Home-schooling: tips from a parent who started a year ago

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Interest in home-schooling has blown up during the coronavirus crisis, as an increasing number of families take their children’s education into their own hands instead of waiting for districts to decide whether or not to reopen, and how.

Doing so can cost up to $1,800 annually per child, reports Time4learning.com in Kiplinger’s. Nevertheless, a new study shows that home-schooling is at least on the minds of 80 percent of parents out there.

Abby Schwartz, who has been home-schooling three of her four children for more than a year, thought she could help by offering up her own insights. Take a read.

Many families are forced now to home-school their children. But just over a year ago, I voluntarily started home-schooling my three children.

It had become clear to me that, for my children, public school was not a good option. My kids were constantly worn down to the point of lashing out. The people in charge of their public school were constantly at my back, acting like I wasn’t good enough. Every summer, all the issues the schools attributed to my kids would go away, only to return again during the school year. I felt attacked, and as though my kids could not thrive there.

Home-schooling initially left me scared about my family’s future. What if I failed my kids? But I knew my kids could not thrive in public schools. This had to be done, and there was no looking back.

Now, based on what I’ve learned as a home-schooler for more than a year, I’m offering my assistance to you.

Free Ways to Learn

The first thing to do: take stock of what you already have, and find ways to make use of it. Board games and video games, for example, are surprisingly educational. So much is packed into every game. Some focus on logic, others on money and resource management. Still others are built around reading, good sportsmanship, problem-solving, spatial reasoning, vocabulary …. the list goes on.

You may also have books. Do you have a favorite? Find it, sit the kids down, and read. From “old enough to sit still” to “almost out of the house,” kids of any age love to read with their parents. My mom read to my sister and I every night, and it was one of my favorite things. My kids now love it, too.

You can also access many free websites, YouTube videos, and podcasts. The ones my family uses are: Code.orgProdigyDuolingoTyping.comHoffman Academy, and videos from Extra CreditsGoNoodleMaddie Moate, and Terrible Writing Advice. I’ve also heard people speak highly of ABC Mouse and Khan Academy.

As a small note, if you have a streaming service (or five), check them for documentaries. I also know a lot of people have been doing virtual field trips. The San Diego ZooMonterey Bay AquariumYellowstoneMars Curiosity Rover, and so many other places offer online tours from their webcams!

Schedule

Everyone goes about schedules differently. Before we home-schooled, we never had a schedule when the kids were home. Now that we’re all home all the time, it’s been important to keep to a schedule all the time. Otherwise,  we never get anything done. In the age of coronavirus, I recommend following a simple schedule whether you’re educating your kids or wanting them to tackle a few chores.

Here’s a peek at the schedule in my household:

1) Wake. I don’t set a time to it, but you might want to keep your kids getting up at the same time they would if school were still open.

2) Get ready for the day. This includes getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, and making sure their beds are clean and made.

3) Begin school. My kids have specific things to do, and they also pick two more activities from a set list. All of this usually lasts until lunch, unless they get up really late.

4) Have lunch. In my home, this happens sometime between 11 a.m and 1 p.m. I keep lunch time loose because we never know when one of the kids might become immersed in what they’re doing! I don’t want them to stop when that happens, unless it’s getting too late to eat.

5) Complete one to three chores beyond their normal responsibilities. This might include washing windows, emptying the dishwasher, changing the trash bags, watering the flower bed, or cleaning sinks or the bathtub. This usually takes us an hour or two.

6) Free time OR more school if needed (but it almost never is). During this time, my kids often play outside, watch TV, play video or board games, and play games of pretend.

7) Dinner

8) Free time

9) Bedtime at 8 or 9 depending on the kid

Crafts

I know crafting with kids can be scary. All of those Pinterest crafts look so nice, but you can never duplicate them. Kids are messy, and do you really want to clean up after them?

I hear you. But when you’re looking for something to distract them besides electronics, crafting is an amazing thing. Plus, you don’t have to do it with them. As I see it there are two ways to craft. I’ll give you both; and you pick which one works for you.

Approach #1: Go on Pinterest, or buy craft kits at the store, so that you give your kids the tools and can be there to help them when they don’t understand the directions. Pros: less mess, prettier projects (even if they’re not as good as Pinterest), and you’re interacting with the kids. Cons: you may not have the necessary supplies, and either don’t have the money to get them or don’t want to venture out because of a pandemic virus.

Approach #2: Gather scissors, glue and/or tape, coloring supplies, cotton swabs, other disposable things you have in excess around the house, and every little bit of clean trash you can find. Dump these things in front of your kids, and let them have fun. Cons: it’s messier, and the projects might not be as pretty. Pros: You don’t have to worry about where the supplies are coming from. And you can more easily go do something else, if you need to.

Taking Care of Yourself

Last, but certainly not least, lets talk about you. The parent. You’re stressed. You’re tired. You love your kids, but they’re driving you insane. How can you pull it together? And why am I writing as though there is actually any time to take care of yourself?

Trust me, it can be done.

All those video games, websites, documentaries, crafts, etc that you are now encouraging your kids to do? They can do them without you. Sneak off, stay within earshot if they’re young or you’re worried. But let yourself be in a different room.

This is “you” time. Sit down. Drink some coffee, tea, or other beverage of your choice. Eat lunch. I don’t care what you do, but take time to yourself. If a kid comes in asking for your attention, give them what they need and send them back to their activity. They will be fine.

If you have kids that really won’t leave you alone, are making huge messes, or complaining nonstop about being bored, I have one more tip for you: bored bucket. It doesn’t have to be a bucket, but the idea is, you write down activities on slips of paper, popsicle sticks or something that the kids then draw out of the bucket.

What’s written on my popsicle sticks? Mostly chores — but also things like “play with Lego,” a dance party, karaoke, or “draw a picture.” This has worked wonders in getting them to stop complaining and keeping things slightly cleaner.

Take Care of Each Other

Whatever you decide to do with the time your kids are unexpectedly out of school, I hope you and your family stay well. Take care of each other. Be safe. Wash your hands, and don’t touch your face.

(Christine Hawes contributed to the update of this report, which was originally published April 4, 2020.)

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Abby Schwartz has home-schooled three of her four children since mid-2019.

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