I’m suddenly responsible for homeschooling a preschooler, a fourth-grader, and a high school senior, and many parents are in the same boat. I’m fortunate to be an educator with a wealth of knowledge about online resources, and how to teach the common core standards. Most parents aren’t as lucky.
My Facebook feed is full of teachers offering help to parents who feel stuck. These men and women see it as their job to reach out and help students, even if they can’t see them. They are superheroes and deserve capes.
My children’s own district provided a comprehensive learning plan including all the major subject areas. They asked that children spend about half an hour on each subject every day. My son used that as a minimum but loves reading, so he bumped that up considerably.
When he looked at a lot of the work that was sent in our home-school connection, his face fell. It looked boring and contained a lot of worksheets. This isn’t a knock on teachers, they had all of six hours to get a curriculum together, and they did phenomenally well. But, since my kid complained about it, I gave him some parameters and told him to design his own school.
Here are a few things to keep in mind, and practical tips for surviving the next few weeks with your school-aged children at home.
It doesn’t have to be school-like
The kids are at home, and you aren’t necessarily a trained teacher, so don’t hold yourself or your children to such a high standard. Sure, plenty of parents homeschool like a boss, but they’ve been practicing. I bet day one wasn’t all sunshine and roses for them either.
Let your kids sleep in later, and give them some creative license with their school day. Creativity and innovation are often lacking in United States classrooms, so this is an excellent opportunity for your child to design their learning. Ask them what they want to learn, and let them create a way to learn it. You’ll be surprised at what they develop.
Set a schedule
Get your children involved in setting up a homeschool schedule. My son scheduled his entire day and took his little sister along with him. He planned recess three times a day and gave himself a later start time.
Gavin was feeling inspired, so he even scheduled what he wants to have for lunch each day. The planning takes the guesswork out of it. There is no argument about what’s for lunch; he already made the decision.
I even prompted him to schedule himself up to two hours of screen time each day, which is in line with the American Association of Pediatrics recommendations. I’m not going to pretend that screen time isn’t happening in our home. God invented television so that moms could exercise and shower every day.
Start with a meeting
Start each day with a story and a chat about the day ahead. At school, your kids would likely call this morning meeting, but you can call it whatever you like. The idea is to come together and announce that the “school” part of the day is beginning.
Morning meeting ideas:
- Start with yoga or meditation courtesy of Cosmic Kids Yoga
- Share the best part of the previous day, or use these prompts to get kids talking. Don’t forget to remind them what they did well the day before!
- Sing a favorite song, or play one on Spotify. We’ve been running through the Frozen II soundtrack.
- Try a trust-building activity if you have enough people.
- Read a book aloud that sets the tone for your day. Use these free ebook services for more variety: openlibrary.com, getepic.com, freekidsbooks.org.
- Get active with Go Noodle.
Today our morning meeting involved Old MacDonald’s yoga, three Go Noodle silly dances, a fiction book, and reading about feeding birds. We are planning to make bird feeders during science today, so I wanted to set the tone for that.
At school, kids don’t typically have art and music every day. Let them set up their schedule so that they have more of their favorites while they are home.
Gavin and his sister love art more than anything, so we are doing art several times a week. They picked a few projects such as painting, necklace making, and pajama decorating, and we will add in more as we go. We ordered supplies, so we are ready to go!
Give kids control
Today Gavin asked me about three hundred questions (slight exaggeration). I answered each one with, “I don’t know; go look it up.” The kid has an iPad, and he knows how to use Siri.
Teach your kids that they have a voice and that their curiosity is enough to direct their learning. When children invest in their education, they grow more, and you stay sane. It’s a win-win. Using curiosity to guide learning is a more valuable life skill than completing a vocabulary worksheet.
Recess, recess, recess
The biggest failure in American education is the lack of physical activity for young children. In many countries, schools have an hour of subject matter followed by a brief break, and that repeats throughout the day. This pattern results in better attention, fewer behavior issues, and more learning.
Our homeschool schedule has three recesses built-in, and we never jump from one academic subject right into another. Children’s brains need time to decompress and relax, and those breaks can help to deepen learning. Recess is not a time for video games. The only rule during the interval is that you have to be active. So far my kids have played outside, jumped on a trampoline, build a fort, and played with legos. (Anyone else notice that they are still choosing “learning” activities during recess? Shhh, don’t tell them!)
Keep it simple
You don’t have to go crazy designing projects for your kids. I’ve created a few templates that we will use throughout this homeschool adventure for project creation and science experiments. Art can be as simple as setting out a pile of stickers, colored paper, and glue and seeing what they come up with.
For science experiments, we keep national geographic science kits in stock at our house, but you can get creative with recipes or even just a tub full of water and a few containers. The focus for elementary-aged kids is on making a guess, testing it out, and thinking about why things happen. For the preschool set, it’s enough to let them play with a variety of materials and use words to describe them.
I’m using this organizer with my four year old and my 9-year-old. The four-year-old is drawing what happens and explaining it to me, and the older kids are writing or drawing in each box. Today they will each design their bird feeder and test it out over the rest of the week to see how birds react to it. The organizer is a Word document uploaded to my google drive, feel free to download it, modify it, and share!
Gavin picked a subject he wanted to research, and he’s using books, documentaries, and other sources to find information and fill in this organizer. He plans to turn the information into a book when he finishes researching.
The planner is about the right level for third or fourth-grade students, but can be done with a parent for younger children, or even completed with drawings instead of words. The planner is a Word document uploaded to my google drive, feel free to download it, modify it, and share!
Children respond well to the gamification of their subject matter. Try playing math games with your children, or hoping on letters and listing words that begin with that sound.
I’m also okay with using some online educational games for kids. Adventure Academy offers the first month free and is excellent for older elementary kids.
For the preschool set, I like Starfall.com, but you do have to pay for a subscription.
ABCya has educational games for preschool through sixth grade.
Take a deep breath, relax, and your kids can do the same. We will get through this isolation, and our kids will be just fine. Remember that for centuries human children were educated only by their families, you’re just as strong and capable as those ancient parents.
Last night as I tucked Gavin in after his first day of homeschool he told me we should change the name from homeschool to home-fun. He couldn’t wait to get started on it again this morning.
Maria Chapman is a veteran elementary educator with six years of experience coaching K-5 teachers in best literacy practices. Subscribe to her newsletter for periodic updates.