Written by Heather Boyd
If you find yourself struggling with suddenly “homeschooling”, please know there is a reason. And know that even homeschool families are struggling right now. What you are being asked to consider is not actually homeschooling. It is educating and parenting during social and physical isolation. And it’s hard.
We’re a hybrid homeschool family of five. We have been sending our youngest two boys to public school for six months, and have continued to homeschool our 10 year old at home. Having two in school has freed me up to work on my private practice: one 10 year old is a totally different ball-game during conference calls than three boys telling poop jokes while somehow simultaneously asking me for the 50th time, “what can we eat?”).
With the school closures announced before March break I admit to initially being super excited to know they’d all be home with me for three weeks. The thought crossed my mind that if homeschooling went well we might continue on.
However, this is not true homeschooling. This is living through a pandemic and a period of increasingly isolated social distancing; While working from home; And re-introducing my kids to full days together, breaking up fights, keeping screaming to a minimum during conference calls, and generally wondering how I’ll keep grocery trips to a minimum when my kids literally seem to be asking to eat all day.
If homeschooling were appropriately named, it ought to be called roam-schooling, because more days than not we’re out and about. And yet we all find ourselves practicing home-bound homeschooling. All the usual activities that round out our homeschool life (library meet-ups, week-day “international” trips to the Museum of Play and the Underground Railroad Museum, skateboarding, biking to a friend’s house, pick-up baseball games, and read alouds over tea and juice at Tim Horton’s) are off limits. All the trails and parks, not to mention our local Forest School, are shut down. We’re all feeling it. But for those who haven’t homeschooled previously, it can be hard to separate out the challenges of being a home educator from the challenges of social isolation.
As parents who may be working from home, accessing Google classroom, planning restricted grocery trips, keeping the art supplies stocked, and checking in virtually with aging parents, we’re playing many roles in a world with all new rules and little support. There’s a reason it feels hard. None of us were ever meant to parent this way, let alone facilitate learning this way.
As we all navigate how to handle the next month or more at home, I’d like to share my perspectives on how to move from surviving the chaos to thriving (or at least aiming in that direction). There are so many things that are out of our control right now; moreso for some families than others. What we do have is an opportunity to focus on what we can control: creating an environment with curiosity and connection as the focus; To spend time with our children in ways we may not have done since we were on parental leave; To meet the basic needs (physical and emotional) of our kids, and let the fine details (lessons, and worksheets, and what exactly will be served for dinner) be secondary. No one can learn (or teach, or parent, or grow) well when under stress. Focusing on simplicity and key priorities can cut down on what stress we’re feeling, and may even allow us to discover some surprisingly wonderful things (about ourselves and our kids).
Here are ten things to consider that may make this period of unplanned homeschooling more manageable (and even rewarding):
- Education is rarely an emergency. But a pandemic of this type kind of is. So if you feel the pressure to teach, know that academic learning is not likely a ‘make or break’ scenario for your child’s future self. Feeling safe, calm, and supported may be.
- You’re a parent first. Parents have roles that are distinct from teachers. Even as a home educator of my children since my eldest was in kindergarten, my approach to learning is entirely different than in a classroom. My home is not, and never was intended to be, a classroom. And that is more than ok.
- Depending on your child’s age, they have up to 12 more years in a conventional classroom. Three weeks, or three months, of no school will be a disruption to the curriculum in the short run. However, you can count on teachers, EAs, and ECEs to approach helping your child catch up after these unprecedented circumstances have resolved with the same creativity and resolve they show in the classroom. Learning is about developmental readiness and opportunity. If this time at home allows children to grow and develop in more fluid, play-based ways, they might be more ready to learn when formal opportunities are back on the table.
- If in doubt choose connection, relationship, and curiosity. Learning requires being in a calm state. And these days everyone is feeling stress one way or another. If adding curriculum makes your home a tinder box of emotions, slow down. (See point one).
- For families with children who have IEPs, EAs, and additional needs, it may feel like there is yet another front you need to fight; another set of resources for which you need to advocate. Your child’s support system, including therapists, and resource teachers, are working under unusual (and unprecedented) constraints as are you. You may feel very alone right now. Although you cannot see them, they are as concerned about your child’s well-being and learning as they were before this all started. Look for the helpers.
- What you choose to do now to get through your day with everyone’s dignity intact is not a political choice. It is a personal one. Use online learning in whatever way you feel works for your child and your family, even if screen time limitations are a priority for you. Use free play as a foundation for building capacity, even if you prefer the discipline of school. Build structure into your day to the extent that each of you needs to feel good, even if it looks different or “looser” than you feel it “should”.
- Find a rhythm to your day and a rhythm to your week if this helps you: pillars to your day can include a rough plan to read, play a movement game, do lego, eat, and spend time writing and drawing. Rhythms to the week can include plans to paint on Mondays, bake on Tuesdays, do a messy experiment (dyed eggs, volcanoes, homemade play dough) on Wednesdays, etc. Even if the activity didn’t happen (or happened sometime else in the week), just knowing I had a rough idea of what we could do helped me feel better as a newbie homeschooler.
- Know that learning at home is not a six-hour-a-day endeavour. Many homeschool researchers (and homeschool parents) report that spending about an hour a day on formal academics in elementary school is ample. The remainder of the day is free play, building, reading together, and exploring (albeit within a severely restricted environment at the moment). Although more time is spent on formal studies in highschool, it is still not “full time” unless homeschooled kids are immersed in a self-directed project.
- Nature has our back: if possible, get sunshine (even through a window), explore one small area of garden or yard if this is available to you; bring nature inside for art or sensory play, or solely for the psychological calm it can bring. The book “One Small Square -Backyard” may be helpful for incorporating nature-based curiosity in such a restricted space.
- Use this time to discover each other and re-acquaint yourselves with who each of you are as human beings –imperfections and all. Big doses of curiosity, and a dollop of self-acceptance are really helpful. And if in doubt, pick up the phone to call a friend, or reach out to one of many virtual resources who are available to support families.
We’re all feeling the pressure of these extraordinary times. And certainly my perspectives will not ever encompass all the individual trials and challenges being faced by families during this pandemic. I feel grateful in so many ways for what homeschooling has brought our family, but also, through our involvement in school and our subsequent separation from the school environment, I have a greater appreciation for the ripple effect that this pandemic has caused on families and educators alike, and the role that schools play in the balance we are all trying to achieve as we support our kids towards adulthood.
And really, whether homeschooled or in school, we’re all simply doing our best to help our kids grow, one long and wild day at a time.
- Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 (or text 686868)
- Many therapists are offering virtual calls. Reach out to your therapist or contact local therapists about whether telepractice is available.
- Several facebook groups have emerged to help parents navigate homeschooling from a pandemic perspective including “Homeschooling in the Quarantine” (Alberta-based, 9000 members), and “Homeschool Support for Non-Homeschool Parents” (Niagara/Hamilton-based, 100 members). Also, the “Niagara and Area Homeschool Group” (800 members) is a long-running group with parents using a variety of homeschool approaches. As with any online group, use common sense and respectful boundaries navigating facebook group advice.
This article was written by Heather Boyd, O.T.Reg. (Ont.). Heather is an Occupational Therapist with 18 years of experience with families of infants and young children. You can contact Heather at www.heatherboyd.ca