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11 Tips for Starting to Homeschool in a Hurry

Jude O'Reilley
Mar 15 · 8 min read

A Guide for Coronavirus Parents

Updated on 3/19/20
Your child’s school has closed due to COVID-19. Your school district may be only kinda sorta prepared to support you. This is a practical guide for getting started.

Note: Since this was published, we’re getting a little bombarded with suggestions and new resources. We’ll be posting updates continuously. Please continue to share. We’ve recently added a recording of a webinar and slide presentation based on this article below.

Source: Flickr. CollegeDegrees360.

My wife and I have homeschooled our kids for about eight years. Facing an ever-growing list of school closures around the world, a friend texted me recently and suggested that we share some tips about how to get started with homeschooling. This article is geared for parents and guardians of elementary to middle school kids, though some of it could be adapted for all ages.

Good news. There has never, ever been a better time to homeschool your child. Many of our favorite resources are now free during the pandemic. Bad news, the sheer number of resources and choices can be overwhelming.

The following tips are a composite of things that have worked for us as a team to help you get up and running. Here’s what we would have wanted to know when we started:

  1. Make a Place. Atmosphere Matters. Laying out a space that will be the “school” in your home is useful for setting the mood and helping everybody — kids and parents — start to feel more like teachers and learners. You know your kids better than anyone, but it’s often useful to have a place where you can reduce the number of distractions. The fewer bells and whistles, the better. It’s great to be relatively near a bathroom and in proximity to snacks. It doesn’t need to look like some kind of Laura Ingalls Wilder one room schoolhouse, unless you ordinarily wear a bonnet. A round table is great. A whiteboard can be useful. A screen might be necessary. (See the basic Homeschool Shopping List below.)
  2. Consider Starting with Exercise. Especially when the kids were younger, I liked to start the day with a little exercise. I’d have them relay race down the street, do some burpees, or otherwise get the wiggles out before we started the day. I found the mental focus was loads better, even with just a little running around before class starts.
  3. Get into a Little Ritual. After exercise, we do 5-10 minutes of meditation before we start class with a common ritual each day. In the past, I’ve started with quick physical activity, then meditation, then a review of our agenda, and then we bust into the learning. I find our kids do better (and so do I) with a little ritual that sets the mood that our school day has started. Ask them how they begin their day in school ordinarily, then adapt it. You both might find it comforting. Bottom line, a little something to shift the ordinary mood works for us. Headspace has a kids’ meditation series from very young to high school.
  4. Consider a Theme Week. When our kids were younger, they often appreciated a week of learning around a theme, like Holi, Spring, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Johnny Appleseed, Fibonacci Numbers, Crispus Attucks, Rejected Princesses, you name it. Try picking a country and learning about their geography, culture and food. My wife starts with Writer’s Almanac, finds a writer and digs deeper with them during the course of the week. Have a Greek mythology week and run around in togas. You can build activities around the theme all week, as your time allows. Look at TeachersPayTeachers for a great list of (now mostly free or cheap) activities for kids of a variety of ages.
  5. A Little Bit of Tech is Useful. We have a smattering of neurodiversity in our house and a variety of reading levels. As a result, we use reading apps that support the dyslexic font (like Dolphin Reader and Kindle) or provide free access to reading materials for kids (like Bookshare, a great free resource for kids with reading barriers of any kind). There are also an insane amount of online resources that your kids might already be using. YouTube has some great, irreverent and maybe a little educational resources, like Oversimplified, if you curate carefully.
  6. Tap into a Sh*t Ton of Online Tutoring. Online tutoring has been going through a boom; it will now be going through the roof. Many teachers are now home and in need of supplementary income. There are tutors on Zoom and Skype that can support your children in reading, learning Cantonese, history, algebra, you name it. This is a really useful break for tired homeschool teachers, a chance to introduce new styles of teaching, and round-out areas where you might not feel confident. You’ll want to track down their names now, as they’ll be booking up.
  7. Nothing is really fire-and-forget. My experience is that all the online resources, even tutors, also require your patience and attention at least in the background. This will be hard with so many working parents at home, but kids will get stuck on a problem (or on the tech) and it’s useful if you’re in the vicinity to help out. It’s nice to have a space where when your kids are working online, you can overhear if they’re getting bogged down with something. It’ll also be important to have a good set of headphones.
  8. Make this an Equity Moment. It is probably not a surprise you that the modern U.S. social studies curriculum has made only incremental progress in acknowledging the role the LGBTQ community, indigenous people, African American people, Latinx or, um, the presence and contributions of women. Unless you’re in some super-woke Berkeley day school or Seattle montessori, your child’s curriculum was likely developed by a committee that looks a lot like your local Elks Club, then creatively re-jiggered by a thoughtful millennial who’s doing her best to stay radical and pay rent. Good news, now is your time to bring a little balance into the mix. There has never been a better moment to start re-examining American (or your nation’s) history through a more inclusive lens. In America, organizations like the Equal Justice Initiative are putting out powerful new research and tools on the role of racial terrorism in America. When you’re done, your kids will be ready to boycott Sal’s and planning their Susan B. Anthony tattoos. Make it a goal. More on equity resources below.
  9. Many Paid Resources are Free during the Pandemic. We rely on a lot of online curricula or supplementary tools. Some of them charge a fee and many are giving open access during the pandemic. For elementary and middle school kids, some of our now-free favorites include BrainPop an online history, science, math and you name it tool for lessons, quizzes and games; CuriousityStream, a robust collection of educationally-oriented science and other media; and Studies Weekly, which offers online and offline supplementary material in STEM, social studies and more. More links below.
  10. Take an Online Class. Your school may be providing online learning options during the pandemic. If not, there are an overwhelming range of online and traditional curriculum options. (We’ll post on these later if there’s demand.) You may still want to supplement with online classes like Outschool. ParentMap wrote a good roll-up article on these types of programs.
  11. Throw an Online Party. Lastly, all this vital social distancing will soon have us clamoring for some kind of company. Consider throwing an online Poetry Tea Party with your fellow school-stranded parents and friends. The founder of the Brave Writer curriculum has offline-oriented toolkit that you could adapt to Zoom.

