You’re now schooling at home.
In several parts of the country, it looks like this may go on till the end of the school year.
Maybe some of you wanted to homeschool all along, and find the idea exciting. That’s great news!
But for many parents, school closures forced them to take on the sudden role of “teacher.” And that notion is daunting and overwhelming.
So what can parents do to ensure our kids are getting a decent education during this difficult time? We asked some long-time homeschoolers these questions so we could bring you the best advice:
How can we as parents make the best of the situation for our children and their education (as well as our sanity)? Can kids learn at home successfully while also having fun?
And what if my child is spectacularly unmotivated to learn anything from home at all? What do we do then?
Here’s what the experts had to say!
#1: It’s Okay NOT to Have a Set Schedule
Veteran homeschooler Mary Ann Kelley, mother of two grown daughters and wife of a retired Marine, runs the blog TheHomeschoolingMom. She has great insight into how to structure your day — or not structure your day — so that your kids are productively learning and you’re not stressed.
Here’s what she suggests:
This is an unprecedented period in our lifetime, and parents should remember to have grace with themselves and their children. Being suddenly thrust into a situation where entire families are home together indefinitely with no planning is hard enough; trying to also work from home, supervise schoolwork, and care for younger children is incredibly difficult.
Many parents are asking about scheduling schoolwork and are interested in how homeschoolers schedule their days. The truth is that schedules vary from family to family, and the order in which the work is done is less important than the environment and method of implementation. The optimal homeschool schedule is the one that keeps an individual child—with his or her unique personality and needs—engaged. Parents will have the most success when they work with their children to implement a schedule that works for their unique situation. Older students and those who already demonstrate good time management skills may be fine on their own. For younger students or those who need more motivation, the following tips may help:
- Plan work in short snippets of time; the younger the child, the shorter the time period should be.
- If everyone enjoys sleeping in and working in PJs, take advantage of the novelty and let them.
- Change locations in the house or outdoors to avoid boredom. Social distancing at this time does not prevent taking nature walks or visiting parks that are unpopulated. Fresh air and a change of environment are helpful during periods of isolation.
- Include physical activity between work and—if it helps a student—while working.
- Some students work best in silence while others prefer to listen to music. Headphones can help keep everyone happy.
- Incorporate art for creative expression.
- Parents or older siblings can teach or read to kids while their hands are busy or their bodies are moving.
- Take advantage of the vast number of online resources available, including the many livestreams, YouTube channels, virtual tours, and websites that are available specifically for this period of social distancing. Many profit-based learning companies are offering their resources for free during this time.
Keep in mind that it’s okay if things slip through the cracks or the kids get too much screen time. Everyone will adjust to this new normal at a different rate, and keeping expectations realistic will help prevent feelings of frustration and failure.
We, here at AFineParent.Com, have put together a list of 110+ FREE Resources for Kids to Use During the Coronavirus School Closures that covers language arts, math, chemistry, art, finances, coding and more – be sure to explore it with your kids as part of your new learning schedule!
#2: Give Kids Some Control to Ease the Stress
Brenda of the homeschooling science blog STEAMsational has tips on reluctant learners as well as mitigating parental stress:
One thing that I see a lot of parents do when they are suddenly homeschooling is to over-schedule. Especially if they are also working from home, over-scheduling leads to conflict and unnecessary stress. I’ve found that when you try to mimic the school environment at home, children are very resistant to learning. So what we do is write out our goals for the day, and then I let the kids pick what order they want to do things in (this also helps with reluctant learners!).
We also usually just do one subject at a time, and then have an active break. And of course, we also do a lot of hands-on science experiments! You can fit a lot of learning in with a science experiment by learning about vocabulary, exploring the math aspect, finding out the history of that particular science experiment, and so on.
#3: The 3-Hour Simple Solution
Jamie Martin of SimpleHomeschool is a best-selling author and homeschooling mother of three. She came up with this 3-hour concept to make the shift to doing school at home easier on kids; it also helps parents and kids to get on the same page. Three hours is all you need in the day and here’s how Jamie breaks it down:
1. Pick any 3 hour block of time that works for your family.
It could be 9am-noon. Or if you have late-sleeping teens, 11am-2pm. If you need to split the hours up throughout the day, doing one here and another there, that could work too. It might be best if this time range is the same each day, but if that’s not possible, it’s fine too.
