How’s everyone doing out there with this weirdness going on? Every day it’s something new. Sort of. Us introverts are more or less carrying on as usual. Homeschool parents are feeling kind of validated. Which led to this post, because a few friends have asked my input recently. More explicitly, “you do this all the time – how do you do it?!”
My first thought is “I don’t!” Not “I don’t home school,” but “I am not doing what you are doing.” I had the privilege of homeschooling from the start, which means I’ve set up my life, to some extent, around schooling my kids. It’s part of every day and has been from the beginning, so we have a lot of advantages: routines, expectations, lots of time to think (since before my kids were born, in my case – that’s when I decided to homeschool), lots of time to study and learn how to teach my own kids, connections in a homeschool community. This is not to discourage you or say that without these advantages you can’t homeschool your children well. It’s a suggestion that we compare apples to apples. We are playing entirely different games.
To my mind, in this quarantine situation, parents who are temporarily schooling at home are more accurately substitute teachers. Well, guess what? I did that too. It was my first job after grad school, and it was harder than any job I did before or since. You are not only tasked with teaching, but with somehow picking up where a different teacher (with a different approach and style, because she is a different person) left off. You probably need to help your students keep up with a syllabus so that they aren’t behind and don’t forget what they’ve learned when regular schooling resumes. You might even be doing it while keeping up with your regular job. Friend, that’s a tall order.
So, while acknowledging that our situations are so different and possibly I don’t have much idea of the hurdles you face, I can offer the following suggestions. They are submitted in a spirit of solidarity, as parents who want our children to grow up with the best resources we can give them, whatever that might look like under normal circumstances.
1. Pray. Begin each day with prayer and begin each lesson with prayer. Not religious? I believe God honors whatever grasp of truth we possess, so do what your conscience prompts. Just take a minute to remember what our ultimate goal is: these children are gifts, and our efforts honor the gift.
2. Pace yourself. When you’re home with kids all day, giving the kind of attention required by formal education, it’s exhausting for all involved – if you don’t pace properly. Every moment does not need to be filled. You do not need to be together at every moment (constant togetherness is a recipe for disaster in any relationship). Here’s our schedule to give you an idea of what I mean. Bear in mind that we are in no way religious about this schedule. In fact, yesterday was sunny and warm, so we played outside and called it a field day.
5-6:30am: Chores, free play.
6:30am: Morning prayers.
8am: Outdoor play, weather permitting (inclement weather is any temperature below 0 – our time outside is sometimes short but it helps get the “ya-yas” out.
9am: “Morning basket.” This includes a prayer for God to help us with our mental efforts, a Bible reading, the life of a saint, discussion of a prayer by a saint (we choose one for the week to talk about), and a poem. Often they are sipping hot cocoa while this happens.
10am. Free play, often Legos or play doh or coloring. Sometimes we listen to an audiobook or music.
11am: Nap or rest, depending on the kid.
11am: Academic time with oldest kid – reading, writing, math.
1pm: Outdoor play.
2pm: Afternoon academics, including history, geography, literature, nature study, natural history, art appreciation, music appreciation, or hand crafts.
3pm: Free play. Sometimes a project with mom.
4pm: Dinner, usually while listening to the “Readings from Under the Grapevine” podcast.
4:45pm: Pyjamas, prayers, brush teeth, bedtime stories.
Does it look like minimal academic time? My oldest is just about to turn 6 and we follow a Charlotte Mason philosophy, which means the academics are somewhat intense but the periods are very short. Quality over quantity, which I think is a good lesson for any educator – it just works with where kids are at developmentally. Lots of time left for movement and exercising other parts of the brain.
3. Don’t underestimate the learning value of all things that are not “school.” We waited until almost age 6 to begin formally educating our oldest, because of Charlotte Mason’s persuasive argument that until age 6, kids have more important work to do. They spend 6 years learning all about the world around them, developing a relationship with it, and developing personally. Only after that important “first-hand” work is complete, is it time to approach abstractions like letters and numbers.
Remember it’s a season, and education is a long process. Few things we do on a given day will make or break the long term results of our kids’ education. Our relationships with them, however, are slightly more sensitive. Emphasize relationship over school and both relationship and learning seem to benefit.
Get outside in nature, cook or bake together, get reacquainted with your pets or your hobbies. Tell stories you didn’t have time to tell before. Reconnect. This weird chapter in our lives could be made into a gift.