March 2020 may very well go down as the “longest” month in our lives. The degree of change in our day-to-day existence from the beginning of March to the beginning of April is staggering. Many people are unable to work at all due to the closing of non-essential businesses, while others have been forced to work remotely from home. Since schools and colleges are shut down as well, education has joined employment in the pivot to online interaction and communication.
We now have an unprecedented situation on our hands: parents and children required to remain in their homes indefinitely while still maintaining some semblance of their previous routines. While your kids are dealing with the significant stress of having to learn in an unfamiliar manner, you are feeling the pressure of trying to oversee their education. And if you also have to work from home at this time, that pressure is assuredly amplified.
The precautions and restrictions put in place in response to the COVID-19 threat have created an educational scenario that none of us were prepared for. School closings have forced students into participating in remote learning from home, while their teachers have had to create online content on the fly rather than providing the in-person learning that everyone is accustomed to. With parents now bearing a level of responsibility they’re not used to, they are seeking sound advice on how to “homeschool” their children.
1. Remember that this really is crisis schooling
The homeschool movement has been gaining momentum in the United States for some time now, so you may think that there are lots of experts out there to help you with what you’re going through. To an extent, you’d be right, but let’s get one thing clear from the start: what you are doing now is not actually homeschooling. Yes, your kids are experiencing school at home, but it isn’t conventional homeschool.
This is crisis schooling—something you were thrust into because of a significant global crisis. Unlike those millions of parents who homeschool their children, you didn’t choose any of this. The decision to homeschool is a complex one involving many variables, and parents take time to weigh all the factors before deciding to undertake that endeavor. Not only didn’t you have any time to consider the situation, you didn’t even have a say in the matter.
Perhaps it’s accurate to refer to what you’re doing as short-term homeschooling, but keep in mind you’re doing it as the result of a crisis. One tip you can learn from homeschoolers is to give you and your children time to get acclimated to the new routine. Both of you require plenty of grace as you adapt to this new dynamic. There are similarities between what you’re dealing with now and what homeschoolers deal with when the school year begins, so expect to have difficulty with scheduling, accountability, attitudes, and the stress of being in the same house with the same company all the time. It has been only a few weeks since schools were closed, so make sure you give yourself and your students—your children—space and time to adjust.
2. Don’t try to replicate school
Any homeschooling parent will tell you that homeschool is not conventional school, and that attempting to replicate the “regular school” experience will only waste time, inhibit creativity, and limit your students’ educational experience.
The procedures and strategies used in your children’s schools are designed for large classroom sizes and instructors trained to handle them. The concepts of lecture, classwork, homework, and testing are primarily based on the assumption that one teacher cannot give individualized instruction and assessment to 20-30 students at the same time. In homeschool, such conditions don’t apply, so parents aren’t limited in their approach.
Of course, there are certain things that you would need to have on hand now that your kids have to rely on you for all their supplies. There’s no need to go overboard purchasing all manner of homeschool materials, though, as this is not something you’re likely going to continue in the fall. Chances are you already have some supplies on hand anyway: now it’s just a matter of keeping those items stocked. Keep in mind, though, that this is essentially online homeschooling, so the most important materials are your students’ electronic devices and your home’s internet connection.
Just as what you are doing at home isn’t the regular format kids are used to, what teachers are doing now isn’t the normal routine either. They are used to teaching in a classroom, not through an electronic connection. Many of them have never created a video lesson or an online assessment, so they are experiencing similar anxiety to that you’re feeling. Everyone involved—students, teachers, and parents—need to extend grade to one another in order for all of us to get through this trying period.
3. Reach out to an expert tutor when you need help
Even the most experienced of homeschooling parents will acknowledge that they can’t do it all. They can usually keep it up for a while, but eventually some subject comes along that either they can’t teach effectively or their children can’t learn on their own. But unlike those veteran homeschoolers, you don’t have the network, resources, and proven strategies they do—meaning you’ll come to the end of your pedagogical rope a lot sooner. That’s when it’s time to contact a professional online tutor.
Much of the time, it’s math that causes both students and parent to despair—particularly within the context we’re all experiencing now. When looking for that perfect math tutor, you will undoubtedly have lots of questions. Thankfully, there are good resources out there to help answer those questions, including what you need to know about the cost of tutoring.
If you’re wondering if the tutors out there who relate to the current situation, rest assured that these skilled educators are experts not only in their subjects, but also in remote learning and instruction. Some already specialize in homeschool tutoring, while others have experience working with students at the elementary school level. Whether it’s for math or any other subject, securing someone proficient in online tutoring will both give your child a boost and relieve you of some unwanted stress.
4. Be as flexible as you want with scheduling
One area where those veteran homeschoolers can provide some insight is with setting a daily schedule. Certainly there needs to be a plan in place, but that plan shouldn’t become a rigid schedule. You’re not running a school right now, but a home that’s doubling as a school, so each person’s schedule should be more in line with the routine of the home than that of school.
When it comes to designing a homeschool schedule, flexibility is the name of the game. The only thing set in stone is the schedule of online instruction provided by your child’s school. Other than that, there’s no ideal rule about when your kid should be working on each subject—or even to be working at all. You are the one in control of this triage homeschool, so feel free to allow breaks and declare recess as you see fit. Students tend to have more difficulty focusing during online instruction than they do during in-person instruction, so everything needs to be broken down into smaller chunks. Frequent rest periods will go a long way toward them being able to manage this difficult situation to their own benefit.
If your children are not on a regular schedule of online instruction from their schools, then you can work with them to create a homeschool lesson plan. Don’t worry, it’s not about you planning and teaching their lessons! Rather, it applies to when each student is supposed to be working on a particular subject. Homeschooling parents often allow for significant variability based upon the preferences of their kids. One method of lesson planning is to allow kids to set their own schedules. Let them determine when they want to work on each subject, then submit their schedule to you each day so you know what time they’re working on which subject.
