If your family has found yourselves in the sudden position of unexpectedly homeschooling, or if you’re an experienced homeschooler but you’re used to being able to go out and do park days and field trips, this week probably feels overwhelming.
Your children are home, and unexpectedly. They miss their friends. You might be off work, and miss the routines that have driven life for years.
We don’t know exactly how long this will last, but this can be an opportunity to draw closer together as a family. Take a moment to breathe, and then jump in.
Homeschooling seems overwhelming at first, especially if you have children on multiple levels, all at once. You can do this. The Federalist has materials ready for you, right here, on how to work from home surrounded by kids and how to substitute-teach your kids.
But you will quickly find that homeschooling doesn’t take all day, and that there are hours left with your children that in the past were filled with organized sports, clubs, after-school care, and other activities. All of that could be at a halt, and now life is surreal.
Don’t panic. You can quickly create new routines that will make this work for all of you, rotating this situation into something that allows you to focus on new memories.
Dos and Don’ts
Please don’t hop onto your school district’s site and print off the daily schedule and expect to follow that. It’s not going to work or provide a framework of calm. This isn’t your district’s school at home, and can’t be. That will be okay.
Instead, think more about the routines that work over the summer, or breaks when you have your children home but don’t have activities lined up. Let the kids sleep in if they want. If your children have been in school, they may be tired. Don’t mess with bedtimes or anything that will make going back to school chaos, but let everyone relax and catch up on some rest.
You now have time to make those breakfasts that never work on school mornings. You know the ones. School mornings are all about gathering supplies, hopping into clothes, running out the door, and making it there on time.
Now there is nowhere to be. There is no longer any on time. So take the time to make the breakfasts that are special, fun, and messy, because the kids are there to help clean it up. Pancake mixes, crepe mixes, and waffle mixes are all in stock the last time I checked Amazon, so pick an old favorite or try some new ones.
After you’ve done breakfast and had the kids help clean up, try the homeschooling you’ve picked out. Don’t worry if it doesn’t go smoothly at first. This is a huge adjustment for all of you. If the kids are stressed (or you are), take a step back and another deep breath. Then try again. This isn’t something that needs to be perfected in a day, so be gentle with the children and yourself.
After you finish the lineup of subjects you picked for the morning, try lunch as you did breakfast. I’m not telling you to turn into a short-order cook or make a restaurant at home, but have the kids help you decide on something that you have the supplies for and have them help make it.
When you’re rushed for time, it’s too easy to just do all the meal prep for them, but in the long-term, having kids who can cook will be a help. Maybe that will be one of the big positives to come from this unexpected time together. Have them clean the kitchen with you, again.
Now for the Afternoon
You’ll probably find that by the early afternoon, even big kids are done with school. Do you just let them hop onto electronics, park in front of the TV, or lose them into gaming? I would suggest not doing this.
If we’re facing weeks of this new togetherness, consider that screens aren’t evil or bad, but that too much screen time makes anyone (especially kids) grumpy and crabby. In a situation already leaning toward stressful, don’t add more stress. Consider that if you’re done with school by 2 p.m. and let them stare at the TV from then until bed, they could be getting a solid seven hours of TV a day. That’s a ton of television.
Instead, maybe it’s time to have them learn a new hobby, or devote time to one they already like. Encourage them to read. If they’re chart-focused, set up a reading goals chart to track the books and hours they read across these days.
Even small children can do crafts well. I’ve taught my children at age 3 or 4 how to knit, and that can eat up hours at a time with essentially no mess (moms, I do understand not loving messy crafts 24/7). Have the littlest ones start by finger knitting.
If you have puzzles that you’ve never done, well, this is their time to shine. Clear off the dining room table or part of the floor and all sit around and do a puzzle together.
Use this time to talk to your kids—actually talk. Talk about the things they’re interested in, the things that happened at school, about the friends that they miss. Reconnect. Strengthen those bonds with them.
If you have a big bag of flour, make a giant batch of homemade play dough. I have found that big kids, even teens, will sit and built elaborate things with this if mom and dad are doing it too. Recreate a city or continent that you’re studying. Challenge them to consider scale and make it realistic. Add details every day.
Set up some special cleaning projects. Reorganize their rooms, dressers, and that scary closet in the hallway where the sheets live. Bring some order to a real space as a way to seize some order in a disordered time. Even very small kids can match socks. My mother in law pays children per matched pair of socks, and the enthusiasm for it has gone way, way up since that was instituted.
Homeschoolers are typically big fans of audiobooks for kids, and you can instantly access those from Amazon or Audible. Play some audiobooks while you’re doing crafts together or cleaning if you get talked out. Sometimes the number of words can become overwhelming, and having a story to listen to can really help. Pick a series, ask them to track the details, and then have them tell you their favorite parts.
Right now, it looks like it’s still a good idea to go outside. Keep up that social distancing, but walk your dog. Download a bird-watching guide, and figure out what your local birds are. Take pictures of the birds to draw or paint when you get back home, and if you’re really looking to fill time, have them write a report or stories about those birds.
I know this is strange, that the idea of schools shutting down feels bizarre, and having the faces of your children looking to you, expecting answers, highlights that those kids expect you to have an instant plan. You can do this. Jump into this unexpected homeschooling and you and the children will be okay, and may even deeply enjoy this time together.