By now you will have noticed the surprising truth about homeschooling: it doesn’t take the whole day.
When I started homeschooling, I thought that because traditional school occupied the child from 8:30-3, my home education was supposed to take the same amount of time. My effort to occupy my child for six and a half hours was excruciating. When he whizzed through his math worksheet, I added another. When he grasped the science lesson after ten minutes, I added three extra examples of the same principle. I heaped on assignments, thinking this was how it had to work. And still, we had hours each day where he looked at me, waiting for the next thing, and I had nothing. I felt like a failure.
As I read more and learned through experience, I discovered that less was more, especially during the younger years.
First grade “work” takes an hour. First grade learning takes all day.
You may have discovered the same thing this week by watching your own child.
So what do you do with the rest of the day, after your child has blown through the worksheets their teacher sent home? Please don’t buy more workbooks.
What’s missing from your child’s “school day” is all of the negotiation between the teacher and the other twenty (or thirty) students in the room: classroom management. You’re not spending any time on roll call, handing in assignments, hearing the excuses for missed work, putting boots in cubbies, people asking to go to the bathroom, discussing the announcements, lining up to go to P.E.—or rather you are, but only for one child (or four). Multiply the transition time for your one by thirty, and now you have the other five and a half hours of first grade.
So what are you supposed to do with your child all day?
May I suggest boredom?
Boredom is the secret sauce of learning. Boredom is what makes a child look for the answers to their questions. It’s what makes practicing the piano interesting. An occupied child isn’t going to practice piano for two hours because you told them to, but a child who has “nothing better to do” might go try to figure out the theme song from their favorite anime even after their half hour of obligatory practicing. A bored child is going to be the one to follow the rabbit trail from their question of “how do I make slime?” to cooking and making their own cleaning supplies and actually testing those in your bathroom. (Or not.) They might build the BIGGEST LEGO WORLD EVER. They might figure out how to program their own computer game. They might practice their pirouettes until they can finally do a triple on their left foot.
So embrace the boredom. Let your kids plow through the assignments their teachers send home next week and then let them sit and wonder what they’re supposed to do next. It might be a new experience for them. It might open up a whole new world.
This was a text from someone dear to me. She asked for tips to survive at home with her kids. She’s not alone. I’ve gotten a whole bunch of texts and messages that are variations on this theme, and I have a few tips.
I’m also going to refer you to some other homeschoolers I turn to when I think I’m not going to make it.
Kelly Mantoan is a Catholic homeschooler and possibly one of the funniest people out there. Both her faith and her humor feature in her writing. She posted the other day on How to get stuff done when everyone is home. Start there.
Julie Bogart has graduated five homeschooled adults into the world and offers a wealth of kindness, encouragement and practical help. I have linked here to her blog post announcing a free conference next week for Homebound learners that might be of help. She also has a ton of curriculum resources, both short- and long-term, and a great book, The Brave Learner.
I also want to highlight an Instagram feed with practical and evidence-based help for parents on managing kids’ behavior. You can find Jennifer on Instagram at everydayba.
My tips for surviving being stuck at home to save the world:
Remember why you’re home.
We all know someone whose risk with the virus is extremely high, whether it’s grandparents or neighbors or friends from school, and our temporary incarceration directly benefits them. Talk about this with your kids. Let them know that their actions matter. We have chosen to stay home to protect the vulnerable. It doesn’t feel heroic when your floor is covered with rice and ants and you’re yelling at your kids to set the table (um, me yesterday) but it is.
Adjust your goals.
This is code for “lower your standards.”
Perhaps your kids go to an elite school and are now trying to learn calculus off your television. Or maybe you have been in the habit of enjoying six hours of blessed silence every day while your kids are at school, and well… now there’s no silence and a house full of kid crap twenty-four hours a day.
Likewise, you are now sharing your daytime work space with another person (or five more people), and it’s going to look different. But maybe this is the season when your kids finally learn how to pick up after themselves, do their own laundry and clean the house. (Their future roommates/spouses will thank you.)
A word about screen time: there are so many options emerging for fitness classes online, learning remotely, and connecting with loved ones. If you have strict screen-time limits, this is a good time to evaluate adjusting those. However, we should still be strict about WHERE screens live in our homes. There is good evidence that we eat, sleep and learn better if the screens stay out of our bedrooms, kitchens, and hidden corners of the basement.
Make a plan.
Humans like to know what’s going to happen next. This is what makes us different from dogs, and is probably why all of us are losing it right now.
