As a veteran homeschooling mother that homeschooled three children (while working from home as well), all the way from elementary school through high school graduation, I’ve been fielding a lot of questions from bewildered, recently homebound parents about how to manage. Here’s a bit of what comes to mind:
- First, I have to say, give everyone here some slack, both kids and parents. Unlike homeschooling parents, you didn’t decide to do this, but it has been thrust upon you. Homeschooling families have the advantage of having chosen to school “at home and in the community,” often after much research and deliberation. They usually have a plan, defined goals, and a long view. Yes, we needed to figure out how to cope too, but the trajectory, motive, responsibility level, magnitude and duration is colossally different. From our homeschooler’s perspective, what you are doing right now is not homeschooling; it is just muddling through a bizarre time. Nevertheless, I’m happy to try and help smooth this unexpected road for you a bit.
- What are your motives for this homebound time? Just getting done what the school is asking for? Or are you deeply desiring heightened engagement and further learning enhancement for your kids during this time? Once you are clear about your motives, you can come up with a plan, and then work your plan.
- My advice is to involve your students/kids in thinking all this through, and agreeing upon your motives and plan. Buy-in, and understanding, is vital for effectively working together. Homeschoolers call it “learner led,” and yes, as parents, that takes some finesse, for you have goals and needs that must be met too. The point is to partner with them in this; facilitate, team up with them, to achieve a quality of life that works for everybody. In my experience, a top down approach only makes everyone miserable, while sorting it out together is not only fun but more effective. When everyone is honest with their needs, it can be downright revelatory. For a silly example, you think they should do their math pages first thing after breakfast, but that is excruciating for them and a battle for you; maybe you’ll learn that they need to read in bed first, while you jump on that great morning moment for your own work, and that they are perfectly happy to do that math in the late afternoon without a quibble. Whatever… you get the idea. Figure out how it should go, with everyone’s needs on the table, then agree on a plan, and all stick to the plan as best you can. If everyone had a hand in making the plan, and understands all the mutual needs involved, the going will be much smoother. It is worth the time and effort to hammer this out in advance, and it is never too late to start.
- My recommendation is to limit screen time as much as is reasonable. Have screen free chunks at least, and here is a key point: observe them yourself too. Do what you need to do online for work and school, adding on only a tad for social media over that. Video games maybe only on weekends? Avoid mindless scrolling, or excessive Netflix binging. Structure is your friend, both for getting things accomplished, and knowing when you are done, and can be “off,” doing other things. Agree on this stuff together and abide by it together.
- Plan some family movie nights or documentary viewings, game nights, and fun “non school” activities so they get the feeling of being home and NOT doing schoolwork all the time. Then when it is time to do “school” you’ll get less push back if they feel like they got away from it. Don’t overlook projects like cooking, hiking, sewing, puzzles, tag, playing music, biking, or doing art together. This is an unusual and precious time to build some bonding within your family. Don’t miss the opportunity for creating quality time. Please spend time really enjoying being together.
- Our family thrived on read alouds that we all did together. You can’t read to your kids enough, in my opinion. Picture books are fun to read aloud, even long after they can read them themselves. When our kids were in high school we still read aloud to them, and they looked forward to it. Pick something that engages all of you. Now that my husband and I are empty nesters, we still read aloud together. Being together in a good story is like sharing head space, and gives you launching pads for conversations of all sorts. It strengthens bonds while fortifying vocabulary and a enduring love of literature. You probably have some book around everyone would enjoy hearing. It might take a bit to get this started, if it is not already built into your family culture, but pick something interesting and engrossing, and you’ll get compliance very quickly once that ball has started rolling.
- Facilitate discussions, on a wide variety of subjects, particularly at meal time. There is no where to rush off to right now, which is truly special. We don’t get enough of these times. Light some candles. Make some herbal tea. Cherish this opportunity. Hear what’s on their hearts. Respond, instead of reacting. Be a role model of respect, curiosity, (only positive) humor, kindness, fairness, and spontaneity. This is where you teach the stuff that matters, and unfortunately at the speed of our usual life, not enough of that may be happening. Here’s our chance to catch up and go deeper with each other.
- I flooded my kids with non-media content and they gobbled it up. The best enrichment feels like play. That’s the way to create life-long learners. Find ways to make stuff fun. Do they know how to make a pie and change a tire? Make a whole list of non-school stuff you could learn together by doing it with your hands.
- Get out in nature more. This is still allowed with social distancing, and is something kids these days do not get enough of. Explore some new trail. As the weather gets warmer, bring a picnic and have it on a rock in the woods. Be active, and discover new territory together. Breathe in all that air and take in all the beauty. Maybe even try and paint it. Or dance or run in it. You are building memories here. Feel the love.
- Most of this boils down to parenting. Create and respect responsibilities and boundaries. Be considerate of one another. Eat regularly and get enough sleep. Trade off who does what, or be clear who has which duties when. Like each other and let each other know that you do. Everyone blossoms better under approval than censure. Speak gently. Have home be a safe place. Be encouraging and patient, both with them and yourself. Assuage fears as best you can, by finding all sorts of good in each present moment.
- If you are curious about homeschooling, or are looking for enrichment or more content, check out my Homeschooling Links page. You may particularly enjoy the blogs of mine listed on the lower left column that you’ll find there. At the bottom of that links page too, I share what our kids are up to now. They are all doing well. Our youngest is working on her PhD in Physics, so we’ve been out of the trenches for a while. They did not get phones until they were sixteen; I know the world is a different place now, and I send you kudos for how well you are navigating everything. If you read this far I’m sure you are awesome, and doing just fine. Most of what you worry about never happens. Do what you can do something about, and cherish this remarkable time with your kids.
- Also I’ll mention that there is a free online conference called Homebound from March 23 -27 run by two top notch women in the homeschooling movement that I’ve really valued. They know what they are talking about, and are rising to this occasion to specifically help you. Check it out here to see if it could augment what you are doing in some helpful way.
Lastly, I’d like to say that I hope you and your family can find a huge blessing in the unusual togetherness you will be experiencing this spring. Sending you heaps of love and loads of fortitude!
(Please share this with someone you know that may need it?)