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Strategies for Schooling at Home

Over the past few weeks a friend and I have been working on producing content that would be helpful for those who find themselves unexpectedly schooling at home. The following is an outline covering all the topics we thought most important and relevant, most of which has been taken from my own experience as a homeschool parent.

1. Find out where you stand

-  What is required of you by your district?

  • Work Packets

  • Online Meetings or Classes

  • Digital Assignments

  • Reading Logs or Other Assessments

-  Work on finding out exactly what is required of you and how the district expects you

to meet those requirements. If you are unable to, advocate for better support! There is no reason that any family who needs it should not be given the opportunity to creatively meet the standards if need be.

-  Out of the box ideas for meeting requirements could include:

  • Digging for worms and making a compost bin (Science)

  • Gardening (Science, Math)

  • Sprouting cuttings inside and sketching them as they grow (Science, Art)

  • Mixing common household ingredients (Science, Math)

  • Keeping a Quarantine Journal (English)

  • Building a playhouse or piece of furniture (Math)

  • Baking (Science, Math, Art)

  • Math Games (Monopoly, Cribbage, Yahtzee, War)

  • Word Games (Scrabble, Boggle, Upwords, Hangman)

  • Making games and animations about subjects you’ve studied on Scratch or other coding platforms

  • Researching a favorite plant, animal, or history subject and presenting the information in a creative way (poster, movie, game, poem, comic book, animation, diorama, storybook, Lego build, Minecraft model, etc.)

-  Everything truly can be taught through anything! Be creative and advocate for your right to help your child learn in the way that best suits them.

2. Create a Routine

-  Once you know what is required of you, make a routine. A routine is much more flexible and forgiving than a schedule with a timeline. A routine can follow a natural rhythm, whereas a rigid schedule can disrupt it, choose what will best support your family’s well-being during this time.

-  If you can, make a daily list of work required in place of a daily schedule. Let your kids know that they can sleep in and take as many breaks as they need if they are taking their work seriously and making sure to complete it each day.

-  Talk with your older kids about why they’re doing things the way they are, what the benefits are, and GET THEM ON BOARD! This is their life and their future, help them feel a sense of ownership about the process.

*A note on screen time - If your kids are having a hard time stepping away from their devices, work with them to set some boundaries such as waiting until their work lists are completed for the day before using them or having dedicated learning times where they are put away completely. It might be helpful to highlight real world examples of what the consequences would be for you if you played around on your phone or Xbox all day instead of meeting your responsibilities. My boys would be pretty hungry by the end of the day that’s for sure! Having healthy limits on media consumption and technology use is important! That doesn’t mean that everyone is going to agree on what those limits should be, every family will have different ideas and beliefs surrounding technology, and that’s fine! Make sure you are having those conversations with your kids, especially your teens, and figure out what will work best for your family. If your kids are used to having free rein on tech at home, talk with them about why things need to be different for now and help them come up with a strategy for meeting their responsibilities. Figure out how much time it will realistically take them to finish their daily work and use that information to come up with a plan. Make sure that YOU are also setting a good example and managing your own use. “Do as I say, not as I do” is a sure way to breed resentment, especially in a time like this.

3. Create a Dedicated Work Space

-  Find a space in your home that can be solely used for work and projects. The table you eat all your meals at is not usually the best choice as it will have to be cleaned off constantly and runs the risk of food or drink spilling on materials. Find a space that you can dedicate (even if it’s just temporarily) for this purpose.

-  Once you’ve found your space, set it up. At the very least, you should have the following materials easily accessible:

• Pencils & Pens • Paper, both lined and plain • Textbooks or curriculum materials you’ll be using

- You should be able to get by with just those materials if that’s all you have access to, but I HIGHLY recommend supplying the following materials as well. If you are unable to afford them, call your teacher or district and see if they have some in the classrooms they’d be able to provide you with, it never hurts to ask!

• Marker, crayons, & colored pencils

• Scissors • Tape • Glue • Colored paper • Stapler • Acrylic or Tempera paint & Brushes

-  I also recommend having an assortment of supplies for creating to keep near your space, they don’t have to be fancy art supplies though, once again think outside of the box! Examples of supplies you can start collecting include :

  • Buttons

  • Beads

  • Feathers

  • Googly Eyes

  • Play-Doh

  • Air Dry or Oven Bake Clay

  • Fabric Scraps

  • Pipe Cleaners

  • Yarn

  • Metal Brads

  • Clothespins

  • Popsicle sticks

  • How-To Craft Books

  • Recycled Materials such as cardboard, styrofoam, egg cartons, tin cans, empty bottles, corks, soda tabs, boxes, etc.