Under these extreme circumstances, keep reminding yourself that this is not normal school, so the schedule doesn’t have to be “normal” either. Not everything needs to be done by 3:00 each day, so permit your kids the freedom to use all the available time to learn in whatever way works best for them.
5. Feel free to be creative
Beyond the framework provided by your student’s school is a host of opportunities for creative instruction. You’re not a teacher trying to manage a room full of students, but a parent who can work with each individual child. Find out what fascinates your kids and seek out alternative approaches to help them pursue those interests.
Self-directed learning is the richest kind of learning, but it’s not fully achievable in the context of a conventional classroom. Thankfully, what you’re doing is anything but conventional, so go ahead and give your kids the agency to choose what they would like to learn. Give them the freedom to explore what they truly want to learn about, remembering that all learning is interconnected. Maybe plan a thematic unit of sorts where they can investigate everything they can find about whatever intrigues them. What they learn through their teachers’ online instruction and what they learn at home are both elements of their holistic education.
Homeschool curriculum has always been marked by the flexibility to include more field trips and hands-on experience. At this time, however, that freedom is limited by the restrictions in place governing our movement. While most actual field trips are out of the question, the internet is loaded with lots of virtual field trips. These are tremendous resources because they provide “access” to locations around the world that most people won’t be able to visit in person. It’s perfectly fine as well to just explore the neighborhood around you, remembering (of course) to maintain safe social distancing. While you can’t visit a local museum, you can still visit some local parks and soak in the nature and history of those locations. Your options for hands-on learning are somewhat limited right now, but you can still offer your kids creative avenues to learn more about what interests them most.
6. Take advantage of lessons and courses available online
Without regular access to their teachers or peers, the young students in your house are bound to get confused sometimes. Or they may be bored because they’re all caught up but their online school course isn’t moving quickly enough for them. In either situation, you can turn to the many online resource available. Here are three of those helpful websites:
- Khan Academy is a website that you have probably heard about, but now its value becomes abundantly relevant. From its homepage, you can see links for resources for teachers, learners, and parents. There are thousands of individual lessons targeting specific skills and topics, so with a little searching you can find help in almost any school subject. Khan Academy is committed to providing “a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.”
- Desmos provides free resources specifically for math instruction. Click on the link to “Classroom Activities” to find the right lessons for your kids. The cool thing about Desmos is that the lessons are interactive, so students can do the math as they learn about it. Desmos is also notable for its powerful graphing calculator, which your kids can explore using the instructional videos provided. The calculator can even be a vehicle for great creativity, as manifested in the many entries to the Desmos Global Math Art Contest.
- ALEKS is a Web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system. Powered by McGraw-Hill (the same company that manufactures textbooks), ALEKS stands for Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces. This website, which does require a subscription, offers entire courses in math and science. Each course is broken into hundreds of smaller lessons that can be accessed at any point in the learning process. The questions are for the most part open-ended rather than multiple-choice, thus requiring a deeper understanding of the material to answer correctly. ALEKS uses adaptive questioning to determine mastery of a topic by continuing to produce additional questions until the student gets three in a row correct. According to the homepage of the website, “A student who shows a high level of mastery of an ALEKS course will be successful in the actual course she is taking.”
7. Explore the realm of actual homeschooling if you’re able to
There’s a possibility that this experience will end up piquing your interest in homeschooling. Perhaps as you interact with your children and realize how you can both take part in their education and encourage them to direct their own learning, you will begin to wonder how to homeschool them yourself.
If you are interested, you will be pleased to know that there is an entire community at your fingertips ready to help you. Here are just a few websites that provide free online resources and offer guidance into online homeschooling:
Learning Liftoff provides a list of the Top 20 Homeschool Resources. Some of the many possible things you could do include building a lesson around a TED talk, obtaining important information on special-needs homeschooling, and delving into NASA’s free catalog of articles, activities, videos, and games related to aeronautics, and space exploration.
If your children are in parochial school, then you’ll want to check out Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool, which provides a “complete, all-free curriculum,” including faith-based subjects. Simple to use, the website has links to videos and worksheets, and it can be used for core and elective subjects alike.
For parents of high schoolers, ALEKS is a must if it’s in the budget. The courses ALEKS offers are complete in their topic coverage, so they’re more comprehensive than what your kid would get in most high schools. The courses are geared more toward independent learners and are designed around short written lessons: “ALEKS then instructs the student on the topics she is most ready to learn. As a student works through a course, ALEKS periodically reassesses the student to ensure that topics learned are also retained.” If you have more dependent learners in your home, the courses can still be used, but it’s best to have a math or science tutor on hand to facilitate. Any administrator of an ALEKS course can create quizzes that preempt any other lessons, thus enabling the tutor to target any skills that may be weak.
8. Keep your head up—we’re all in this together!
Everyone involved is on a steep learning curve right now. In a period of just over two weeks, teachers have had to transition from teaching in the classroom to teaching online. Students have had to tap into a whole new mode of learning. School boards and government authorities have had to redesign the school calendar, curriculum, and course requirements. State and federal government leaders have received a crash course in virology and pathology, as they have had to adjust to a flow of ever-changing information. And then there’s you—the parents. Perhaps it’s toughest on you since you have to deal with both the pressure of being at home yourself—but possibly still having to work—and having to oversee your kids’ education because they are also stuck at home.
Not every day will go smoothly, and there will be moments of elevated anxiety for everyone involved. It’s all right if you’re not amazing every day! You and your children are resilient, and all of you will learn important lessons from this unprecedented time in our history.
For all the resources and information about homeschooling on The Wyzant Blog, check out our Homeschool Resource Hub.