If you’ve recently found yourself temporarily homeschooling your kids as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are some lessons I’d like to share that my wife and I learned from 10 years of homeschooling our own kids. Before we get started, there’s one overarching truth you need to accept right away:
Homeschooling is hard work.
It takes effort, self-discipline, organizational skill, time-management, and to an extent even financial resources, to provide your children with a solid education, even if it’s for only a few weeks or months.
Juggling homeschooling with your day job will be difficult. Balancing instruction and running errands will be tough. Managing three kids doing three different assignments will be no easy task. But I promise that though it’ll be challenging, it will also be incredibly rewarding for both you and your children.
So let’s get started.
First, be flexible!
Don’t try to replicate their school schedule. You need some structure to your day, of course, but there’s no need to replicate the schedule your kids are used to at school. For example, you can start at 8:00 instead of 8:23, or 9:00 instead of 7:34.
You don’t need to have exactly 40 minute class periods. Make them half an hour, an hour, or keep it fluid. There’s nothing wrong with moving on to math if your child (student) finished their literature essay. Or turn it around. There’s no need to stop a student working on a task they haven’t finished so they can go on to the next subject. In my family, we don’t have set class times at all other than what time we start the day.
There are no official rules for homeschool scheduling, so experiment with what works for you and your kids. Structure is important, but so is being flexible.
If you sense your kids are dragging at 10am, send them on a 20 minute bike ride. If you need to bring one of the kids to the orthodontist, bring schoolwork or books for your other kids to read while they sit in the waiting room. If you have a work conference call at 8:30am and you can’t start your kids early, start them on their schoolwork at 10am when you’re done with your call.
Just be generally consistent and at least moderately structured, and they’ll do just fine.
Second, be prepared but keep it simple!
If you have curricula from which to work, great! Some of my kids’ public school friends had a lot of schoolwork sent home with them by their teachers. If this is your situation, it means that you, as the homeschool teacher, have specific tasks to work on. That makes things easier.
However, if you finish that material sooner than you thought, or if you didn’t get anything from your kids’ teachers, spend some time to jot down the core subjects you need to cover. It’s not necessary to plan out every minute, but it is necessary to have direction and milestones. Otherwise, you’ll increase your own stress and greatly decrease how productive your instructional time is.
But please don’t freak out. You can use online resources that package curricula for you. For example, look into Khan Academy for math, and also check out BookShark which is an online and literature-based homeschool curriculum.
Watch educational YouTube videos with your kids. Read lots of books. The beauty of homeshooling is that you don’t need to use regular textbooks. Just plan ahead so when you sit with your child, you’re confident with the direction you’re taking, comfortable with the content, and efficient with your time.
If you plan to homechool for the long-term, you can certainly spend a huge amount of time developing your own curricula; otherwise, do yourself a favor and keep it simple!
Third, encourage self-directed instruction!
One of the great benefits of homeschooling (when done well) is that young people develop very early on a sense of ownership and self-discipline. It’s ok to assign them a task and have them work on it alone at their desk or at the kitchen table. Yes, my five year old and ten year old struggle with that sometimes. But my 13 year old has now taken the same level of ownership over her own education that took me decades to figure out.
Something that’s worked for us is to have our oldest daughter help her younger siblings from time-to-time. For example, my oldest will work with my five year old on his reading while my wife works with my middle daughter on her math. If I’m home from work I may also help, but honestly my wife has things under control to the extent that I just mess things up anyway 🙂
Fourth, get organized!
Get your homeschool area ready before your kids start their day. Plan out what you’re going to cover with each of them. Even some notecards or a task list on your Outlook calendar will work. Homeschooling can be very flexible, but it does require at least some planning and organization.
My wife and I don’t subscribe to the notion that we just do whatever our kids are interested in at the moment. Yes, we tailor their education somewhat to appeal to their interests, but we still need to make sure they can read, write, and do math.
Ultimately, if this is brand new to you, don’t take on too much. Focus on the essentials, spend your effort on the core subjects, and stay organized.
Fifth, get connected!
Though I assume they’re all closed right now, there are small and large homeschool cooperatives all over the place with helpful teachers and programs. There are Facebook groups, YouTube channels, Slack teams, authors, professional educators, and support groups of all types. Go online and find something.
If you try one group and don’t like it, find another. There are definitely weird people in the homeschooling community just like in any community, but there are so many resources and groups out there that it’s not hard to find something that works for you. Maybe even consider starting a Slack channel with other parents from your kids’ school. The resources available today are awesome.
Sixth, be creative!
Some of the fondest memories I have with my kids are of a homeschool activity or a family field trip I got to organize myself. Through running a lemonade stand, my kids learned about debt, revenue, profit, and customer service. They had a ton of fun that spring, and we got to meet a bunch of our neighbors that generally keep to themselves.
One of my favorite field trips was a weekend in Plymouth, Massachusetts. I put together some scavenger hunt activities and gave them prizes as part of our day at Plymouth Plantation.
Get creative with your instruction and your activities. This is a unique opportunity for your kids to experience a custom-tailored, small group educational setting. It opens up the door to more creative ways to teach history, math, science, music, art, and literature.
In conclusion, even if you’re homeschooling for only a few weeks or months, take ownership of your kids’ education. Ultimately, that’s what really underlies their success. And when done right, homeschooling works. I mean it really works.
Be flexible. Get prepared. Be organized. Be creative. Get connected. Get excited!
Congratulations! You now have a glorious second job, even if it’s for a short time. Embrace it with both arms for your kids’ sake.