It sure has been a long year—since, you know, March.

While our household has felt the stress of sheltering-at-home, it didn’t upend our entire school year. If you’re a parent whose children came home from school, however, everything is new and confusing. School-at-home is neither traditional classroom, nor the relaxed and flexible approach of homeschooling. If it feels harder than you expected, that’s probably because it is.

As I’ve browsed Facebook, I’ve seen a few recurring comments among my friends. So here are a few observations from a veteran homeschooler to reassure you that you’re probably doing okay.

 “My kids do their school in bed!” Kids don’t need desks to learn. Most of our lessons take place on the couch. Sparkler and I read science and literature together on my bed, where she snuggles under the quilt that my grandma made. My kids have also “done school” outside in the yard, in the van on the way somewhere, and, yes, on their beds. It may look chaotic, but really it’s just comfortable.

“I’m working. I don’t have time to teach my child.” This is a real challenge, and probably not one you’ll really solve before school is done for the year. But the good news is that home education takes a fraction of the time that traditional classroom education does. An hour-long lesson in a classroom can be distilled to fifteen minutes at home. After all, you aren’t having to build in time for transitioning between subjects, classroom management, or making sure twenty students are (literally) on the same page. A whole day’s work for a high schooler can be finished in two or three hours. If you’re spending two hours on school with your third-grader, you’re probably doing too much at one time. School-at-home is simply more efficient (and comfortable).

“How can we cover everything we need to?” I’m a very big believer in small, frequent lessons rather than long, involved ones. We focus on mastery, not quantity. There’s no point in working fifteen math problems if your student breezes through five. History and science lessons rarely take longer than ten minutes, maybe fifteen if we get interested in a concept and want to google it. Not only is it easier to fit small lessons into the day, but we accomplish the learning part before boredom sets in.

“They eat all the time.” Yeah, my sympathies. We’ve gone through phases of snack rules, including declaring the kitchen “closed” after a certain time.

“How do I motivate my child?” When you find that magic answer, you can sell it and get rich. Even for kids who are used to Mom or Dad being the teacher, schoolwork is drudgery and they avoid it if possible. I find that it helps to keep lessons short. For a child who feels overwhelmed by the day’s work, I’ll divide the subjects as “easy” or “less easy.” Four subjects in the “easy” column, and only two “less easy” ones, can make the workload look more manageable. I also offer plenty of rewards, such as skipping the rest of the math problems if they get three in a row right, or offering to do a worksheet orally so they don’t have to write out all the answers.

“My kid melts down.” Oh, yours too? So glad it’s not just mine.  It’s okay to stop a lesson if it’s just not working and come back to it another day. It’s even okay to rearrange your entire school morning and go for a walk instead of doing math. Separating siblings usually becomes necessary at some point. (We highly prize earbuds and separate electronics to give us space from each other.) A meltdown doesn’t mean you’re doing things wrong. It usually indicates stress, frustration, or the need for a different approach.

And a last observation…

When you get to the end, stop. Make a definite separation between school life and home life. When my kids are done with their assignments, that’s it, they’re done. I don’t try to seize extra learning time during supper or break up their screen time with more school reading. Darren does evening lessons with the kids; but that’s after supper and chores, and he always gives them a fifteen-minute warning to let them shift gears back to school. For kids who are used to going away for school and coming home to relax, this separation is especially important.

 As a homeschooler, I definitely empathize if you feel as if you’re not doing enough. Times being what they are, the best policy is to just do what is necessary. I can attest to the fact that consistency and perseverance is what will get you through to the end.

And you might try snuggling up under a quilt with your son or daughter when they need help with their reading. These times are stressful. Might as well weather them as comfortably as possible.


Photo credit: iStock.