2. Define what is and isn’t allowed during this time.
Your goal is that these three hours will be dedicated to learning in some way on the days you decide are “school days.” Approved activities for homeschool hours in our home include educational apps and websites (but NOT screens for entertainment, texting, or social media), reading and audiobooks, traditional lessons and workbooks, and artistic pursuits like drawing.
When my kids were younger homeschool hours could also include creative activities like baking or cooking, imaginative toys like Lego and blocks, and a recess outside to get the wiggles out. Once you decide what is and isn’t allowed, have a family meeting where you explain it to your kids in an age-appropriate way, so everyone has clearly defined expectations.
3. Each hour has a slightly different objective:
Hour 1 – Any essential academics (language arts/math/etc)
Hour 2 – Books in all forms: Read-alouds, individual reading, audiobooks
Hour 3 – Games, Documentaries, Podcasts, Online learning
Important Note: You can switch these hours around in any order based on what will work best for you! Also, I don’t mean to suggest that each activity has to FILL the entire hour. Young kids may need less than 30 minutes of essential academics; teens may need slightly more than 1 hour, so adjust as needed!
It’s actually ideal if the hours spill into each other, without an alarm to separate them. So if a child gets interested in a good book or a board game championship evolves, go with it!
That’s the gold of the homeschool lifestyle–its flexibility.
#4: Learn About Your Child
Scott Cranfield, author of The Wise Bear Stories and homeschooling parent of two daughters, has spent much time studying mental health issues facing kids today. With the current crisis, all of his expertise certainly applies to everyone’s children as we learn to navigate these uncertain waters:
Teach Independent Thinking With Some Key Questions:
One of the greatest gifts I believe you can give your child is to teach them how to think for themselves, and you can do this by giving them key questions that will benefit their education as well as helping you maintain your sanity! This lock down we face is the perfect opportunity to help your child establish this habit. I did this with my eldest daughter and it made all the difference in taking her from a needy child to a much more independent child and learner; this resulted in her going from a year behind the curriculum to passing some exams a year ahead of her age, and I believe these questions made all the difference. I put the questions into a template that she filled out each day. Here are the questions:
- What did I learn today that helped me today and/or in the future?
- What was the biggest challenge I faced today & in what ways did this challenge benefit me?
- Where did I show a great attitude today?
- What am I most grateful for today?
Each question is carefully structured to get your child to reflect and go inside to find the answers. If they can do this genuinely, they will build up their thinking skills and develop a habit that will serve them well with whatever they do in life.
We found a mix of sometimes writing the answers down and other times just discussing them worked really well. Having your child share these answers with you and you encouraging them for more (without judgement) really will expand your child’s mental capacities and help them become an independent thinker.
Uncover Your Child’s Unique Learning Style:
As wonderful as schools may be, we have to also accept that the style of teaching may not suit every child and this can change from lesson to lesson and teacher to teacher. Kids know way more than we give them credit for, but it’s not practical for schools to let each child explore what works best for them.
There are as many different learning styles as there are children, and the truth is every child not only wants to learn but they also have great learning capacity when something is of interest to them.
As long as you agree on the learning outcome you are after, why not brainstorm with your child the ways they would love to get there? For example, if the outcome is to learn their multiplication tables, would they love to do it by singing them? Making a short film or video clip about them, maybe they want to set up a pretend school and teach them to their toy animals? (My daughter loved this one). If they need to learn punctuation, could they do so using objects from the garden, make up a song about it, create a drawing explaining it? The different ways children learn is only limited by our imagination. This lock down could be a wonderful opportunity to allow your child to find what works for them.
When I stopped thinking that I or the school might know the best way and gave my daughter the power to share her ideas, her learning took off. It wasn’t always the quickest way and maybe it didn’t work every time, but how will you know if you don’t try? Every child wants to be appreciated for their own uniqueness and this lock down is a great opportunity for them to express this and develop their learning while still having fun!
