by Jessica Bickford, Healthy Lamoille Valley Coordinator
This is a longer post than usual, but hopefully helpful for all the families out there with kids home from school.
Three years ago our family made the decision that we would homeschool while I did much of my work from home. It was for a time and season (a good reminder for us today too!). This fall our 6th and 8th graders returned to traditional public school. We now find ourselves homeschooling again. In talking to friends, I’m realizing that I have some unique insights that may be helpful. Note: I am not an expert on homeschooling – our first go had its ups and downs and fair share of tears, but here are a few tips that may help you, take what works, leave what doesn’t… we’re all different.
Recognize the Changing Roles
This was the hardest thing for me personally. When you start homeschooling, you go from Mom/Dad/Grandparent, who has your child’s back and loves unconditionally, to teacher, who is working to correct flaws and help your child be the best student they can be. This often creates friction. Name it. As “teacher” you may be revealing your child’s faults and vulnerabilities. Asking them to go back and redo something or take more time might awaken that.
Possible solutions: Talk about it. “I’m still Mom/Dad/Grandparent and I will always love you and have your back, but right now I am also a helper teacher and that may create some difficult moments. “ Step out of the teacher role when the school/work day ends and find ways to have fun! Continue home rituals whenever possible ie. taco Tuesday, bedtime stories, etc. Call/email the real teacher – recognize that you don’t have to be the teacher. You didn’t choose this curriculum, you may not even understand it, call on those who do!
Set Check-in Breaks
Working from home and homeschooling is how I’ve always done it. Check ins are important for everyone’s sanity. You have work you need to do. Your student has work that needs to be done. Constant interruptions add to frustration. Depending on the age of your child, set a plan to work independently and then check in. Yesterday I had four Zoom meetings… between each I physically got up, found my kids and asked what they needed.
Possible solutions: Set up a daily schedule and post it… or not (I don’t), but set a plan when you will check in. Stagger your day. I get up about 3 hours before my kids and start working. This allows me time to be in my own head and super productive. Let go of things… if you have younger children this may be a necessity – survival may be the order of the day!
My first day of homeschooling again I almost went nuts! My 8th grader, who I love dearly, sat next to me and told me about every piece of his work all day long! (Reminder, see point above… has since been reinstated!)
Possible solutions: Talk about your day. What are your needs, the needs of your student. Who needs Wi-Fi, when? Who needs to be on a Zoom or Google classroom conversation when? Is someone having an important phone meeting and need quiet? Take these needs into consideration. Also think creatively… once the snow melts we will hang the hammocks and school will be outside.
It’s Ok to Take a Time Out
We all need personal time and space. You and your children aren’t getting what you’re both used too. Frustrations may rise and tempers may flare. Take time to be in your own head.
Possible solutions: Go to your room. Ask for 15 minutes of quiet. Find a book and escape for a few. Go for a walk. Let the kids have more screen time, letting them Zoom with friends is a great way for you to have some time and then to feel connected. Talk about things that push each other’s buttons and how you can each be respectful in this time.
Dealing with Increased Feelings of Isolation
This is the difference between homeschool experience 1 and 2 for us. When we homeschooled before the kids were getting out and connecting with friends and community members regularly. They have each expressed feeling confined.
Possible solutions: Zoom/Facetime/Skype/call with friends. Just seeing or hearing a friend’s voice helps. Get outside every day! Find a way to do something meaningful for someone else. Attend a concert, artist session, zoo visit, or church service online. Listen to audio books (some apps are making their books free during this time). Take advantage of your library’s takeout option and keep materials coming in. Talk to neighbors from a distance. Go for a drive.
Take Time for Your Partner
When you are all under one roof for extended periods of time you can actually lose connection.
Possible solutions: Have breakfast together. Create a ritual such as going for a walk every night after dinner together while the kids clear the table. Set an earlier bedtime (in their room time) for the kids, so you have space to breathe and connect.
Set Expectations for Chores
We have done this with varying levels of success over the years, but it’s always helpful. It’s easy for general messiness to take over when everyone’s home. Set the expectations clearly.
Possible ideas: Create a rotating chore chart that has everyone having a daily chore with one person getting a night off. Create a set chore chart. Set a daily list (this is where we are at now… here’s what needs to be done today beyond the basics.) Keep the chores age appropriate.
Plan Some Fun and Treats!
We try to play a game, watch a favorite show, do archery, or something special each day. I informally take turns asking, what would you like to do?
Possible ideas: Consider the birthdays/holidays in the next month and stock up. Have a game night. Pop popcorn and watch a show or movie. Have a dance party.
Things Don’t Have to Be Perfect or Exactly Like School
This is the beauty of homeschooling. It’s a time for your family to grow together, to try new things, and it will most likely be messy. You may need to let go of having it all during this season. You will have moments of feeling like a failure… it’s ok… all homeschool parents feel like that… you just didn’t choose it. It’s also ok to acknowledge your mistakes and ask for forgiveness from your kids – in fact that’s even a great life lesson.
Possible ideas: Create a fun list of how life this is not school and celebrate it. Celebrate the closeness and savor special moments. Create a family journal. Everyday can be bring your pet to school day or Pj day or hat day! Talk about what’s different. Let go of the stuff that doesn’t really matter!
Bring the Music!
Having music changes the mood and feel of a space.
Possible ideas: Make sure everyone gets a say in the music choices (Ok, I have to admit I’m really tired of Weird Al’s Drive Through song). Use headphones. Pick a genre that you might not listen too.
Self-care is Important
When you don’t go out it’s easy to stay in your jammies for days! Find those things that help you feel well.
Possible ideas: Have each person make a list of things that help them feel good and do work one of those things into their day/week. Be active each day!
Keep Adult Conversations as Adult Conversations
When your kids are present for everything it’s sometimes tricky to have the conversations and deep discussions needed to run a household. This will be particularly true now. Don’t add to your kids worries if you can help it.
Possible ideas: Go for a walk to have those deeper conversations. Send the kids outside. Talk while they’re online or watching a movie. Wait until they are in bed. Be mindful of your volume. Make a list and realize that not every conversation has to happen immediately.
Shut Down the Screens
Ding goes the email alert at 8:00 on Friday night on my son’s school iPad. We gave him permission to not check it… it’s the weekend. We need to give ourselves that same permission. This will be a time of more screens by necessity, but it’s also important for our mental health to take a break.
Possible ideas: Set times to check the news, but don’t live on it all day. Scroll and then be present. If possible, work/school ends when it ends. Avoid tech at the table. Consider having a screen free afternoon or day.
Make Space for Feelings
Feelings are healthy and they will change rapidly. Make space for those feelings.
Possible ideas: Create a journal, draw, bake, create a dance, cry, laugh, paint, talk about it, stomp, grab a stick and sword fight with a tree, breathe… this list could go on and on… but the point is that it’s important to express your feelings.
Ask for Help
I had to be reminded of this regularly. I needed support when I homeschooled the first time and will need it again. Having friends who had done it before helped to mitigate my fears, wash away my frustrations, and guide my decision making. We regularly, as a family, had to reassess and retool how we were doing things. We delegated the overseeing of schoolwork between Jeff and I. I didn’t carry it all.
Possible ideas: Reach out to your child’s teachers or supports. Reach out to your counselor, pastor, friend. Connect with other parents from your children’s class. Email me (I’m not an expert, but I’m here) at firstname.lastname@example.org.