Some recent headlines would lead you to believe the national experiment in schooling from home in order to protect kids from COVID-19 just isn’t going well.
Sarah Parcak, professor at University of Alabama at Birmingham, made a splash on social media by sharing her reaction to having to work, do household chores, then help her first-grade son complete his public school assignment online.
“We will not be participating,” Parcak declared, throwing in a few family-unfriendly epithets for emphasis. “We cannot cope with this insanity.”
The latest journalistic narrative marks a change from several weeks ago, when media outlets happily interviewed veteran homeschoolers for advice on how to make this unprecedented educational shift work.
The focus now is on parents who are feeling overwhelmed with the task of trying to recreate the traditional classroom in the home.
The result? Parents say they just can’t balance work and keeping their kids on a rigid school schedule, sometimes with daily deadlines. They are struggling to meet the various technology demands, from mastering new software to finding adequate internet access. Then there’s the frustration that the learning feels unnatural and unsuited to individual children’s needs.
Boston-area mom Alexandra Nicholson, whose son is in kindergarten, described it this way: “We put together a schedule, and what we found is that forcing a child who is that young into a fake teaching situation is really, really hard.”
As bleak as these difficulties sound, the good news is that they are nothing new to families who have been homeschooling all along. In fact, parents who take the trouble to peruse the media for advice from homeschoolers just might find insight to help ease their school-at-home woes.
Here are some veterans’ tips.
Make Homeschool Your Own School
“The best part of homeschooling, really, is the flexibility,” said Meredith Napolitano, a former public school teacher who started homeschooling in 2014.
Back when she taught 20 or more students at the same time, she recalled, “I had color-coded schedules, color-coded seating charts, and color-coded classroom folders to help everyone stick to a rigorously planned schedule.”
After switching to homeschool, “I had to let go of what a school day is ‘supposed’ to look like, and I went with what worked best for us.”
Learn When Learning Works for Your Family
Writing in the Atlantic magazine, homeschool mom Bethany Mandel encouraged parents doing school-at-home to adapt educational expectations to their families—and not the other way around.
“Parents, teachers, and administrators need to understand the unique nature of education at home,” Mandel wrote. “Every family looks different and has different needs.”
She added: “As a homeschool mother, I set my own curriculum and my own schedule. We have the flexibility to plan our schedule around baby and toddler naps, my work schedule, and the activities my children once did. My kids’ education is my responsibility, and it is designed to fit our family’s individual needs.”
Give Kids Ownership
Twelve-year homeschooling veteran Blair Baily told Houston Public Media that she finds it helpful to give her six children input as to when and where they want to do schoolwork.
“I actually had them sit down and tell me what they would like to do throughout the day,” she said. “So we actually have like, ‘OK, we’re going to do math and then we’ll do some art and then we’ll do science. And then what do you guys think? OK. You want to go play outside for a while? That’s fine.’”
Meredith Napolitano said she employs a similar system with her kids.
“In our case,” she said, “I make a daily agenda with the assignments for the day. Rather than saying ‘30 minutes of math,’ I give them their assignments and I let them choose in what order they want to work through the list—and when they want to start it.”
Take a Break from School, But Not From Learning
Jamie Heston, who is on the board of the Homeschool Association of California, urged parents to remember that education is more than academics.
“Do real life,” she said. “Make a meal, make a bed, fold laundry, serve meals, clean up, do chores and do repairs around the house. This helps parents and gives kids skills in gardening, sewing and fixing things, along with reading, playing, inventing, building things, singing, dancing and experimenting.”
Bethany Mandel agreed.
She wrote: “Home education involves an understanding that children can learn while doing everyday tasks; baking can teach math, science, and home economics. Sitting on the couch reading Charlotte’s Web to kids in grades 5 and 3 and kindergarten counts as ‘school.’ So does taking a nature walk and creating a nature journal.”
Don’t Go It Alone
Veterans will tell you that homeschooling works best when families have external resources—sports, field trips, co-ops, church groups, subject experts, and sometimes just a sympathetic friend. However, with travel restrictions and social distancing currently in place, these extras may not be available.
So, “it’s understandable why you may feel like you’re alone in this homeschooling thing,” wrote Amir Nathoo, who runs a distance-learning company.
“However,” he added, “modern technology can help you connect with loved ones while also improving your children’s homeschooling experience. Take this idea, which is perfect for younger kids: Plan a mystery reader event with friends or family on Zoom. Simply reach out to a few of your closest friends and family and ask them about a time and day that they might be free to read a short book to your kids.”
Nathoo pointed out this was merely one example of ways families can reach out to expand their homeschool support network. But one other recommendation he offered was more essential.
“By following advice from folks who’ve been there,” he said, “you can boost your chances of success and stay sane.”