Raise your hand if you find yourself educating your child at home and you never imagined this would be your life. Welcome to the big new club of pandemic educators!
Schooling at home during a pandemic is not the same as homeschooling, which is full of field trips, co-op learning and adventures. This is a whole new thing that we have never done before. But as an experienced homeschooling parent for the past 12 years who recently had my first pupil graduate, I offer these homeschooling tips, which just might ease your discomfort in your new role as accidental teacher.
Take a deep breath.
Realize that even though you feel isolated, you are not alone. We’re weathering a pandemic. The whole world is navigating this strange time. Your child is in the same boat as millions of other kids, and he will not be left behind in the same way he would if they were all happily going about life as usual and he was stuck at home. Leverage the many resources that homeschooling families have been using for decades, including peer support.
With the kids at home most of the time, it will be difficult to meet academic needs, keep a tidy house, pull off perfectly balanced meals, enjoy sparkling dinner conversation every night, and be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed every morning. Days will feel more akin to a triage situation. Did everyone learn something new or practice something they already know? Is everyone safe? Is everyone fed? Did we all find time to cope with the new stresses we are all experiencing, collectively and individually? Affirmatives to these questions spell a successful day, even if the dishes piled up and you were grouchy before your morning coffee. Some days with the whole family at home are disappointingly awful. But some days are beautiful and inspiring. And sometimes we just need to count the good moments on the tough days and remember that they are victories, too.
Peers are important.
Kids need connection with their friends for their social-emotional health. By now, you have found creative ways for them to connect in socially distanced, mask-wearing outdoor activities or virtually. Treat this precious time as an essential educational item in your schedule.
Just as they are for the kids, peers are important for you, too! You need to vent, connect and seek support. Find that outlet through your existing social networks or through one of the many homeschooling groups in the area.
Family connection is even more important.
With the task of schooling your kids during this pandemic, it can be tempting to fret overmuch about meeting academic and household needs to the point that you forget to have fun together. Take time to relax and enjoy time with your family.
Don’t compare and despair.
Social media can be a lifesaver for a homeschooling parent. Through it, you can find connections and learn about useful resources. But you can also get the impression that everyone else is doing the job better than you are! Don’t buy it. Remember that social media is a cultivated virtual garden that people want you to see. Most people are not showing that sink full of dirty dishes or documenting the morning bickerfest between the kids.
Choose a structure … and then be flexible about it.
Unless your school specifically requires it, your kids don’t need to be sitting in a seat working for six hours a day. Make sure that your weekly schedule includes time for focused work, free time, chores and socializing. Feel free to be creative in envisioning what that looks like for your family.
Follow their interests.
Homeschooling offers kids time to learn about things that inspire them. My daughter spent a couple of years learning about gardening. She read books about gardening, started seeds, grew vegetables, turned her tomatoes into pasta sauce and then canned it, volunteered on an urban farm and exchanged seeds with adult gardeners in our community. She made intergenerational connections, learned a lot about science and picked up priceless life skills along the way. Pandemic schooling won’t allow you to have quite as many tools at your disposal, but it will allow your family to explore interests with the extra time afforded by “normal” life being in suspension. Exploring something interesting is always the easiest and most fun way to learn.
Include life skills.
If ever there was a time to teach everyone to pitch in with the household chores and cooking, this is that time! Maybe the kids can do their own laundry or sweep the kitchen floor. Are they old enough to take out the trash? Your kids will learn a lot, including how much work the adults in their lives have always done to take care of them!
Outdoor time should be part of every child’s day. You can enjoy outside time together by going on a walk or a bike ride. If your child has more energy than you do, consider timing her as she runs around the block or completes an obstacle course at the park. Recess also can simply be time spent outside in the yard, with no structure at all. Your kids will learn things just by interacting with the natural world.
Remember that it’s okay to be bored.
Despite your best efforts, you may hear that shop-worn whine of childhood: “I’m bored!” Some solutions to boredom include offering extra chores or an extracurricular academic project! “Would you like to clean the bathroom?” “Bored, hey? This would be a great time for you to read ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.’” “Here’s a ruler: Go measure all of the toys in the toy box and write down the results on this notepad.” You don’t have to have the answer to every question your child asks or to make sure they’re entertained at every moment. When you hear the “B” word, feel free to validate that experience: “It’s okay to be bored.” Some of the most creative work emerges when boredom gives us time to think.