You never imagined yourself doing school at home. Or maybe you did, but not yet… and definitely not because schools closed suddenly during a pandemic! You don’t have the luxury of researching and planning over the summer months – this is happening NOW!
But for now – right now – you want to make the most of this. For the next three weeks or three months or however long it lasts, you want to take the lemons and make lemonade.
Before I go on, let me just say, you’re already scoring points in my book by being resourceful, getting ideas, and trying to figure this out to help your family through this unprecedented reality. Yay you!
Years ago, I transitioned from full-time architectural engineer to stay-at-home mom and then homeschool mom. I had the benefit of time to research, low-risk opportunities to “practice homeschooling” with my young kiddos and the desire to homeschool in the first place.
In the current situation, you might have none of those. As Heather Anne at Heather Anne Art and Soul wrote, this isn’t really homeschooling – this is “crisis schooling” and “there is a huge difference.”
But, what you DO have are the most important things. You have a BRAIN in your head, LOVE for your family and, above all, a GOD who loves you and your kids.
So, with our focus firmly on what we DO have (instead of dwelling on what’s missing), let’s dig in.
Everything I’m about to share I’ve learned through first-hand experience. That is, I’ve messed up at every single one of these and tried to find a better solution the next time around.
I know everyone’s situation is different right now but I’m hoping at least a few of the ideas below will help you find your way through this season. Take what helps, leave the rest.
Tips for Temporary Homeschooling
Keep using what’s already working. You don’t have to totally reinvent the wheel. Keep using your tried and true parenting strategies (one of my favorites is “Divide and Conquer”). In the past, you’ve used them in the evenings, on weekends or during vacations — now you’ll just be using them more often.
Clarify expectations. Different expectations can be a huge source of conflict. While Dad’s expecting quiet to get his work done, the kid’s might be expecting him to play video games with them. Mom expects she can get her business calls made while Older Sister babysits the twins, but Older Sister has other plans. Use morning family meetings to get everyone on the same page.
Maintain family traditions and start new ones. If you have any family traditions (Taco Tuesday anyone?), it’s more important now than ever to keep them going! Amidst all the crazy, daily changes, consistency will be key for kids of all ages. Make the best of your new, temporary situation by starting some new traditions, too. If you’re all home at lunchtime, start daily family picnics in the living room (paper plates = less dishes). Even if they’re just for a season, you’ll build some great family memories.
Figure out a routine – any routine – to get started. Don’t bother trying to find the “perfect” hourly schedule or “best” daily routine – there’s no such thing anyway. Start with a small handful of key goals for the day (like sleeping, eating and school/work… maybe even a shower) and go from there. After all, when you’re up a creek without a paddle, even a ladle is better than nothing.
Help everyone find the space they need. Everybody needs a place they can retreat to when they need to concentrate or just get away from everybody for a little while. If you’re not used to spending a lot of time in the same space as your family, and especially if you or your kids are introverts, do whatever you can to allow or create separate spaces (ideally in separate rooms). In our smaller home, this means we’re rearranging furniture so my husband can call our bedroom his makeshift office now that he’s working from home during the day.
Start a “Daily Quiet Time”. Contrary to popular belief, homeschoolers don’t spend “24/7” with their kids. At least none that I know do! We’d lose our minds just like anyone else! One of the ways I’ve kept my sanity with preschool and elementary aged kids is by requiring a separate quiet time for 1-2 hours every afternoon. Both separate and quiet are keys to this working well.
Get your kids outside as much as possible. Don’t let the weather stop you. If it’s chilly, bundle up and go out anyway. The cooped-up-crabby feeling happens REALLY fast but it can also be eliminated really fast with even a short time outside! Just today we shuffled the kids outside in the 38 degree weather – the perfect temperature for sidewalk chalk paint and bike riding, don’t you think?
Spend more time WITH your kids than PLANNING what to do with your kids. One activity actually done is worth more than a list of 100 picture-perfect-Pinterest-pins in your “Ideas for Someday” board. When all this is over and life returns to normal, let your kids remember their calm, reasonable mom who shared a half-hour a day of quality time doing something they love rather than a crazed, stressed-out mom who spent hours planning every waking minute of their time together only to be disappointed when the activities didn’t go as planned.
Pace yourself. It took me a full year to emotionally and mentally transition from full-time working mom to at-home mom. And it’s taken several more for me to feel comfortable calling myself a “homeschool mom”. Rome wasn’t built in a day so don’t expect to have a seamless transition to whatever your new role looks like after being thrust into this new season so abruptly! Just do the best you can.
Break up the monotony. This coronavirus lockdown won’t last forever, but each day can seem like an eternity if there’s nothing to look forward to. One way I’ve tried to make the best of otherwise boring days is by using regular things to break up the day. Make that trip to the pharmacy an “outing” – let each kid pick a fun treat at the store or stop at a park to play catch on the way home so it becomes an “event” to look forward to instead of a “chore” to endure.
