I am a former public school teacher. I’m also a homeschooling parent. During this school year, I taught as a long term substitute in a local public high school, homeschooled a middle schooler, and substitute taught in a variety of classrooms, including elementary-aged special needs students. My point here is that I do a lot of teaching stuff and I also know what it’s like to be home with your kids desperately trying to make sure that, at the very least, they don’t get dumber.
If you have just been forced into homeschooling while also attempting to work from home for the next few weeks, I have some ideas that you might find useful.
1-Make a Schedule
This morning my 7-year-old came in at 7:30 and said “Can we have ipad now?” like he does on Saturday mornings when my answer is usually yes. Today I said, “you know it’s not Saturday, right?”
He apparently did not know and was offended by the suggestion that it might actually be a work day during which he would be expected to do things.
Humans are far more pliable when they feel like they know what’s coming, so you need a schedule. Not a 15-minute by 15-minute schedule because, honestly, you’re probably not in charge of what work they have to do from the school. Just come up with something concrete you can tell them.
A schedule might look as loose as this:
11:00-12:00-Parent review time
The act of telling your kids that there is a plan and what to expect is the actual benefit here, not that the schedule itself is all that amazing. They need to know that there’s a plan, this work time is real, and that it’s not a crazy free-for-all for 2-6 weeks or whatever. They want to know that someone is in charge even if they act like they hate that someone. You, in this case. You’re the person they will hate.
In most online learning/digital learning days, the public schools tend to give between one and two hours worth of work per day depending on the student’s age.
That is not going to fill up your work day. And they will have questions. You need to be aware of that, communicate expectations to your kids, and at least be able to answer the question “what are we doing next” even if you’re still not sure what “parent review” means to you just yet.
2-Have a Morning Meeting
Younger students have some version of this every day in school anyway and it will feel familiar and grounding to them. Older students will benefit from a group conversation about their responsibilities even if they act surly.
My four children range in age from 7 to 15 and everyone participates in Morning Meeting Time. This is when you establish a routine and set expectations for the day. Use a large calendar (or mirror your iPhone’s calendar to your TV to make it bigger) and point out what day it is and what month it is and what month comes next and whatever else you think of to say about time. Do the alphabet or name the states or any small, repetitive, age-appropriate activity your kids have been learning about.
Go over whatever responsibilities there are for the day.
Is there a 10am call you absolutely must be on while pretending that you are not, in fact, surrounded by dirty laundry, children, and a dog? Tell your kids that iPad free time is between 10:00 and 10:30.
Does someone have a doctor’s appointment to go to? Might you go to a park for lunch? Give your kids touch points throughout the day and establish them early before anyone asks a question.
Present your schedule (that you made up last night) so everyone is on the same page. Depending on their age, I actually make a list for each child of everything I expect them to do that day and give it to them to cross off. The academic “school” part is only a portion of their responsibilities–the list also has things like “practice piano,” “exercise,” “write in your journal,” and chores on it. Do all of this before you start the meeting so they’re not sitting there thinking that you look like the world’s worst substitute.
I try to do some sort of relevant mini-lesson at this time as well. Holidays (St. Patrick’s Day), seasons (why does everything get green again), and major cultural events (although lots of these are weird/canceled right now) are all good topics.
Today we discussed why we are at home for the next couple of weeks and I used graphs from the Georgia Department of Health (where I live), the New York Times* and, clearly, Twitter. I found the sites on my phone, mirrored them to the living room TV, and asked the kids questions about what each graph showed and what they meant.
*Note: the NYT is a subscription print/online paper, but they have made their COVID-19 information free and hopefully you should be able to access the graphs I linked to.
And with that, we had collaborative standards-based cross-curricular primary source interpretation utilizing a Socratic discussion. Ta-da!
I really used this opportunity to try to allay some fears with information and a matter of fact presentation that hopefully made them feel like someone is in control and it’s all going to be ok. They know that school being canceled is a big deal and I wanted to address that with them.
Kids ask a lot of questions. A LOT a lot.
One of my kids does out loud research. Like, “Huh, I didn’t know there were 7 kinds of spider monkeys.” But constantly for, like, half an hour.
One of my older children currently expresses all feelings as anger. Generally toward me.
Even my completely independent workers with no immediate feelings will find the relative quiet of home unnerving and start randomly talking about what they’re doing online.
You are not going to get the same amount of work done during the work day that you usually do. Do not try.
Instead, re-imagine your workday as much as possible to include the hours when it’s socially acceptable to ignore your children-like while they’re asleep, reading, or given technology time.
During what I listed as “Focused Schoolwork” in my schedule above, a time that should be relatively silent, they will say things like “I’m supposed to go to Launchpad and find my assignment on iReady, but I can’t find the portal on the computer” and you will say “what, now?” and have to go help untangle that sentence.
