As public and private schools across the country shut down in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, millions of parents are suddenly wondering how to occupy their children during working hours over the next few weeks. As tempting as it is to let Disney+, Netflix, and Minecraft take turns babysitting your kids until mid-April, it’s possible for them to continue their education at home. Moreover, temporary homeschooling (or even normal homeschooling) doesn’t have to break your budget, your schedule, or your will to live.
Check out these tips.
Tip #1: Make a schedule
Schools provide structure and kids like structure, whether they know it or not. If you gesture vaguely at a pile of work at 9:00am, you’ll be greeted by cries of “I’m booooorrrred” by 9:05. Instead, create a schedule of 30-minutes blocks with clearly-defined tasks. Tell your children that if they finish a certain task early, they can play for the remainder of the block (be sure to specify “the remainder of the block” and not “the remainder of the day”).
Tip #2: Stagger subjects
One of the benefits of homeschooling is the ability to give intensive, individualized attention to each child. However, if you assign all your kids to the same subject at the same time, that advantage will quickly evaporate. Good luck keeping a preschooler and a 5th-grader engaged with the same biology lesson. Instead, schedule low-maintenance activities like your 3rd-grader’s typing program at the same time as high-maintenance ones like reading a book with your 5-year-old. That way, you can devote your attention to the child who needs it while the others do more routine work.
Unfortunately, this advice only works if you’re not simultaneously trying to manage your kids and work from home, in which case you’ll need to implement…
Tip #3: Recruit Student Teachers
My children love teaching their younger siblings. It makes them feel capable and reminds them of how much they’ve learned. So if you’re trying to juggle work emails and your kids’ lessons, assign an older child to a younger child. Have them read a book, or assist with math problems, or test spelling words. After all, teaching is one of the best ways to learn a subject.
If your older students groan or resist, give them a choice between helping their sibling or doing the most onerous task you can possibly imagine, like cleaning the toilets or copying the Constitution by hand. Most kids choose wisely.
Tip #4: Use Electronics Liberally
As a child of the 80s, I was warned that TV and video games would rot my brain. I carried that belief into homeschooling, until I realized that my 4-year-old had taught herself to read using educational apps on our iPad. That changed my perspective.
There are an incredible number of high-quality educational apps and websites, many of which are free. Of course, it would be unwise to rely entirely on electronics in the long-term, but as a short-term solution or even as a regular component of your kids’ education, they’re great.
Khan Academy is, hands-down, the best free educational resource I’ve found. It has interactive lessons, instructional videos, and will carry a child from pre-K mathematics to college-level calculus, chemistry, and physics.
Prodigy is an addictive, Pokemon-like math game with a free trial mode. Without exaggeration, my children voluntarily played it for 4-hours a day when we first signed up.
BrainPop is a great iPad app with humorous, but highly-informative animated videos on subjects as diverse as world history, science, culture, and technology.
Typing Club is a free typing program for kids. After 6 months, my 1st grader could type at around 60 words-per-minute which, frankly, is probably faster than I could.
Many, many other apps and programs are available, and I hereby give you permission to sprinkle them freely throughout your workday. But, as always, practice good Internet safety and monitor the media that your children are consuming.
Tip #5: Assign Books
All children, and especially older children, can benefit from dedicated reading periods. Type-A parents might be tempted to try and replicate the same educational experiences that their kids receive in public/private school, complete with chemistry experiments, history quizzes, and music lessons. For the sake of your sanity, don’t do it.
Obviously, full-time homeschoolers do need to find ways to give their children a complete educational experience. But they also have months to plan, organize, and prepare. You don’t. Instead, have your kids read works of literature or sections from their textbooks. Then have them converse with you about what they’ve learned at the end of the day or over meals.
One book we use is the Usborne Science Encyclopedia, a colorful, accessible, and kid-friendly book that nonetheless manages to condense 10-years worth of physics, chemistry, biology, and earth science into a single volume. My son read it voraciously over the course of the year and, by the end of it, could provide a credible synopsis of the nitrogen cycle.
Tip #6: Enjoy Your Kids
For people who have homeschooling thrust upon them, being responsible for your children’s education can seem like a daunting task. When conflicts inevitably arise, you may feel more like a referee or a jail warden than a mother or father. But having children is an inestimable gift (Psalm 127:3). During a pandemic in which many of us may face the loss of loved ones, don’t let busyness and to-do lists crowd out quality time. If things get too hectic, cancel classes for the day, put on your pajamas, and read them a book or watch a movie together. You’ll be glad you did.
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