Kara Stiff at The Organic Prepper is a homeschooling parent and shares her thoughts with those who are attempting to home school their public school children during the Covid-19 pandemic – A Homeschooling Guide for Public Schoolers
My heart goes out to all the parents who were never planning to home school, but nevertheless find themselves teaching their children at home today. I chose this beautiful, crazy life, and I completely understand why some people wouldn’t choose it. But here we are. We have to do what we have to do. You don’t want them to fall behind. You don’t want to lose your mind.
Believe it or not, it’s a golden opportunity.
Caveat: these are only my personal thoughts. I’m not a professional educator, just a parent successfully homeschooling.
This advice is only for people whose greatest hurdle right now is remaining sane with the little ones. This is a high bar to clear, to be sure, but some people are facing the little people plus big financial problems, they’re sick or working through mental health issues, or they’re managing other emergencies. In those cases, if you’re keeping everyone more or less fed and warm then you’re succeeding, and you don’t need me to tell you to forget the rest for as long as necessary.
For everyone else, I do have a little advice. I’m sure you’re getting support from your school district, which is excellent. Worrying about what to teach is often a new homeschooler’s first and biggest concern. But deciding what to teach is actually the easy part, and now it’s mom, dad, uncle or grandma doing the really hard part: actually sitting with the kid, helping/making him or her do the work.
First, I think you can safely let go of the worry that you may not be a good enough teacher because you’re a terrible speller, or you think you’re bad at math. It’s good to know these things about yourself so they can be addressed, but the truth is that how great you personally are at division isn’t necessarily a predictor of success. Neither is how well you explain things, or even how well you demonstrate looking things up, although that is a priceless skill to impart to inquiring minds. To my mind, the most important skill for successful homeschooling is:
Controlling your own frustration
We adults are fantastically knowledgeable and amazingly skilled. No, really, we are! So we forget how hard it is to do seemingly simple things for the first time. I remember sitting in my college biochemistry class, listening to the professor say:
“Come on you guys, this is easy!”
Folks, I’m here to tell you that biochemistry isn’t easy for most people who are new to it, especially people who just drug themselves out of bed five minutes ago, possibly with a touch of a hangover. And reading isn’t easy for a five-year-old, and multiplication isn’t easy for an eight-year-old.
The parent has to slow down, go through it again, redirect the child’s attention for the hundredth time and explain the material in a different way, preferably without pulling out their own hair. You can develop these skills. Even if you’re new to it, and you don’t find it easy.
When it just isn’t working, the parent has to know when to shift gears and let it rest. Preserving your relationship with the child is always very important, but it’s doubly so when you’re home with them all day every day.
I think I can safely say that all homeschool parents want to scream sometimes. Many of us have threatened to send our kids to public school at one point or another (or maybe once a week). It doesn’t make you a bad parent or even a bad teacher, it just makes you human. In the last week, I have seen a bunch of public school parents join my online homeschool groups, and the outpouring of sympathy, support and good ideas from homeschool parents makes me tear up. We’re here for you. Get in touch.
Run your day in a way that works for YOU
Just because they’re usually in school for six or eight hours a day doesn’t mean you have to school them for six or eight hours a day. That schedule is a crowd control measure instituted for the good of society, not for the good of children.
My children are homeschooled primarily because I think a kid should spend a lot of time outside moving around, and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do that and public school. My own public school experience was pretty different from the norm today, with much less homework and much more self-direction, but still, I feel that I didn’t get enough practice directing my own attention. Research backs me up on this: kids who get many hours of freedom develop excellent executive function, which not only makes them a valuable employee but also helps them run their own life someday.
At my house, we do about an hour of formal school work per day, six or seven days a week. The rest of the time the kids help me with gardening and animal care, climb trees and play in the creek, draw and write and read things on their own or together, and make stuff out of Legos. They have an hour of screen time each afternoon just so they will sit down and be quiet, usually a documentary. David Attenborough is definitely this house’s biggest celebrity. We’re also accustomed to spending several days of the week with other homeschool families, although obviously that is curtailed now due to social distancing.
Learning doesn’t stop when we leave the table, because kids are unstoppable learning machines when they’re not too tired or stressed out. I’m always available to answer questions and help look stuff up, and the questions are pretty frequent. An adult reads to them (or they read to us) books of their choosing at bedtime, and sometimes just after dinner, too. It’s also a pretty common occurrence in my house for a child to see an adult reading a novel, a piece of nonfiction, or The Economist, and request to have it read aloud to them, which we do. They also sometimes watch me balance the household budget.
The schedule that works best for your family might look very different from ours, and that is good. Children are people. People have very different needs, and one of the charms of schooling at home is that you can arrange things in a pretty good compromise to meet everyone’s needs. An hour or two of focused one-on-two attention per day is plenty of time for my four- and seven-year-olds to get well ahead of grade level on reading, writing, and math…(continues)