Thoughts on learning at home from a homeschool mom

Creating (and thriving) in a successful learning environment

Teacher and students on a field trip.

Our friends are a homeschool family with three ridiculously smart, well-adjusted, successful kids – 21, 18 and 16-years-old. They’re maddeningly amazing.

Mom is a teacher, and she’s put together a great list of advice for parents who are now at home with kids for a few weeks. It’s great info from someone who knows what it’s like to establish a routine and create a successful environment at home.

First, this COVID-19 “house arrest” style of learning is the OPPOSITE of what we do on the daily. Usually homeschooling is very interactive and social, so if it gets hard for you to stay home and get school done, know that it’s hard for us too!! What we are all doing right now is not a homeschool experience that I would recommend as a way to explore our lifestyle. I’m sorry that this is the way many of you are experiencing this.

Homeschooling is not the same as “school at home” so if you like the looks of those hour-by-hour schedules being shared online that mimic class periods, you’ll be sharing the alternate versions of those memes by Wednesday – you know the ones that list Mimosas at 11 a.m. and iPad time til dinner? I’m not opposed to structure, but home learning is not the same as school building learning. Try to embrace that when things look different. It is different. Homeschoolers are rebels by nature. 😉

Get dressed. Do not fall for the “homeschool means pajamas all day” stereotype. It’s the stuff of urban legend. Think about it. Are you as productive on the days you spend in PJs? Except for those of you in the back giving me side-eye for saying it out loud, we can generally acknowledge PJs put us in a chillaxed mood, which doesn’t always work for productivity. Save this for a special occasion and have a PJ Day once a week, maybe. As a general rule, we dress for work, and taking this step for our school day just makes us feel like we’re mentally ready to engage.

Have a start time. Make sure everyone knows what it is. Trust me on this. Being loosey-goosey will make it hard to dig in and get kids on board. That is no way to start this journey! You’ll feel like the substitute teacher who can’t get control of the class.

Plan a space for materials. It’s totally fine to use the floor, the sofa, a pile of pillows, and the backyard, but designate a space for where the computer will be and where any books and materials can be centralized. In my house we have a section of the book shelf dedicated for each kid so all books and notebooks land there at day’s end. It’s a small thing but important for kids to have this bit of structure.

Identify and prioritize PRIME TIME. Usually this is first thing in the morning at our house, but your kid might be sharpest and engaged after-lunch. Prime Time is the segment of greatest productivity and focus so do the online assignments that are deemed the most challenging at the PRIME time of your child’s day. NOTE: this is not your prime time, it’s your kid driving this choice. If they like 3 p.m., roll with it. You’re a rebel homeschooler now — and you’re writing your own rules. How cool is that?

Complete tasks using a system of ANY KIND but I do recommend a system (I like lists). Instead of assigning math to 8 a.m. and history at 9 a.m., choose a style that appeals to your child’s sense of organization and make a list for the day that must be completed. IDEAS: a whiteboard listing subjects/projects for the day and then marking them in any creative way you want; a typed list of subjects inserted into a page protector and dry erase pen to cross off and re-use daily; a long piece of yarn hanging from the top of a door with index cards attached with clothes pins, subjects written on one side and smileys or hearts on the other, and then flip each card as subjects are completed until you see all smiles/hearts for the day; find and use an app where you can each see the list and see it get crossed off especially if you cannot be home with your student (try Any List — we use it for groceries but it would work for this).

Regarding task lists, you don’t need to do everything every day. Pre-determine what needs doing each day according to what’s assigned and set up your list accordingly so it only shows TODAY. If your child needs a kick out the door, add “Outdoor time” to your list.

Get Outside. Yes, it’s educational. Walk somewhere. Observe nature in your yard and neighborhood. Collect leaves, look at insects, listen to birds. Try to identify what you find. Draw or photograph treasures. Nature Study is a foundational component to historic homeschooling and it is therapeutic, especially now if you are able. Slowing down to do this frequently as part of learning is important and educational.

PURSUE PASSIONS! If there is one thing I love about homeschooling it’s the gift of extra time to pursue a passion — it need not become a vocation, but you never know! Ask: “If you could learn about anything or how to do anything, what would it be?” Start there and encourage thinking that goes beyond the core subjects: Movie-making, story-telling, making music (with kitchen items or the Garage Band app), learning a language (DuoLingo), taking up a new activity like yoga, learning magic tricks or drawing or how to whistle or cake decorating, researching genealogy, etc. Or explore the MANY new and FREE links to opera performances, museums, and musical performances for inspiration and relaxation. The ideas are endless.

Embrace the No. 1 gift of the homeschool life: Flexibility. It can take a while to flex and release this muscle but once you learn to follow the lead of your kids’ best learning times, make time for passions, and maintain the adult-level control of the day overall, you’ll find the sweet spot.

These are strange and uncharted waters. Be easy on yourself. Nobody said this would be easy. Sometimes it gets ugly — think: crying, yelling, regrets. Been there, done that. But I promise you that even on my hardest days as a homeschool mom I would choose it all again. And I like to think that if you asked my kids when I was out of earshot, they’d say the same.

Don’t forget to have fun. Watch “Frozen 2,” binge Netflix, play board games, talk about how crazy this all is and laugh when you can. AND ABOVE ALL, say yes if your kids want you to make a TikTok with them. Then send it to me so I can laugh along with you – I’ll show you mine if you show me yours! Dorky parents who don’t take themselves too seriously are the best kind.

**30 years ago I traveled in Up with People and our founder J. Blanton Belk said something that has never left me. He hoped we would become “self-directed life-long learners” and I believe that’s the very point of an education, in any setting we find ourselves in. Learning has no location, end-time, or final exam – it’s an experience we are all having, even now. Keep at it, friends. May we all use today’s lessons for tomorrow’s good.

Bill Burke is the Dad on Board columnist for Parenting NH and the Managing Editor of Custom Publications for McLean Communications.

Categories: Dad on Bored