Tips for the ‘new’ homeschool parent

With the onset of shelter-at-home, a wave of parents have been ushered into homeschooling. Here are some suggestions with a major shift in the education of your child. 

I’ve been watching, from a distance of course, how a lot of my people have been thrust into the role of a homeschooling parent in the last couple of weeks, and I can imagine it’s a real struggle. So I’m sharing some hopefully helpful pieces of advice for folks as we make the adjustment to what is likely to be a longer-term situation than we initially anticipated. 

I have three young adult daughters, all of whom I homeschooled for most of their K-12 years. My oldest entered “regular school” for the first time when she took early college classes as a high school student at our local community college. On the other hand, my youngest two had home-based learning up until high school. I like to think they turned out well: two are college graduates. I was actually scheduled to graduate together with my daughter this semester, her with her Bachelor’s, me with my Doctorate. The last one is still making her way to that benchmark. Plus, all are gainfully employed, brilliant, and more than anything else, good human beings.

1) What you are being asked to do is hard, but doable. 

We had a lot of good times over the years in pursuit of an education, but it was work—and I entered into the task willingly and not under conditions of quarantine. That said, what I am sharing here I think holds true even more in the current circumstances. Paradigm shifts, flexibility, creativity, forgiveness, and taking things one day at a time are indispensable. You don’t have to have the whole journey figured out right now, and that is okay. Your kids will still learn what they need to know about the world.

2) Let flexibility be your guiding principle. 

While routine and structure can be steadying in the midst of so much chaos, too much rigidity can cause one to snap. Resist the urge to replicate “school at home”—it won’t work and believe it or not, is not necessary. The conditions, needs, and resources available to you are different from an institution, and that doesn’t have to be viewed as a deficit. 

So, for example, where a lot of time in the normal school day is spent on crowd management, you can be a lot more nimble when you don’t have to make sure 25, 50, or hundreds of kids are where they are supposed to be or on the same page. Most of the time, we got through everything typically understood as “school work” in two hours or less, and we rarely used a five day schedule. What you need to accomplish with your child may be shaped somewhat by the direction, support, and expectations of your school district/teachers, but you still should be able to create some breathing room based on what’s happening at your home.

3) Be creative: Think outside of academic boxes. 

Proceeding this way enabled me to count as “educational” activity things that my children did in their considerable “free time”: writing original poetry and stories, exploring individual hobbies, etc. Embracing play and imagination time as a vital educational component, released me from a lot of that gripping anxiety about whether or not my kids were learning. 

We also used this principle to “double up” on subject matter. So for example, quarantine/social distancing friendly activities such as taking a nature walk in the woods can be physical education, science (say we identify or collect specimens along the way), and art (if we incorporate photography into the stroll). Board games and puzzles are excellent devices for teaching math, logic, and vocabulary (e.g. Scrabble). Cooking is also a great science and basic math teacher. Even something like Spades is instructive for computation (Keep count of those books!) and strategy. 

Lessons in civic engagement are more challenging right now, I had my kids volunteering at local libraries and other community institutions, but use of the internet as an organizing tool to serve those in need is a possibility for giving kids hands on lessons in these valuable areas.

4) You do not have to master every subject that your children study. 

When possible, I learned alongside the kids, and/or enlisted the support of my network to help me get things done. One of my good friends, for example, taught the kids to bake bread, a skill that I did not have. Another taught them to crochet and knit. I traded off with friends of mine who were good at science or math if my kid got stuck and assisted their kids with something I was more comfortable with. This type of thing will happen virtually of course now, but use it. 

We also used the internet to do virtual open heart surgeries and countless other things. There are whole instructional videos online that will walk you through crafting a thesis statement, literary analysis, and chemistry labs. Your child’s school should also be a resource here.

5) Patience, Patience, Patience. 

Give yourself and your children time to adjust, permission and room to feel stressed, and room to walk away from whatever seems urgent at the moment and come back to it later. Circling back to flexibility, you also have the ability to assess quickly what is working and what is not, and try something different without the burden of bureaucracy. You may not be a teacher by trade or profession, but you do have the advantage of experience with your own kid. Tap into that and use it to everyone’s benefit.

Good luck. I’m rooting for all of us.

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