Remember back when we thought schools would be closed for just a matter of weeks, and our homeschooling woes were mostly funny inconveniences? Those were the days! It’s hard to laugh now, as COVID-19 cases are back on the rise, and the whole country debates whether and when to reopen schools. We weren’t prepared to accept this blur of work and snack-fixing and work and story-reading and work and grubby (how are they still grubby?) hand-washing as a long-term situation. But we’ll suck it up, since it looks like the health of our whole damn country depends on it.
Whether we keep our kids home for fully virtual school, or just some of the time for this partly in-person hybrid model for who knows how many more months, we’re going to need some new strategies. There are only so many printable coloring pages you can do. Which is why many parents are turning to some form of structured homeschooling — or at least a schedule that involves some academics and not nine hours per day of screen time. Hey, if Pink can pull it off…
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To get a better idea of how to make this new normal more sustainable, we reached out to the experts: the homeschooling parents themselves. You know, the real ones who did this out of commitment and not coronavirus, bless them. Here are their best lessons for the rest of us who are just trying to survive quarantine without total child-brain drain.
Incorporate free time, breaks — and, if all else fails, a trampoline.
“As a homeschool mom of 5 kids 12 and under, I find that the best thing to help keep my sanity is to keep my expectations realistic so that all of us don’t get overwhelmed and grumpy. What the public school system needs 7 hours to accomplish with my kids, I can usually get done in 2-3 hours of focused learning. I also choose a curriculum where I don’t have to do a lot of prep work since I don’t want to spend all my evenings getting activities ready for the next day.
From the beginning, I set the expectations for what my kids need to accomplish each day, and they know that as soon as it’s done they can have free time. This helps keep the kids accountable, but also super motivated to get their work done. I also allow the kids a break between each subject, and if someone is getting really frustrated with learning something, 10 minutes of jumping on the trampoline always works wonders!”
— Jessica Averett from Bring The Kids
Let kids take the lead — and even (gasp!) get bored.
“My top tip is to take this opportunity to teach kids about taking ownership of their time/learning and to encourage them to learn something new. Kids that have been in a formal school setting their whole lives have always been told what to do every hour of their day. So when school is out, they tend to look at their parents for guidance or structure… The reason a lot of parents are stressing out about closures is because most kids will probably be done with their school work before the end of a normal school day (this is why homeschooling doesn’t take more than a couple hours a day). This is usually when parents feel pressured or stress out about ‘filling in’ that time with activities. Kids who only get free time at home during holidays and vacation will become bored easily and share the misery with the parents. But the truth is, unless your child is under the age of 5, they don’t need you to plan every hour of the day for them. When empowered to manage their own free time, they will come up with things to do. Being bored sparks creativity.”
— Jana Goodlife from GoodLifeExplorers
Limit (don’t cancel) screen time.
“I don’t mean NO screen time — just give them set hours for TV/tablets/computers. I’m a firm believer that too much screen time lowers our children’s tolerance for frustration and boredom. These are critical skills they need to develop as adults.”
— Wendy Piersall of WooJr.
Get a damn planner.
“My top tip is to be organized! A good planner saves sanity. Not only are the days’ lessons planned and easy to see, but when things go awry (and they will go awry) it’s easy to pivot and make sure everything is accounted for without having important lessons fall through the cracks. Along those lines, it also allows for those precious teachable moments which is a big reason why we homeschool. Those moments are too often glossed over in other institutions. A good planner allows you to dig deep when that moment presents itself without the stress of ‘having to get it all done for an upcoming test. This really does keep things peaceful and productive and allows for impromptu fun.”
— Jen Tousey of ThisFamilyBlog
Take it outside.
“Teach your kids to garden… Make sure they get outside and exercise. Explore the neighborhood. Search for rocks, bugs, birds, etc… Have them exercise a few times a day. I’d make my son run in the backyard, do a loop around three palm trees and run back inside… Find local gardens you can visit and outdoor places where there won’t be a lot of people. Go to the beach. Explore tidepools. Tie it into to science, write about it for English. Don’t make them do 6-8 hours of school work… All in all, have fun. Enjoy the time with your kids. Get off your phone and spend the time with them. You’ll understand why all those ‘other people’ homeschooled and loved it.”
— Deborah of MomAreWeThereYet
Take it slow, and don’t discount one-on-one time.
“I am an expert in homeschooling! I’ve been homeschooling my five kids for 10 years… Some of my overall tips would be to ease into it, and assign the correct amount of hours that are appropriate to their age. Set out a schedule the night before, and make it visible and clear to all. Spend time one-on-one with each child to check in on their day and their progress.”
— Amber of AmberLikes
A version of this story was originally published on March 17, 2020.
When schooling is done for the day, here are some great toys that should keep kids off their screens.
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