Read aloud to your kids – even the older ones. Having time for read-alouds has been one of the best parts of homeschooling for us. Give younger kids quiet activities to keep them occupied (or use audiobooks so you can color with your preschooler). It’s been a great alternative to doing yet-another-screen-thing. Check out the Read–Aloud Revival website for some great read-aloud suggestions for all ages. Or find kid’s stories at Audible for free during the COVID-19 school shut-downs.
Lower your cleaning expectations. I’ll tell it to you straight. With more people home during the day, your house will get a whole lot messier. This is one of my least-favorite things about homeschooling. But the sooner you recognize this and loosen the death grip on the dream of having a Good Housekeeping home, the less-stressful this whole experience will be.
Maintain some form of community. Another misconception about homeschoolers is that they don’t get out much. There’s a lot I could say here but, in the interest of saving time, I’ll just say it’s not true. With our homeschool co-ops, classes and sports cancelled, and not even libraries or church to attend, we’re all in the same boat as you right now.
People were designed to be in community. It won’t be easy given the nature of this situation, but do whatever you can to keep your kids from feeling isolated. Thankfully there are multiplayer online games, email, texting, video chats and maybe even old-fashioned phone calls to keep in touch in germ-free ways.
Many homeschooling groups are also providing resources to help non-homeschooling parents as they adjust to temporarily schooling at home. Check out H.E.L.P (Homeschoolers Encouraging Loving Parents) – Illinois Christian Home Educators’ new Facebook group dedicated to serving “public and private school parents whose children are now home unexpectedly.”
Communicate with your kids. Check-in with your kids throughout the day to check their schoolwork progress and their emotional status. Take their ideas and concerns seriously. You might not be able to solve every little thing that’s bugging them but at least they’ll feel heard if you listen. Try and learn from the rough patches today to make tomorrow run more smoothly.
Use screen time strategically. If you have limits on screen time for your kids, try not to use up that hour of game time or two TV shows willy nilly. Allow them only after schoolwork is done and when it would benefit you, too. I save my kids’ TV time for right before or after quiet time which gives me a longer uninterrupted break.
Stay one step ahead. You don’t need to have a plan for the entire month right now. Just try and stay one step ahead until you can buy yourself some time to get a longer-term plan in place. For example, we once had an unforeseen wrench thrown into our week and I wasn’t prepared for the next school day. In desperation, I threw a few goals for the next day on a scrap of paper and gave it a name: “You-Pick Monday”. It looked like this…
I knew they’d at least be getting the 3R’s, some music practice, plus a few somewhat educational games and quality family time. They were thrilled (“I LOVE You-Pick Monday, Mom!!”) and I was able to get back on track with my planning that evening. The kids never knew I was only (barely!) one step ahead of them.
Take advantage of homeschooling benefits while it lasts. One of the biggest benefits of homeschooling is freedom. Unfortunately, stay-home orders are the exact opposite of freedom, aren’t they? But, there are still some perks you can take advantage of. Like if your kids want to do their math at 8am while eating Cheerios, does it really matter? The point is to learn the math, right? Or if they prefer to read hanging upside-down off the side of their bed, let them! As long as they’re comprehending what they’re doing, let them have the freedom to learn and study in the ways that are most comfortable for them. My kinesthetic learners, for example, retain things better when they’re able to move around, chew gum or stand at their desks.
Use your stuff. Don’t feel like you need to order a bunch of new toys and games so your kids don’t get bored. Sometimes I look at our shelves of toys and books and think “if we actually played all these games and read all these books it would take us months to go through them!” Well, now we have the chance! Save your money and dust off the resources you already have!
Make everyone pitch in. If everyone is home, making more messes, using more dishes, making more sticky fingerprints all over the walls…. then it makes sense that everyone should be cleaning up more, too! Don’t try to do it all yourself – ask for help!
Give yourself (and each other) grace! This unexpected situation is affecting everyone in a lot of different ways. The more we can extend grace and patience to ourselves and others, the smoother this whole ride will be!
You may have noticed very little of the advice here was directly related to academics. That’s partly because different states and schools are handling this pandemic in different ways so I can’t speak to everyone’s exact academic needs.
But in our years of homeschooling, I’ve found I spend just as much or more time managing the non-academic stuff as I do the school-y stuff. Homeschooling is a lifestyle, not just a method of education.
We’re all navigating uncharted territory but, remember, God is in control. We love our families and we’re all doing our best not just to survive the chaos, but to thrive!
I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to contact me with your questions and comments and I’ll do my best to reply!
And, if you’ve already been wondering if homeschooling might be a good fit for your family, check out this post for more ideas: Should You Homeschool?
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