safety and first aid, how to write a letter or thank you note… you know– skills that might come in handy if they, too, are one day forced to survive the Corona Virus pandemic.
Do something nice for someone else.
One of our favorite things to do when we start to get cabin fever or on each others’ nerves is to look outside ourselves for a way to show kindness and generosity to someone else.
Can you donate food to a shelter? Can you offer to walk a neighbor’s dog? Is there someone who may need some extra attention? A single mom? A new mom? A friend with a broken arm? It’s very likely that you have more resources than another: give of your time, your talents, or your treasure. We always feel like we’ve been the benefactor of good things when we reach out!
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
As someone who frequently overthinks every little thing, I will say that you should enter into this temporary homeschooling situation with some very realistic expectations of your own.
Things will not go perfectly. There will be relational frustrations. You are going to get tired of being around each other. You are going to get tired of hearing your own voice. You are going to feel like you are constantly nagging and hounding your kids. You may even feel stress that your kids aren’t getting their school work done in a timely fashion or not to the standards you know they are capable of.
Unlike those of us who have lots of freedom of choice in curricula, you are stuck with what the school sends home and you may not be proficient in teaching fourth grade math on your own. You may have little to no high school lab science or foreign language experience or insight.
IT’S OKAY. Just do your best and forget the rest. I very seriously doubt that you or your kids are going to be held to impossible or even high standards for grading during a pandemic. There is literally no way that every K-12 or college student is expected to have access to high speed internet at all times, answer keys, or instruction to understand new concepts. I guantee there will be so much flexibility in how grades are handled that it’s not even funny.
Don’t ruin or fracture relationships with your kids and disrupt peace in your home just for the sake of “getting through all of the schoolwork.” What you and your children will learn throughout this forced social experiment will far outweigh any academic progress they may make being makeshift homeschoolers.
You will learn more about family and relationships and see the hearts of your kids in a new way. You will see them gain confidence in their own abilities and independence. Heck, you may even decide you love homeschooling so much you just might keep on doing it.