#5: Focus on What’s Important: Feelings, Family & Fun
Lee Binz of HomeHighSchoolHelp is a dynamic homeschool speaker and author. Her suggestions include taking a step back and focusing on what’s actually important, not just academia. Here are her tips:
Long-time homeschoolers know that we aren’t trying to do school from home. Homeschooling is a lifestyle of sharing feelings as a family while we learn and have fun together. Parents who are suddenly homeschooling against their will are often forced into a curriculum that doesn’t fit, with timing that’s difficult to manage while running a home or having a job. The solution is to focus on relationships. Share hugs, and love. Read together and play outside together.
During a time of crisis management, think of the needs of your whole child. Children of all ages have a wide variety of needs right now beyond just education. They have physical needs beyond food and safety. They need to run, play, dance, and move their growing muscles. They need to work the small muscles of their hands, through art projects and crafts. Children have spiritual needs, as they struggle to make sense of this quickly changing world. Have talks about deep things. They have emotional needs as they face the information overload and overwhelming news cycle. Limit social media and turn off the TV when children are around. For teens, limit the news to just the evening news or newspaper, so they don’t become stressed. They have intellectual and occupational needs as they get older. You can focus on “adulting” skills, and doing chores together. They have socialization needs, as we learn how to live together in harmony at home.
Educate your child when living under a state of emergency by focusing on feelings, family, and fun first. Then add literacy skills; reading, writing, and math. Each day, encourage your child to read enjoyable books, to advance their love of reading. Read aloud to them from slightly more challenging literature, so you can advance their reading skills. Encourage daily writing. At a crisis time like this, encouraging a child to write in a daily journal is the perfect way to preserve memories while maintaining writing skills. Encourage daily math skills in the world around them. Cooking, baking, and measuring things are a great way to make math more fun. Allow the child to learn in a hands-on way.
Motivating children is a challenge for all parents, but perhaps more stressful for homeschooling moms and dads. To handle motivation, you first need to look for the cause. Is it generalized laziness, or a health issue? Is it the overuse of technology, or hormonal issues? Is your child experiencing a psychological problem like depression or bullying or drug use? Because parents may be doing school at home, using material provided by the school, you may be experiencing a learning style mismatch. Most schools use a textbook or worksheet approach, but that style of learning doesn’t fit every child. Some children learn best through stories, others through hands-on activities.
To motivate a child, the first step is usually to add more fun, and avoid textbooks or classroom learning techniques. Teaching math through board games, for example, is one way to incorporate fun into learning. Next, evaluate your expectations. Many school districts have been so concerned about providing “enough” for children to do, that they actually provided far too many hours of schoolwork each day. Add up how many hours is expected, keeping in mind that the actual instructional time in a classroom is about 20 minutes for every hour. Once you have reasonable expectations, decide if you can encourage delight-directed learning, or learning just for fun, incorporating what your child wants to learn.
There are no “magic words” that homeschoolers use to motivate their children. This current crisis is affecting the whole country and world. It’s okay for parents to focus on crisis management and creating shared family values. Parents are having trouble focusing on work and chores because they are stressed. Children are stressed too, and we need to allow them self-care as well. Most homeschoolers that I know have dramatically lightened their academic load, or taken a break from school entirely, to focus on the needs of their children and their family. When you are living under a declaration of national emergency, be kind to yourself. Lighten up. Be kind to your children. Hug them, love them, and support one another. Just for this time, learn through play, reading, and journaling.
#6: Connection Over Motivation
Colleen Kessler of RaisingLifelongLearners is an author and homeschooling mother of four with special focus on intense children, gifted students, and kids with special needs. Her advice should bring you some comfort as you navigate your new daily routine:
The first piece of advice I would give to any parent thrown into this strange new world we’re all facing is to relax. This isn’t what normal homeschooling or even online schooling is like. Just like you’ve been thrown for a loop, so have veteran homeschoolers. We usually take our days slowly, but they’re anchored in outside activities, classes, and time with friends. Your biggest priority right now should be to help your kiddos feel safe, seen, heard, and loved. If it’s tough to get through all the stuff teachers have sent home in their attempt to serve your kids a bit of normal, then do as much as you can, then leave it and play a game, go for a walk, bake a treat, or snuggle up together and read a good book.
Pacing yourself and remembering that observing nature on your walk is science, logic and reasoning in games is math, and reading aloud is language arts. You’ve got this, and if you’re connecting with your kiddos throughout all of this, you’re already winning.
