I wish I had a dollar for everyone who has said to me, “Oh, I could never homeschool my kids. I don’t have the patience!” or “I couldn’t do that; I would kill my kids!” The truth is, NO ONE has the patience to homeschool, and all of us get frustrated with our children!
Most of you know we have four children whom we have homeschooled or hybrid-schooled for the past 10 years. What I learned during our early years was that homeschooling was about way more than learning and teaching educational information. It was about learning how to communicate and how to resolve conflict. It required listening and observing more than I talked, and recognizing (and admitting) when my children were right and I was wrong. It involved planning and being flexible and embracing the opportunity for my kids to be bored, which often led to great creativity.
There have definitely been a lot of struggles along the way- raised voices, tears, an occasional slammed door- but there has also been great joy and bonding when we worked through challenges and found a solution together. I believe parenting our girls’ in their teen years has been easier and much more enjoyable because of the patterns we all learned and the relationships we built during those years. And I’m hopeful the same will be true with our boys.
But chances are, that is not your story…
If you are reading this, it is likely because life as we know it has changed drastically in the past week, and you suddenly find yourself at home with your children. In addition to being their parent, you now also bear the responsibility of being their teacher for a few weeks (or more), and it’s not something you chose. I imagine these first few days have been bumpy as teachers, parents, and students all try to navigate the shift to “on-line” learning.
And on top of teaching subjects you have not studied yourself in decades, you also have the added bonus of enforcing that work gets done AND filling up all the free-time that comes along with cancelled activities and “social distancing.” Hooray!
This is totally what you signed up for, right?
But don’t lose heart, friend! Believe it or not, this time is a gift, frustrations and all. We will talk about this quarantine for years to come, and right now is when we get to choose how we will spend it. What do you want your kids to remember about this global pandemic? Fear and frustration? Or love and laughter? I am choosing to embrace this gift of time together (you can read about that here), and I encourage you to do the same.
I know, I know… that is easier said than done; and not just at your house, but at mine as well. So here are a few tips I have learned during our homeschooling years that might help you not only survive your sudden schooling-at-home status, but hopefully even embrace it.
Lower your expectations
Whether you are a working parent who is trying to put in a full day of work at home while homeschooling your kids or a stay at home parent who has a list of all the home projects you want to accomplish now that you have no where to go (like me), just stop. It’s not going to happen, at least not at the level you’re hoping. One of the biggest frustrations I face as a homeschooling mom is expecting to be productive myself during a homeschool day. The reality is that being a teacher is my JOB… and for the next several weeks, it is your job, too. And that means that several hours of our day will need to be spent teaching, or at least supervising, the educational activities of our kids. I cannot stress this enough!
It is not fair to our kids to expect them to school themselves, and it is not fair to ourselves to expect that we can do more than one job at a time. So for this small window of time (and really, while it may be a huge inconvenience right now, in the grand scheme, it truly is a small window), lower your expectations and allow yourself to feel like a success if, at the end of the day, most of their school work has been completed and your people have been fed. And yes, cereal totally counts.
Create a Routine
Even if you are a creative, free-spirited individual, a routine is going to help you in this season. And if you are a schedule-oriented person, understanding the flexibility of a routine will help you as well. My dear friend and homeschooling mentor, Tina Jobe, shared the following advice in a Facebook post, explaining the difference between a routine and a schedule:
“A schedule is rigid. Each time has a purpose. A routine means you do things in a certain order, but times are not assigned. Routine means if you start an hour late, it’s ok. Something else gives… If you are enjoying a read-aloud and the kids don’t want to stop listening, keep reading. Just jump back into your routine after lunch.”
Your kids are used to having a specific order to their day at school. Creating a similar routine at home- adjusted for your own circumstances and priorities- will add some consistency to their days and will help all of you know how to plan. We generally start with one or two quick and easy subjects and then tackle their hardest/longest subject, and alternate from there. Figure out what works for you and do it.
Build in time for what you need to do
I know, I told you to lower your expectations, and you should! Go ahead and lower them again while you’re at it! But let’s be real… there are also things we have to do. The laundry and dishes need to get done, bills need to be paid, dinner needs to find its way into the crockpot, those of you with a job need to accomplish something to keep the paycheck coming in, and who are we kidding- we all need a few minutes to hide in the closet and stuff our face with chocolate!
Here’s how I attempt to make that happen (especially the chocolate part): Before I go to bed, I make a list of what I need to get done the next day. Then, true to my first tip, I try to cross off half the list. Next, I look at our normal routine and figure out the best windows of time to fit those things in. For me, that might look like starting a load of laundry as soon as I get up and then having my God Time while the kids are eating breakfast. I figure out which subjects they can do fairly independently and have them do those while I clean up the breakfast dishes, answer emails, swap the laundry, etc. We spend a few hours of concentrated schooling time (our girls are in high school, so they work independently for the most part, but my boys still need quite a bit of help). For me, this works best if I just sit between them and bounce back and forth between them as needed. If I know I need to spend concentrated time with one, I try to get the other one started on a subject they can finish without me.
