Thousands of school districts across the country have closed in response to the spread of coronavirus, leaving nearly 45 million children out of school for the remainder of the school year.
While many schools may have sent students home with work packets and arranged for kids to be able to access learning materials virtually, millions of students now lack formal instruction, leaving many parents wondering how to best use the time their kids would otherwise be in a classroom to continue their education from home. In a matter of days, some parents, who are working from home for the same reason their kids are not at school are becoming homeschool teachers. (RELATED: LIVE UPDATES: Here’s What Every State In America Is Doing To Combat The Spread Of The Coronavirus)
Homeschooling is understandably intimidating at first, especially when parents feel like they have to pick up where their child’s teachers left off in the middle of the school year. But those familiar with homeschooling have similar advice for parents who are diving into the deep end of homeschooling: don’t overthink it.
Danielle Strachman has worked in alternative education for 20 years and has worked with homeschoolers since 2003, beginning a charter school in 2008 that has been running ever since and serves 400 students per year. Her biggest advice to parents who are trying to learn the homeschooling ropes is to first take a deep breath.
“We’re all doing the best we can right now,” she tells Daily Caller. “No parent should have to feel like they have to teach every subject every day because their kid isn’t in school right now. The whole idea that you’re resetting your family right now is important, and if you build stress into your family, that’s going to come out in the learning.”
Strachman emphasizes the importance of learning as a family. Children aren’t the only ones doing the learning, rather, it’s parents as well who are allowed the room to learn from their children so that they can craft a curriculum that works best for each individual child. “Some kids want structure, while other kids want to do things on the fly,” she said.
Some families begin the day with a “family meeting” in the morning, where they discuss what the day will be spent working on. While many kids will be accustomed to the scheduling of most American classrooms, which often includes intervals of different subjects such as math or reading throughout the day, Strachman notes that homeschooling is a great time for children to focus on doing things that interest them rather than focus on what every student in their class would be focusing on, and without the arbitrary timing schools use.
Instead of finishing a project when the clock strikes noon because it’s time for the math or gym class that’s built into a school schedule, kids can instead be productive while using the “pomodoro technique,” for example, by setting a timer to 25 minutes to read or work on a project, taking a 5 minute break and then setting the timer again if the student needs more time to exclusively focus on that project.
Since families are currently limited by the coronavirus pandemic and can’t do regular activities involving other children in homeschool families, such as go to museums or to parks, Strachman says kids can channel their energy into other projects that are hobbies or just for fun and are just as relevant as what they’d learn in an academic subject.
“If your kid says they want to experiment in the kitchen and cook something new, great! It doesn’t have to be academic all the time,” she said. She also mentions how popular sites like YouTube, Wikipedia and Google are useful for homeschool families when pulling resources together. “YouTube is a big hit with many families,” she noted after recently running a webinar amid the coronavirus school cancellations on homeschool techniques geared towards parents who are new to the subject. “Some families say they source everything from different place and YouTube videos are bite sized, engaging, and interesting.”
Katie McGinley is a mother of four young children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she homeschools her kids. McGinley tells Daily Caller that she gives her kids plenty of free time during the day while also maintaining a schedule which includes regular seat work and instructional time, but it’s not an “8 a.m. to 3 p.m. ‘school at home’” she said.
“All in all, I’d estimate my first grader spends no more than two hours on schoolwork every day,” she said. “ It includes schoolwork, but a lot of the ways we learn are woven into our day like reading aloud from chapter books or picture books, listening to music, looking at art, doing crafts, playing outside, exploring nature and the like. I have play time and free time built into our schedule.”
McGinley is a fan of the Christian classical approach to education, what she describes as education of the whole person in “the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty.” While she has a favorite core curriculum selected for this model after thorough research, she has found that taking it day-by-day is helpful and productive, especially when you have young kids.
“There’s no easy answer or one-size-fits-all solution,” she said. “Sometimes I send the younger two off to play while I focus on phonics or subtraction facts with my first grader. Or we all might do nature study or music and art appreciation together, or work on memorizing poetry together over afternoon tea. I tend to take it easy and figure out day-to-day which kids are doing to participate and to what extent.”
McGinley’s advice to parents who are considering beginning homeschooling mid-year after withdrawing their kids from a brick-and-mortar school is similar to Strachman’s, she says it’s crucial to “take a break.”
“Don’t try to replicate your child’s typical school day and school environment at home right off the bat! Take this weird transition time of big changes as a reset to focus on your family culture and relationships. Explore together, read together, learn together, but especially for little kids, don’t get freaked out about pushing academics while everyone adjusts.”
Most importantly, McGinley wants parents who feel daunted to know that they can do this. “You love your kids, you know your kids better than anyone else! If you don’t have any sort of background in education, don’t worry. Take it one day at a time and have fun together.”