Seven times out of ten, when my kids start snarking at each other, it’s after a prolonged period of sitting or lying around. Ninety percent of the remaining time, it’s because they’re hungry or tired. You schedule your meals and add snacks when necessary. Do the same with movement.
Schedule regular movement throughout your day. And if you notice kids getting crabby, shake it up with some movement. The younger the kids, the shorter (and more frequent) the movement breaks need to be. Think: turn up the music and dance a song. Do five jumping jacks. Take a ten minute walk before lunch.
Be generous with praise.
Our kids are anxious. They may be reading the news, or just reading our moods, but they can tell things are not right. When we draw their attention (and our own) to what’s going well, the more of that we’ll get.
“I noticed how patient you were with your sister during Monopoly.”
“Thanks for waiting to talk to me till I got off the phone.”
“Thanks for unloading the dishwasher.”
“You’ve been working really hard on that math problem. Shall we work on it together for a little while?”
Keep a running tally of what went well.
I try to write down at least a couple things every day. My list is as simple as “P called Papa & Grandma, M unloaded dishwasher without complaining, crocuses by the front tree.” These aren’t major victories by any means, but they make all the difference in how my brain catalogs this day. A few small victories can move us from having a “bad day” to “good day.”
Say you’re sorry. Hug lots. Be consistent in your rules (whatever you all decide they should be) and have lots of grace for each other and yourself.
You can do this.
You are doing it. Thank you for protecting the vulnerable.
These are challenging days, with lots of time on our hands and not a lot of structure. Perhaps your family needs a week or more of unstructured time to decompress from the pace you’ve been going for too long. But when your kids start picking at each other over nothing and you’re looking for a way to add some structure to your days, I have a suggestion.
Right now all our routines are out the window… or are they? We’re still getting up in the morning. We still eat meals and brush our teeth (hopefully). My teens still pick up their phones first thing. Some of us have dogs that need to be walked.
These routines can be harnessed to make your quarantine “school” more effective and pleasant.
Perhaps you have some online or assigned work from your child’s teachers. Maybe you have some of your own goals for your kids’ learning during this time. Today is NOT the day to roll it all out like some kind of new school in your living room. Expecting your child to jump into six hours of “school” at the kitchen table is a disaster waiting to happen, and we have enough of those circulating right now.
Instead, today is the day to make a plan. Sit down with your child and set a few goals and priorities.
If your child’s goal for this time is to be able to hit a tennis ball against the wall 100 times without missing, and your goal is for them to learn their times tables, write these down.
If what you need is two uninterrupted hours to work from home each day, and your child really wants to be able to lie around in their pajamas, then write these down as your priorities.
Now write down a schedule with only your anchor activities. You don’t necessarily need the exact times, but the order is important. For example:
Take dog out
Get dressed/ready for school
After school snack
Homework from school
Make dinner, eat
Walk dog again
Now I’m going to add in our “work”.
Take dog out
Kid: Times tables (10 minutes) Adult: clean up from breakfast
Kid: Free time Adult: your work
Kid: Times tables (10 min) Adult: make a plan for dinner
Kid: Hit ball against garage Adult: work
Kid: Free time Adult: work
After “school” snack
Assignments from school
Make dinner, eat
Walk dog again
#First, did you notice I took out “get dressed/ready for school”? Throwing your kid this bone might work for your family as leverage for some of the harder things you’re going to ask them to do later.
* Did you see I said just 10 minutes for drilling times tables? This wasn’t an arbitrary number. A child’s attention span (on average) if their age in minutes, plus 3, so an 8 year-old cannot be expected to have an attention span of more than 11 minutes. Obviously, when we get into a state of flow or deep work, this may change, but we can’t expect that deep flow state to happen over something like times tables. As you plan your day, keep this guideline in mind. Eight minutes at the table is a good stretch of work for a five year-old. A fifteen year-old isn’t going to work in an uninterrupted fashion on something difficult for more than 20 minutes.
Some days will work better than others. You may find your child wants to learn something else entirely. You may find that your child’s attention span is half of what you thought it was. Some days will fall apart. That’s okay.
Even if during the morning, your kid has a tantrum during their ten minutes of running their times tables and you spend a chunk of your own “work time” trying to help them with their anxiety, your world reverts to normal again with your pre-lunch dog walk. Or at lunch. The anchors fix our schedule, even when the new part is a challenge.
Once you have a bare-bones routine like this working, you might be able to add another activity or two into the mix, always keeping the anchors steady.