There’s always a reason for a lack of motivation, and in times like this, the underachievement may stem from anxiety related to the circumstances. When I work with parents of differently-wired kiddos (gifted, twice-exceptional, and special needs), I encourage them to look beneath the surface, and hope you can do the same. Talk with the kids about how they’re taking this change. What are they feeling? How are they handling it? What do they miss most? Is the material too hard? Too easy? Presented in such a different way that they’re now not sure of how to proceed? When we worry more about motivating kids during traumatic times than connecting with them, we add to the trauma. See what you can do to ease your kids’ minds, and connect for a little time each day. Remind them that you’re all in this together and that you’re on their team. When they know you believe in them, they’ll work harder.
#7: A Different Approach
Alyson Long of WorldTravelFamily has been homeschooling for over a decade and has done so in many different countries. Different than the norm, her homeschooling is classified as “deschooling” which is letting your child’s curiosity and desires lead the way. The parent’s job is to facilitate the learning of whatever the child is showing interest in. Here’s what Alyson suggests:
1. Homeschooling Tips
You are Mum (or Dad or guardian), not teacher. Don’t try to be teacher. Homeschooling works best when facilitator and child work together to grow understanding and depth of knowledge. Look things up together, find YouTube videos that explain or demonstrate the topic and just work things out as you go. Never try to hold a child on a suggested learning path. If they suddenly develop an interest in something that comes up, let them run with it. The best learning comes from interest and the school curriculum generally removes learning freedom. Let them have their freedom to learn and explore in any area that interests them.
2. For Reluctant Learners
There is a process called deschooling and it’s necessary for adults and kids joining us in the world of homeschooling. For adults, it is forgetting everything we thought we knew about what education looks like. Most of us went to school and know nothing else. We expect education to look like classroom learning. It doesn’t have to. For kids it’s about chilling out and discovering their own interests and joy in independent learning. When I want to learn something I will find something online, read an article, watch a YouTube video, maybe order a book. I will never learn it from a school textbook. Let them find their joy, their interests and their way of learning. Don’t limit their natural thirst for knowledge to the prescribed curriculum. Don’t force your child into school work and remember that school work is not actually learning. Learning happens when a child or adult wants to learn. Try to spark interest, make it fun and if it’s still just not happening, bake a cake instead. Cooking involves math, English and science; you can also introduce cultures, religions and geography. The best way to learn is by having fun.
It’s Okay NOT to be Okay
In times such as this, it’s impossible to balance our children’s education, our work and our lives. Working from home and trying to teach our kids anything in a day is an often insurmountable feat. Parents are suffering, kids are displaced and sometimes no structured learning activities happen in a day. And that’s okay. What’s more important is getting through the day as positively as possible, capitalizing on teachable moments that crop up at random throughout the day, spending a bit of quality time each day with our kids.
With the advice from these homeschoolers, we can certainly make choices that will help kids keep learning something each day without too much stress on parents or students. It’s important to remember that although this time in life is unprecedented, it too shall pass. And I’m betting that my kids’ most prominent memories of the quarantine of 2020 will not be the math homework they were assigned, but of the time we spent together as a family.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
Some quick questions to ask yourself:
- Is the schedule I’ve come up with too strict (or nonexistent)?
- Does the child have a say in schooling decisions, or am I dictating?
- Am I putting too much pressure on myself and my child(ren)?
- Am I sacrificing connection and positivity with my kids for academia?
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Since schooling at home and homeschooling are not like sending our kids away to a full day of school, here’s a positive plan of action for the next few weeks:
- RELAX. Create a calm, fun atmosphere before attempting any schooling. Try to start by connecting with your kids through something educational: read aloud to them, do an art project or draw together, bake something or do a fun science experiment.
- Let your child have input. They have to cover certain subjects, but could you let them choose the order? Can you stick a number on everything they have to do and let them roll dice to see what they get to do first?
- Try something unconventional for a day. If your child is resistant and unmotivated, can you take a school day and allow your child to ask a question they want to research an answer for? (Why is the sky blue? What’s the stock market? How do engines work?) Then work on teaching them how to answer the question through research, or have them write up a summary of what they learned if they’re older.
- Set realistic expectations. Are you overscheduling your kids or expecting them to spend many hours a day doing schoolwork like they do at school? Try not to compare yourself to others or cram the day full with academics in an attempt to keep up or get ahead.