As schools close in response to the spread of the COVID-19, I would love to sit next to each of you (who might be freaking out just a little) and reassure you that it will be OK. The one thing I can offer are the lessons I have learned as a homeschool mom, in the hope that those lessons can also serve you well in this time of uncertainty.
You can do this. First, it is totally normal to be freaking out. I felt stressed, worried, and overwhelmed when I started homeschooling, even though I had a deep desire to do it, plus months of research, preparation, planning. But I want to assure you that you can do it. Your school will likely provide a lot of resources and support so you will not be alone. Plus, you do not have to be perfect at any of it for your children to be successful. Children are natural learners and adapt well.
Take a deep breath. Release some of that panic. Your children will not lose all the knowledge they have learned in a few weeks or even a few months. School, worksheets, and textbooks are not the only ways keep them learning. Discussion, games (both on-screen and live), watching thought provoking movies (documentaries, literary-based movies, online educational videos), working on household or yard projects, journaling, and reading (all the reading!) are all educational and more than sufficient to build those little brains.
Develop a rhythm to your days (versus a schedule). I have seen a lot of detailed schedules floating around that spell out time for every daily activity—8:00 AM breakfast, 8:20 AM math, 8:45 AM spelling…. To me, that looks like a whole bunch of frustration and arguments waiting to happen. However, everyone will function better if they know what to expect. I recommend that you think about what everyone needs to accomplish and what you want your days to look like. Consider getting everyone to bed and up again at predictable times. Include a morning routine to help everyone feel focused and productive. After that, mornings are a good time for heavy mental work like math and writing. Afternoons are good for exercise, reading, and music practice. Make meals more of a production than usual, with everyone chipping in to prepare and clean up. Mealtimes are natural breaks when everyone can regroup, relax, and reconnect with each other while providing natural rhythm.
In general, the younger the children, the more specific the plan needs to be. The older the children, the more flexibility they can handle. My children, two who attend high school but are previous homeschoolers, are good with a list and deadline, taking breaks as they need. Most kids are not used to that much freedom in their day and will need your help in establishing their own rhythm.
Embrace boredom and encourage relaxation. Your kids are used to being “on” and mentally engaged for a majority of their day. We are asking them to make a huge mental and physical shift. My advice is—don’t fight it. I know it is annoying when your kid whines about being bored but punishing them just sets a negative tone for the house. Acknowledge their boredom. Encourage them to find relaxing, fun things to do on their own or with siblings. Give it time. There are a million things to do that they just have not discovered yet. With time, opportunity, and encouragement (and dare I say, a deficit of screen time), they will.
Expectations. Don’t expect school to take all day. It takes A LOT longer to teach a classroom of twenty-five students than it does for one student to do the same work independently. While they may have been at school seven hours, it might only take an hour or two at home to complete the same tasks. That’s normal and appropriate. Please don’t give them a ton of extra work to fill up seven hours! They will be grumpy and burn out, and that is not going to be pleasant for anyone.
Also expect to help. While your students may blaze through some of their work easily, don’t be too surprised if they need help in other areas. Teachers use a process called scaffolding to help students acquire new skills. Scaffolding means modeling or demonstrating a new skill and then offering support along the way as a student learns something new. This could mean asking leading questions, helping your child identify the next step, testing out possible answers, or providing feedback. It is normal for students to need this kind of help.
A Final Thought
Make a conscious choice to enjoy being together. One of the greatest lessons I have learned from homeschooling is to pick my battles. Then go back and pick even fewer. And then maybe do that one more time. Spending time with my children is my greatest joy, but it takes discipline on my part to maintain a positive environment. It requires self-control to not always express my anger and frustration when it doesn’t serve to build strong relationships with them. I can ask nicely for the 900th time for my kid to pick up his socks, or I can ask with the attitude I feel. Which one is going to make our time together better? It’s these many small but constant decisions that determine if our days together are pleasant or painful. I encourage you to choose all the ways you can make this time a pleasant memory for you and them.
While your school may send home plenty of work or have online classes, here are some helpful (and mostly free) resources if you need them.
The public library. Even though our Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County is currently closed, they still have a TON of resources available to us. You can check out books and audiobooks online. Their Research and Homework page is a goldmine.
Our favorite online learning websites:
http://khanacademy.org While we have used it mostly for math, Khan offers much more than that, including several Advanced Placement courses and ACT and SAT prep for our older kids.
https://www.math-aids.com As of today, the lessons on this site require a subscription, but the worksheets are free. Math, reading, vocabulary, spelling and more are available.
https://outschool.com/#usKXCEfSXx While these classes are not free, there is a huge variety of economical options for all subjects.
Other helpful websites and special offers:
YMCA The Cincinnati YMCA is offering free workout videos you can stream from their website, including bootcamp, yoga, barre, and workouts for older adults.
Follow McHarper Manor on Facebook for daily art activities.
Scholastic has free lessons online.
The Metropolitan Opera will stream performances nightly at 7:30. Not usually out thing, but what a great way to add some beauty to each day. Find the details here.
Brain Pop Check with your school, as many have subscriptions so that students may access their resources for free.
Ed Helper Free worksheets while school is out.
Follow Linton Music Peanut Butter and Jam Sessions on Facebook for daily music activities.
Free science lessons and experiments you can do at home from Mystery Science.
Amazon offers free book downloads daily. Some days the offers are better than others, but it’s worth a browse if you need some new reading material for you or the children.