First things first…
My friend Brenda Yoder graciously invited me to join her in a conversation about motherhood on her podcast Life Beyond the Picket Fence. In the first half, I mention homeschooling. You can listen to that segment here. The second half is now available and our conversation gets a little more in depth as we discuss parenting a child in crisis. Talking about my kids and their struggles stretched my vulnerability to its limit, but it’s our hope that what we learn in the trenches of motherhood will speak to the rest of you Moms.
As we talked about homeschooling, I began thinking about all the families who find themselves teaching their kids at home while we protect ourselves and others from the Corona Virus. I have fond memories of our homeschooling journey so I’m sharing a few tips and words of encouragement here.
I know exactly how you’re feeling. The prospect of teaching your kids at home can be overwhelming, even daunting but I promise, you can do this!
If you’re faced with the challenge of homeschooling while self-isolating because of COVID-19 you might be encouraged to know that it doesn’t have to be all about textbooks and tests. Learning together at home is also a great way to strengthen relationships and create memories. In fact, what you learn about yourself and your kids as their “teacher” may be your greatest take-away.
Seven years ago this spring, we sent our fourth home-educated son out into the world. He went off to college and has since found a career he loves. I honestly haven’t thought much about home education since then. I do sometimes long for the days when we learned together and worked alongside one another on the farm, but the actual “education” part of our 20-year homeschooling adventure doesn’t often come to mind. Perhaps that’s because for us, education in the traditional sense took place within the context of just doing life together. Yes, we had workbooks and textbooks, science experiments and art supplies, but mostly my sons gained the knowledge and skills necessary to graduate from high school by exploring, reading and doing. Their home education served them well, with two of our sons graduating from college and two completing specialized training at trade schools.
Homeschooling can be fun and successful. But, more importantly, it can enrich your lives — both individually and as a family. I’m sharing two resources here that I hope will help you think “outside-the-box” when it come to learning at home. I’m also dropping in a few tips for making this season about more than “doing school.”
You may be doing this right into summer, so have fun with it!
This is a great resource for all ages, but especially for younger kids through age 12. The basic premise is that you will read a chosen book (one of our favorites was The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack) every day. As you read the story, you’ll focus on a wide variety of “subjects” from the traditional education spectrum. One day, you’ll have lessons and activities for geography while also completing a writing assignment. On another day, you’ll conduct science experiments or research. Even lessons in math are provided based on the story. The beauty is that through these integrated “unit studies” you’ll cover all the skills and become quite familiar with the story.
This company has expanded and improved its resource books and has created an excellent, informative website where manuals can be accessed as digital files. You have to purchase or borrow the books used, unless you already own them. Most are classics or biographies. Our kids loved these and I’ve handed my manuals on to other homeschooling families.
These were a lifesaver for our youngest son. He’s quite visual, creative and curious. During his high school years, choosing courses from this company’s wide variety of topics helped him meet requirements for science, social studies, language arts and even math. New offerings from The Great Courses are being made available every year and the quality of the lectures and the production is exemplary. In fact, I’m currently using a course on fiction writing to help me write a novel.
Resources such as The Smithsonian, National Geographic and The Mayo Clinic are used in creating the courses. Prices are quite reasonable and the materials are delivered either digitally or in a physical format (DVD and guide book). I cannot recommend these enough — for adults as well as for our “students.”
4 Tips For Teaching Your Kids At Home
- Have a schedule — but hold it loosely. When we first began homeschooling, my sons were 8, 6 and 9 months. We’d made the decision to homeschool when I was pregnant with the youngest. Our older sons had completed second grade and kindergarten in public school. I’d known about homeschooling for at least a decade and was ready to give it a try. (We would have a fourth son two years later). In the beginning, I tried enforcing a strict schedule like the one at our local elementary school. It didn’t work for two reasons — we didn’t need 7 hours a day to complete the work and WE HAD A BABY IN THE HOUSE. I learned quickly to begin the day early enough that we wouldn’t be thrown off track by interruptions. The goal was to learn within the context of family life. Sometimes that meant completing an assignment in the evening. And most of the time, family life gave us great opportunities to unique learn life skills.
- Read together. Starting our days with a book that I read aloud or that they took turns reading to all of us helped put us in the right frame of mind for other subjects. It also gave us things to explore and talk about together. Of course, as the boys became more independent, they had plenty to read on their own, but I’d still find them showing up for their younger brothers’ read-aloud times.
- Balance school with work and service. Early on, I read somewhere that homeschooling should be equal parts study, work and service. We tried to keep that balance. Our sons had chores in the home, but they also had jobs working for their dad and for other employers. Of course, that’s difficult to do while confined to home, but we can find plenty for them to do within the home. Service also might be limited in this season to simple things like offering to run errands for shut-ins, writing to distant family members, cleaning a neighbor’s yard. Even helping to teacher younger siblings can be an opportunity to teach our kids how to serve others.
- Enjoy the process. It can be tempting to have the attitude “let’s just get this done.” But I can’t begin to share everything I learned while guiding my kids through their education. Lots of fun facts and new skills for sure, but more importantly, I learned to communicate better with my kids and understand and appreciate their uniqueness. The boys taught me which of them are tactile learners and which learn by hearing. They told me what they thought about social justice and religion, who they admire and respect and who is a fake (they’re pretty perceptive). I learned what they really want to do with their lives and discovered hidden talents that were bubbling to the surface.
I wouldn’t begin to tell you that you’re not already doing and learning all these great things with your kids. But I will encourage you to dive in and make the most of this experience that seems so foreign, even unnatural. And just maybe before long, some of you will tell me that teaching your kids at home seems like the most natural thing in the world.
(One last thing: If you like this new gig, let’s talk. I’m still a fan of homeschooling.)