*We have a crate in our dining room dedicated just to recycled materials and anytime we come across good pieces of cardboard, wine corks (lots of those these days!), a cool plastic bottle, or interesting piece of packing material, we throw it in there. Your recycling bin can be a great free resource for fun art supplies!

-  The last bit I’ll add about work spaces is to make sure you prioritize time for them to be cleaned up regularly. It doesn’t have to be every day if it’s not covered in stuff, but make sure you are tidying and organizing the space (with older kids helping out!) at least once a week. A clear workspace is inviting, a messy, cluttered one, not so much. Also remember that this space will most likely be temporary, so while it may be in an inconvenient location or cramping your style, it won’t be forever.

4. Be a Helper & Fellow Learner

-  Think of yourself as a helper and fellow learner as opposed to a teacher. Parenting is hard enough during a crisis without having to put on the teacher hat as well. It is FINE that you don’t know everything your child is trying to learn, go ahead and learn it right along side them! You’ll be amazed how much more smoothly things can go when you let go of the idea that you need to know it all.

-  If you’re able to, follow their interests. Sit down and ask everyone (yourself included) what they are interested in learning more about, make a list, and hang it in a central place to pull from when you’re looking for inspiration. Here are some of the things we’ve had on our list so far this year :

• Vikings • World War II • Rainbows and Mirages • Baking Science • King Arthur • Mythical Creatures • The First Americans • Christmas Traditions around the World

- There were plenty of other things on our list that we didn’t end up getting to and that’s okay! Treat your list as a source of inspiration, not a rigid set of tasks you MUST accomplish no matter what life throws your way.

*A note on different ages - We have 3 kids ages 5-14 and years ago I would drive myself crazy jumping around between three different subjects at three different levels. We now practice a concept called “Family Schooling” for our interest-led subjects (i.e. anything other than Reading, Writing, or Math) We all study the same topic, but adjust up or down associated projects to fit the abilities of each person. I know it sounds a little out there, but it’s worked wonderfully for both our family and my mental health!

5. Be Consistent, Be Flexible, and Above all Be Kind

-  Remember that consistency is key, but having a stable and loving home environment is more important than any school schedule, especially in a time like this!

-  Be patient! It might take a bit of time to get to where you have your routine firmly established and running well, so give yourself and your children patience and grace while you find your footing.

-  Taking breaks is important! Yelling, stomping, or tears (theirs or yours!) are a sure sign you need to step away for a moment, maybe even the rest of the day, and that’s okay! Staying mentally healthy during this challenging time is more important than meeting state standards in every subject. If you’re looking for constructive break time activities try:

  • Going for a walk

  • Reading or listening to a book

  • Writing in a journal

  • Watching a documentary or a movie on what you’re currently studying

  • Playing a favorite album and singing along

  • Baking cookies

  • Playing a board game

  • Checking out a Youtube Tutorial

  • Pulling out instruments if you’re musical and having a jam session

  • Getting some energy out and playing Just Dance or Wii Sports

  • Pulling out the play-doh or making some salt dough (have the kids help!) for a sensory activity

*I recommend taking these breaks together as much as possible. This can be an amazing opportunity for your kids to bond with you and each other. Use it! The better connected you and your children are, the better you’ll work through this together.

6. Take Care of You

-  This last bit is actually the most important one because you simply cannot pour from an empty cup. Make sure that you are taking the time you need to take care of your own physical and mental well being. Self-care does not necessarily mean taking a bubble bath or drinking wine or eating chocolate (although those are all nice) it means figuring out what you need to thrive, creating space in your life for it, and advocating for the help you need to make it happen.

-  If you’ve got older kids or a spouse who is home, let them know how they can help support both your mental health and the harmony of your home. You only have so much time and energy and you’ll need a group effort to be truly successful in this area, so all hands on deck!

-  Remember that most people are having a rough time right now, it is not just you!! We’ve been homeschooling for over a decade and those first few weeks were a nightmare, my heart goes out to those thrown into this situation totally unprepared.

- Make it a priority to reach out and connect with people who lift you up and inspire you on a regular basis.

-  Here are some other things to try that have helped me personally :

  • Reading helpful and inspirational stories

  • Re-reading favorite books

  • Making sure I’m doing all I can to get enough sleep

  • Reaching out through social media for ideas and support

  • Making time everyday to unplug and be present

  • Eating foods that make my body feel good

  • Meditating

  • Enlisting the help of my children and spouse in preparing meals and keeping our house clean

  • Taking the time to explore my own interest and ideas, not just my children’s

-  Remember that your home is your port in the storm right now, make sure you are honoring that above all else, and enlisting all the help you need to make it a place everyone wants to be.

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