Take dog out
Kid: Times tables (10 minutes) and read a chapter of a book Adult: clean up from breakfast, make a plan for dinner
Kid: Face time with Grandma, then Free time Adult: your work
Kid: Times tables (10 min) Adult: 10 min of prepping ingredients for dinner
Kid: Hit ball against garage, then 20 min of a YouTube nature documentary Adult: work
Kid: Free time Adult: work
After “school” snack
Assignments from school
Make dinner, eat
Walk dog again
Routines are good for us. Kids like to know “what’s next.” While we can’t answer so many of their questions right now (When will school open again? What will we do this summer? What about the school play? Will the Olympics still happen? What about graduation?) we can ease some of the daily angst with routines. All the better if our routines include time to accomplish small goals, daily exercise, and time together.
For some suggestions of small goals and other ways to fill this time, check out this post. Or if your child (or you) are experiencing anxiety right now (and who isn’t?), read here.
Are you feeling a little anxious about being in home quarantine? I bet your children are, too. Or maybe they are more anxious about being away from their friends and school.
Some children are able to talk about their anxiety. They might describe it as fear, worry, or nervousness. Many children, however, don’t have the insight or the language to describe their anxiety. Instead, they experience stomachaches, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, tiredness or other pain. Or they may not be aware of it, but you notice it in their behavior, with crying, bedwetting, difficulty sleeping, fidgeting, pacing or shaking. As anxiety progresses, it may also bring on depressive symptoms which include fatigue, loss of appetite (or increased appetite), weight loss or gain, sadness, or avoiding activities a person normally enjoys.
So what do we do about COVID-19-related anxiety in our children (and ourselves?)
First, limit how much news they and we are taking in. Do we really need to keep the COVID-19 case tally website open on the computer? (Asking for a friend.) Reducing our exposure to worrying news might mean limiting phone/computer access to certain hours or sites/apps. Talk with your teen/tween about why you think this is a good idea. When we take lots of bad news we can’t do anything about, the powerlessness we experience can lead to anxiety or depression. Stick to reliable news sources, and avoid sites that spread rumor and speculation (I’m looking at you, reddit and facebook.) Once you have set some limits, then follow them together.
Second, hear them out. Your children might be experiencing some really big emotions right now. Create space for them to share these with you, whether it’s in the dark at bedtime, in a drawing, or just over a cup of tea together in the kitchen. When we sit down with them and give them our full attention, it sends a message that we are all in this together. You don’t have to have the answers. Some good open-ended questions or prompts, (“Tell me more…” or “How are you feeling?”) go a long way.
Younger kids especially benefit from our giving names to emotions. When they act out, it can help for us to name the emotion we’re seeing. Saying, “I feel angry, too,” or “I wish you could be at school, too,” can help normalize their feeling and make their anger/fear/worry seem less scary to them.
Answer their questions. Think of this like sex ed: your job is to answer their questions, and if you don’t know, then find out. If no one knows the answer, then be honest about that. But you don’t need to add in fifty further details about your own fears, or your own speculation about it, or answer the next question that seems extremely obvious to you, but that hasn’t occurred to them yet.
Look for ways to act. Feeling powerless is really difficult (remember when you went to buy TP and there wasn’t any?) Maybe your faith community has a prayer ministry you can participate in together, or suggestions of other ways you can support your community. Maybe you could run to the store or cook a meal for a neighbor who is at high risk of infection.
Physical activity is an antidote for stress. So is being outside. We can model these behaviors for our kids and invite them to participate with us. Practicing a stress-relieving technique together (yoga, mindfulness, breathing exercises) can benefit us all. If you don’t know how to do this yet, now is a perfect time to learn. I’ve linked to a few below.
It’s important to remember that our goal is not to help our children avoid every stressful situation (and right now, obviously we can’t.) Our message to them is that we will get through this together. We want to show them we have (or can learn) the skills we need to help us feel better, and that they’re not alone.
If your child’s (or your) anxiety is interfering with their (or your) ability to function, please get help. Your family doctor or pediatrician is a great place to start. Your local children’s hospital will have a phone number you can call to make an appointment. On the back of your insurance card, there should be a phone number to access mental health services. If you are uninsured, your local Community Health Center (you can find it here) will have behavioral health resources for you and your children.
I started this post yesterday and was writing about how concerned I was that people weren’t taking the idea of social distancing seriously enough. But then my phone exploded with texts from worried friends and family wanting me to put my doctor hat on and tell them they really could still go on vacation/attend the concert/play that tournament, and I didn’t finish writing.
