Like many parents across the United States today, my kids are home from school due to COVID-19, and will be for the foreseeable future. Unlike most parents who have found themselves in this situation, though, I was homeschooled K-12. I am also the executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a national nonprofit organization that advocates for homeschooled children. As I have watched the conversations in some of my local moms groups, I have realized that other parents may find my experience helpful.
First and foremost, it’s ok just to take it easy for a bit. It really, really is. At CRHE, we advise parents just starting to homeschool to take a week or two to just chill and adjust, and not feel like they have to jump in with everything already lined up. This is true here as well. Yes, many of us have teachers we need to work with and work that has been sent home from school that should be completed at some point, but you really do not need to do everything this week. It’s ok. And remember—your kids learn things all the time, even when you’re not formally “doing” school.
I think it may be helpful to explain how my mother structured our homeschool, when I was growing up. We would get up in the morning, do chores, and have breakfast. After this, from about 9-12, was what we called “seat work.” Math, writing, vocabulary, etc. We typically did this sitting at the table while my mother moved from person to person (I’m from a large family, so she was always supervising multiple children). She would generally try to get one child started on one thing, then work with the other child on something that needed more direct attention, and so forth, staggering things. And we’d be sent outside for a 10-15 minute recess at least once, maybe more if we had energy to burn. Sometimes she had us run laps around the house. It helped!
Those three hours were all my mother needed to get us through everything, and that included the breaks we would take (and usually a snack!). Since what many of us have to work with is not as formalized as the curriculum my mother spent time creating—the schools are doing the best they can—two hours should be plenty for younger children, and for Kindergarten, even less. You do not need to (and should not) keep your kids in their seats “doing” school the full school day.
In the afternoon, my mother instituted “nap” time. For the little ones, this meant actually napping or at least laying down, and for the older ones it meant quiet reading or project time. Somewhere around 3-4, my mother would make a snack and gather us for read aloud time—that’s how she did history with us, by reading aloud to us. Sometimes there would be an activity or a project, but often we would just play with legos while she read aloud for 30 minutes or so.
Most homeschooling works like this—three or so hours of formal “seat work” and a lot of what we might call “choice” time outside of that. Some states require homeschooled children to have a certain number of hours of instruction per day (this does not apply to those of us whose kids are still in school and only home temporarily, of course), but time spent doing free reading counts. Time spent outside looking for worms counts. Even time spent playing with cars and train sets can count—city planning! civics! Your children learn all the time; it does not have to look formal.
The schedule I’ve worked out in my own home with my children (grades 2 and 5) adapts what I had growing up. We’re doing work sent by the school in the morning, then lunch and outside play from 12-1. After that I’ve told the children they have until 4 to choose things off a general list, during which time they are to leave me alone, so I can get my own work done. The list includes playing board games with each other, puzzles, learning games on computer (such as Code.org), more outdoor play, craft making, dress up, other creative play, etc. Starting at 4, I’m letting them have free computer time until dinner. It’s screen time, but we all need our ways to blow off steam these days.
In the future, I’d like to crack some activity books and do kitchen science with my children, as well as more read aloud, but right now I’m feeling pretty tapped out, so I’m trying to keep things simple.
I’ve set up our dining room table as our school room. Everything stays there. Even if it gets disorganized, I know it’s all in one place. It means we have to eat in the kitchen, but we were doing that anyway, and it’s worth it to have one set space. For work sent home from school, I’ve made up checklists so they can check off each subject when they complete it, which helps us all keep on track in the morning and see what we’ve finished and what we haven’t.
Homeschooling is not about replicating the school day in the home. In fact, CRHE specifically advises parents not to try doing that. You will burn out. Your kids will burn out. Instead, set aside a specific time to work with your children on work sent home from school, foster creative play outside of that, and try not to worry too much. Your kids will be fine.
I have a friend who spent 7th grade in Italy. She attended local schools during that year but had barely any knowledge of Italian and learned very little in the way of academics there. But she was curious, and she learned a lot of other things during this time, and the academics worked themselves out later. It never hindered her. Your kids will be okay too.