Generally, for middle school and below we are finished with schoolwork by lunchtime which leaves the afternoon somewhat free. But in order for that to happen, we have to…
One of the blessings of homeschooling is that you get to set your start time, and it doesn’t have to be when it’s still dark outside! Absolutely let your kids sleep in a little bit if you want! But almost all of my homeschooling friends agree that our kids are most productive in the morning. An assignment that takes us 30 minutes in the morning may take us two hours in the afternoon; I guess their brains get tired? I don’t know, but it’s definitely a thing. So keep that in mind when you create your routine. If you are working from home, you may be able to get a couple hours of work done in the morning before they start school, or you may want to get them started early so you have the afternoon free. Do what works for you! But don’t let them waste those morning hours, especially if you find schoolwork is taking All. Day. Long.
Let them be bored
This goes against the very fiber of our over-scheduled society, I know, but it is one of the best parts of homeschooling… and also the hardest. Chances are, many of you have realized this week that schoolwork doesn’t actually take all day and you are wondering WHAT IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS HOLY ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THE REST OF THAT TIME?! The answer, simply, is to let them be bored. Kids need time and space in order to create things, so letting them actually be bored for a change is a gift! Who knows what will happen when they are given time to explore a new interest or develop a hobby?
Just don’t let them tell you they’re bored. My friend, Tina, also mentioned this tip in her Facebook post, and her now college-age daughter replied in the comments, “ ‘I’m bored’ was not allowed… if we said it, we’d be put to work cleaning!” She went on to mention the secret form of communication they used in order to sneak outside and play to avoid having to do chores. I love it!! That’s another tip: Cleaning is definitely the best antidote for boredom. Keep a list handy of cleaning jobs to assign when someone complains of boredom (wipe down baseboards, wash windows and mirrors, clean toilets and tubs, sweep the floor, clean out a drawer- many of these can be done even by preschool age children!). You will find that phrase disappears quickly, and they will come up with all kinds of creative messes all by themselves!
Brainstorm activities with them
Okay, so it’s not really fair to fill every second of their week with activities and then suddenly thrust them into hours and hours of unstructured free time every day and expect them to know what to do. But it also isn’t your job to entertain them that whole time either. Supervise them, yes; entertain them, no. So, what’s a parent to do? Take some time to brainstorm:
- Put together a list of all the chores you expect them to do daily.
- Have them make a list of all the board games and creative activities in your house, and all the things they can do outside (walk the dog, ride a bike or scooter or skateboard, play basketball, etc).
- Look up some ideas online of age-appropriate activities and hobbies and have them choose some things they are interested in learning.
- Make a list of Netflix shows and documentaries and on-line activities/games/experiences they can watch.
- This is also a good place to throw in some of those projects you’d like to work on around the house. Cleaning out closets, sorting through seasonal clothes, catching up on scrapbooks… add these to the list!
- If just the thought of organizing this overwhelms you, ask an older child, babysitter, or grandparent to come up with some ideas instead. This might be a great way for them to be in contact with your children while they are unable to see them due to the quarantine.
Once you have all this information, build it into your routine. We do chores and schoolwork first, and we include walking the dog, practicing music, and reading for 45 minutes in our chore list. After that, you can either schedule independent time and sibling play time, or structure it around activities- creative time (art, writing, singing, dancing, building), outside time, physical activity time, technology time, etc. Do whatever works best for your family.
If your children are younger, they will need more structure and parental involvement. Once they reach middle school, or even upper-elementary for some kids, you can simply tell them to check their list and choose an activity. Either way, having a list is a fantastic resource and will help you avoid the “I’m bored” scenarios. Our boys have spent the past two days making contraptions in our basement using construction paper, legos, and ping pong balls after watching a few episodes of Dude Perfect. Sshh… don’t tell them they’re actually doing S.T.E.M.!
If all else fails, put on some music and have a dance party!
Or take a break and watch a movie, go on a hike, or bake some brownies. Have some fun! Life is busy and stressful, and you won’t have always have this time together. Make memories together, and make sure some of them are good. It’s okay if you’re not a perfect teacher or a perfect parent. Remember that thing about lowering your expectations? Yeah, go back and do that again.
And when you feel overwhelmed or frustrated or weary, take a deep breath and let the Holy Spirit fill you with whatever you need most in that moment. His grace is sufficient, and His power is made perfect in our weakness.
Remember, no one has enough patience to homeschool! But we know the One who gives it. You can do this!
(Feel free to reach out to me personally or in the comments if you have specific questions or need help. We’re all in this together!)