Now, take a deep breath. Please know this is all quite doable. Most cultures have been doing it for generations. Enslaved people in America did this in 1619 with none of the resources we currently enjoy. Homeschooling worked for George Washington Carver, Thomas Edison, Tim Tebow, Billie Eilish, and Emma Watson (and, hey, she went to Oxford). You’ve got parents in your community who are ready to coach you. Most of all, kids are amazing, resilient and down-for-it. They’ll inspire you…at least by Friday.


Homeschool Shopping List

Small Whiteboard with Markers
Monitor
Headset
Lined Paper
Art Paper and Supplies
Pencils
Clipboards
3-Ring Binders

Online Resources

Pre-Recorded Webinar: “Quick Start Guide to Homeschooling”
Presentation: “Quick Start Guide to Homeschooling”

Articles on Resources and Homeschooling
15 Online Classes for Kids to Keep Them Learning on Days Off | ParentMap
The 12 best online tutoring services for 2020 — Care.com
Easy Educational Resources
Emerson Collective List of Resource Supporting Students During COVID-19

Great Content and Tools (Media, Lessons Plans, etc.)
TED-Ed
BrainPOP
Life Long-Learning with CuriosityStream for K–12 Institutions
Khan Academy
Learn computer science | Code.org
Teaching Resources & Lesson Plans | Teachers Pay Teachers
Studies Weekly: Educating Young Learners One Newspaper at a Time
CuriosityStream — Thousands of Documentaries On-Demand
Bookshare | An Accessible Online Library for people with print disabilities
Dolphin EasyReader App | Bookshare
Writer’s Almanac
Big Life Journals Printable journals for building resilience in kids

Exercise for the Body and Mind
Headspace Our favorite online meditation service, includes sessions for kids (kindness, calm, etc.)
GoNoodle Lots of activities to get kids dancing, moving and shaking.

Art & Writing Activities (Tutors, Science Kits, etc.)
Outschool: Take small-group classes, from anywhere.
Brave Writer
Poetry Teatime
The 12 best online tutoring services for 2020 — Care.com
Mark Kistler Online Drawing Lessons Kistler is doing a free online drawing lessons during pandemic.

Science & All Things STEM
Kiwi Crates Great science-related activities
Elemental Science 80+ free science resources

Getting Started on Teaching Equity
National Women’s History Museum
Africa | The British Museum | Partner content | Khan Academy
EJI — Listen
Rejected Princesses
Resources on History and Indigenous People

Simple Lesson Plans
Monique Willms Blog Great one day lesson plans based on Frozen 2
Monique Willms Blog Great one day lesson plan based on the book Ish. For this lesson plan, Amazon prime video has an animated reading of the book so your kids can watch the story and then do the activities.


My wife and I have been homeschooling since our kids were in pre-school. They are now middle schoolers who seem reasonably sane and balanced. She is our Principal, Curriculum Decider, and Chief Executive Officer. She’s too busy to write this. I’m our Social Studies teacher and cheerleading coach.We get that this pandemic is a temporary thing. We have no interest in advocating for homeschool as anything but a useful option for some parents. All educational choices have trade-offs. #YouDoYou

Jude O'Reilley

Written by

Focused on social entrepreneurship, leadership, technology, parenting, equity, and homeschooling, which is to say, not focused at all.

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