Help for Parents Who Are Suddenly Homeschooling (against their wills)

Hi friends! All week long I’ve been joking that I ought to open a Remote Quarantine Consulting Business because I’ve homeschooled for thirteen years. However, since schools are now closing right and left, here is some of my best advice for free. Be kind, be wise and be well in these uncertain days.

Time management: It’s OK to take a day or two to pretend you’re on vacation. Sit around in your pajamas and watch movies, etc. But I would suggest that the majority of your days still have a rhythm to them. Get up and get dressed as you usually would. Set a time for breakfast. We usually do something active between breakfast and the start of school (here it’s chores), so they can burn off a little energy before I’m asking them to sit for a while.

Scholarly pursuits: understand the difference between “school at home” and “homeschool.” The sooner you embrace the fact that your home cannot function as your school does, the less stressed everyone will be. For elementary students, I suggest changing activities every 20-30 minutes during actual lesson time. Set a timer to help with this. Then drop the lesson; go outside, send them to read for a bit, or do a read-aloud. Or the one that we homeschool parents love to Instagram: do a read-aloud on a blanket outside with snacks. What a world.

Eat the frog: You guys know the old adage, right? If you knew you had to eat a frog every day, you’d want to do it as soon as possible to get it over with. If there’s a subject that your kid hates, try to do it earlier in the day before you are both tired.

Lean into delight: light a candle. Turn on some music. Pick a book that everyone loves to read aloud together, even if it’s a re-read (check out the resources at Story Warren). Make lunch interesting or take it outside. Go for a walk. Marathon a movie series that your family loves. What is the culture of your family that you can invest in and preserve during this time? Lean hard into that. I think, since our usual English Premier League matches are postponed, we will be watching some old games just for fun.

Let them be bored: it is not your job to amuse the children every hour of the day. They have minds and creative wills of their own — you know this because you’re the one that hears their stories. Force them to use them. They can do it, I promise. Provide open-ended supplies: legos, dollhouses, art supplies, journals. It might take a few days of complaining to work through this, and you’re going to want to turn on the TV. Resist the urge (more on screens in a minute). It’s good for you all to get away from each other (within your quarantine limits) for a little while. A note to parents who like having things “just so” — creative children are usually messy. Make peace with this. It’s a good time to use your timer, both for the “be bored” time and the cleanup time.

Adult human skills: parents who complain about how your kids still don’t know how to do their own laundry, this is your moment! It’s time for home economics class. If they can reach the bottom of that washer, they can do laundry. Make ‘em. Their future roommate/spouse/child will thank you. You can even pick a project in your home and involve them — my youngest helped me paint her room at age 6. It was not as disastrous as you might imagine. Maybe they want to brainstorm meals with you or learn some cooking skills. Then, when they’re back at school and you’re back at work, you can text them and say, “Hey, can you start dinner?” and something great will happen.

Have a plan for screens (the negative spin): set some ground rules, or those screens will overrun your day and everyone will turn into zombies. Here at our house, the kids must finish school and chores before they’re allowed on screens, with some exceptions to email or voxer friends. Try not to turn on the TV “just to see what’s on.” If you can’t say what you’re going to watch or stream, maybe find something else to do. This is difficult — it’s a battle here in our home every day. I could probably do an entire post on just this topic. But if you’d like to investigate more, we use a combination of physical control (the devices have a spot where they stay), wi-fi control (with Disney circle) and device-based control (with the ScreenTime app). When my kids were smaller, I saved screen time up like gold and used it all up when I was trying to make dinner.

Have a plan for screens (the positive spin): like I said before, we’re going to use screens for good things during this time. A movie marathon. Old sports games (have your kids seen the Miracle on Ice? Mine haven’t). Documentaries. We also use devices for chatting with friends, using Marco Polo and Voxer. We use Hoopla for free through our public library for audiobooks, movies, and comics. Libby and Overdrive might be an option for you, as well.

Give grace: Lastly, this is a scary and uncertain time for everyone. Give yourself grace. Give your kids grace. There’s no model for how this should look. Things will be back to “normal” eventually. Go to bed on time; take a shower; take a walk. Start again tomorrow.

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