Different kids work at different levels of independence and you’re going to have to be flexible here. It is totally acceptable to say, “Give me 10 minutes to finish what I’m doing right now and then I will come help you.”
But then, and this is key, actually go help in 10 minutes. You are establishing that this is work time and should be taken seriously so you have to follow through if you don’t want the wheels to fall off in two more days.
This is also why I listed “Parent Review” as an actual time on the schedule. It is when I go over whatever they were supposed to do and just make sure that we all understand what is supposed to be happening and can ask for clarification from their teachers if we’re unsure. Leaving this to the end of the day is a bad idea.
Plan ahead to establish what is allowable when they’re finished with their school work. Reading, drawing, playing outside, building something out of Legos, and creative writing are all good options. Reserve non-educational technology for when you really need it and limit it as much as possible.
This one is really all about you and not about the kids. There is no way the school system is going to be able to send you enough online work to fill the school day of an independently working elementary school student. Do not expect that to happen. You will be happier for it, I promise.
4-Use What You’ve Got
This is what I try to do during “Enrichment Time.”
There’s stuff you like doing and talking about that your kids don’t know. Make them do that stuff. Do you play an instrument? Know how to code? Give them a mini lesson.
Do you like Yoga? Make them practice with you each morning.
When I have to go do an errand, the kids get detailed information about what we’re doing and depending on the kid and the activity, I make them do it themselves. You’d be surprised how little they know about how to buy something or ask for help in a store.
My kids will be doing laundry, making dinner, and cleaning the house as part of their day as well. Why should we leave those to weekend activities when I have all this extra time with them at home? Also, now they won’t be adults who can’t do their own laundry.
Do you have watercolors somewhere in your house? Tissue paper? Construction paper? Wrapping paper? Make everyone do a craft no matter how old they are. It will be funny.
Make them practice their instruments for twice as long each day.
Is there a museum nearby that’s open? It’s probably not crowded now that all of its school trips were canceled.
Go for a walk at a park and pick up interesting leaves. Get library books if your library is still open.
Make them pressure wash the house. Power tools are always awesome.
You have something in your house that your kids do not know how to use that they will find interesting and that will take something off your plate.
It’s probably just not focused time doing your actual job from 1 to 3 every day.
Use this as an opportunity to shift what you think of as “educational.” Reading maps, learning how taxes or budgets are done, creating a chore chart, and discussing the plot of a novel you’re reading are all enriching activities that use different parts of the brain and can be adapted to almost any age and ability level.
The school day can be used for any and all activities you’d like your students to do.
5-Use the internet
You also need them to go away from you for a while. I understand. I generally do 15-30 minutes of these types of activities for younger children and an hour or so for older students.
Might I recommend:
It’s free, but they do take donations if you are so inclined to give. They have straightforward lessons about almost everything. It is especially useful for those subjects you don’t know/don’t remember and for older students. You can sign up for an account and take an entire “course” or just learn a particular lesson. If your student is in high school, you can always make them do the SAT prep course that is made in conjunction with the College Board and includes taking practice tests. They have AP prep courses as well. Really, when my oldest needs help in math and I can’t remember how to do a particular geometric proof, I go to Khan Academy. It’s great.
This is not free, but it’s about $5-$10 a kid depending on what you buy. It is also geared toward educators so their website is a bit unfriendly to parents, I think. But I use it to teach keyboarding skills to my kids. It is totally self directed for the student once you get your account and everything set up. This is actually how my children learned how to type properly and is geared for students in K-5 grades, but I also had my middle school kids do it to correct bad typing habits.
Look, I know it’s not actually awesome language education, but it’s fun and it’s free, and your kid won’t lose brain cells doing it. They have a lot of languages, it plays like a game, and as long as you turn off the in-app purchases, it’s hard to get into trouble. If they are younger, there’s a kids’ version as well. Muy Bien!
Not free, but currently at $5 for the first two months. It has games for kids ages 2-8 and it’s fairly cute. They have some videos as well.
You probably know this if you have younger children, but they have games and episodes based on their educational kids’ shows. Generally harmless and fun if not exactly rocket science. For rocket science, head to…
I assume you’ve heard of NASA. They have a kids’ program that’s pretty cool.
If you have the money, you can also buy online music lessons, art lessons, and physical fitness instruction that your kids can use each day. You can watch my good friend (also a certified teacher home with his kids right now) teach your children piano without having to schlep them anywhere. Win for everyone!
Try to enjoy this. I know, really know, with the knowing of experience and regret-yelling and the fear of breaking my children, how daunting it is to be at home with them all the time. You can do this. You can learn more about your kids’ minds and how they think and how they learn and be a better parent for them when school returns to normal.
Your kids can learn more about what you do and how a home functions. Everyone gets the…um…CHANCE to practice patience with those we love. It will be over relatively soon in the grand scheme of things and you may, like me, find that you enjoyed it so much you might be willing to try it again.