Now, twenty-four hours later, schools (and sports, club and the school play) are canceled, church is canceled, dance classes/recitals are canceled, and for some reason the entire US strategic stockpile of Charmin is gone. So now I’m writing a different post.
ONE: Are you a parent who is suddenly thrust into the world of schooling at home? WELCOME!
We’ve all been there. Even if homeschooling was our choice to begin with, please know that there have been days and weeks and months that we have not wanted to be at home with our children 24/7. You are not a bad parent for looking at the days ahead and wondering what on earth you’re going to do.
Know that your child is likely just as freaked out about the situation as you are. I recommend trying to treat this time as a temporary normal as much as you can. Do not try to replicate in your living room the school experience your kids are used to. Instead, recognize that this disconnection from your/their normal life is hard, and offer lots of grace.
As much as you can, be patient with yourself. Offer yourself grace. All of the kindness you give yourself will spill over onto your nervous children. Likewise, all the ways that you beat yourself up because the house is a wreck and you ran out coffee (why did we spend all that time looking for toilet paper when what we really needed was COFFEE???) will spill over onto your family.
As my children remind me when I lose it and then they lose it, everything rolls downhill.
TWO: Here are a few suggestions to keep from strangling each other while you’re at home. Whatever you do, don’t try to do them all.
(Studies show that accomplishing small goals actually gives us an endorphin boost (like a runner’s high), and couldn’t we all use that right now?)
build a Minecraft (or other computer game) world and all of you play it together (this is way more exciting if you, the adult, choose to participate and let your kids introduce you to their world)
paint a room together
choose a topic you know nothing about and learn everything you can together
Your kids may not be used to having unstructured time together. With all the scheduled activities we’ve given our kids over the years, some kids have never had an opportunity. They may need some modeling of what creative play looks like. The best way to teach them how to do it is to join them in it.
THREE: Welcome the spring. Depending on where you are in the country (world), spring may have already come and gone. But if the spring is headed your way, use this interruption in life to pay some attention to the renewing of nature that long predates both this pandemic and our society. Outdoors is likely the healthiest place for us, and the numerous studies show the link between time outdoors and decreased anxiety.
Do you have a garden? Start one. Do you have a landscaping project you want to take on? This is the hour!
FOUR:Support local businesses. Part of the reason many activities have been slow to cancel is because so many Americans live paycheck to paycheck. There is a role for social distancing, but there are ways to stay connected that don’t have to mean economic collapse for our neighbors’ businesses. For example, our dance studio is going to offer private classes. They’ll wipe down the ballet barre between students, and the teachers can effectively teach from six feet away. I want them to be in business at the end of the pandemic, so I’m going to support them. Ditto for our music teachers, whose other lives as teachers and performers have been canceled.
Maybe you have parents or grandparents who are also isolated right now. This is great time for your kids to start a project with them. Interview them about what school/childhood/early life/the war was like for them. Do they have a skill? Ask them to teach it to you!
Also, the US mail is still delivering letters. Kids love pen pals. Grandparents, aunts/uncles and cousins all make great pen pals.
Google and Zoom are making their services free, and this is a great time to find a neighbor/teacher/friend who has a skill your kid wants to learn and let them teach it. Hire a Skype Spanish/knitting/writing tutor for your child and let them learn something totally new.
FIVE: Y’all know I love books. This is a great time to discover books you’ve never read. While your library may be closed for business, their online catalog is open. Likewise, your local bookstore would probably appreciate your business. Some of our best memories as a family come from books we read aloud together.
Remember that time we were halfway through the Little House books and drove past Vinton, Iowa, and I said, “Look- there’s the school Mary went to after she went blind!” There was a moment of horrified silence, and then all my children howled from the back seat, “Mary goes BLIND???!!”
SIX: Do you have vulnerable neighbors? This is a great time to check in with your neighborhood. Perhaps your kids could take on the grocery shopping for them.
SEVEN: Your family may not have medically fragile or elderly members right now, but your community does. Our willingness to comply with social distancing is going to make the difference in how this pandemic plays out. Thank you for doing your part!
During the upcoming weeks I’ll be posting links here to online tutorials, activities and learning we can do at home during this unusual time. Feel free to share this blog with anyone you think might need a little extra support during their brand-new homeschooling adventure.
You must never so much think as whether you like it or not, whether it is bearable or not; you must never think of anything except the need, and how to meet it.