Nearly six years ago, I first told Kansas City Mom Collective readers about our family’s decision to homeschool our two boys. Since then, our family has doubled in size as we welcomed four additional children through adoption in 2019 – three of whom are elementary-aged students in the North Kansas City School District. As I type this, I am aware of what a privilege our decision to homeschool was as so many of you have recently been thrust into this way of life courtesy of COVID-19. We’ve all been asked to embrace a “new normal” that seems to change by the hour – when coffee with a friend or story time at the library feels like a luxury from a long time ago.
Over the last several days, I have worked to collect my own thoughts of what school at home should look like as I will now have six little learners around my table instead of the usual two. I have also had the opportunity to encourage friends who will be partnering with public and private educators to “homeschool” their children for the foreseeable future. Here are a handful of tips I’ve shared (and will be implementing myself) as we look ahead to the next 30+ days at home with our kids:
1. First things first – this is going to be hard. Each new day brings an uncomfortable amount of sadness and unknown with it. We have to take care of ourselves, our mental health and the health and well-being of the little ones entrusted to us. Katie Kriegshauser, director of the Kansas City Center for Anxiety Treatment, recently shared these tips for managing coronavirus anxiety. Before you spend any time thinking through the logistics of learning at home, consider for a few minutes what small changes you can implement that will help maintain sanity in your home. For some, this will mean waking up a bit earlier each day to get things done without interruption. If you’re the type of mom who gets anxious about messes, plan for 10 minute cleanup breaks throughout the day to stay on top of things. Or what about some simple meal planning each weekend to take the pressure off of the end of the day? Little changes can make a big difference in your home.
2. As is the case with most everything, what’s best for another family may not be best for yours. Avoid the trap of mimicking what others are doing unless those specific tools marry up well with both your personality and the learning styles of your children. For instance, if your family is one that can operate well with more free time than structured time, then those brightly colored daily schedules we’ve all seen floating around on Facebook for the last week probably weren’t made for you. If your children thrive on routine, then prioritize things like morning routines, lunch and regular bedtimes to help them feel grounded throughout the day. Know your family’s natural rhythm and adapt accordingly.
3. Speaking of schedules, it’s important to not try to recreate school at home. Here’s why I think this is important: first, and perhaps most importantly, many of our children are struggling to understand all that is going on around them and may be better served to process it through less traditional methods of learning or even through play. Additionally, many parents will realize that their children are able to complete their assigned work in much less time without classroom transitions and other distractions that arise during a regular school day.
4. Consider setting aside at least one block of time per day for electronics-free learning (reading, physical activity, life skills, etc.). For those of us whose children are receiving instruction via iPads or other devices, this can prove a bit challenging but the main thing is explaining the difference between this and “fun” electronics time so they understand there is actual work to be completed each day.
5. Our family takes a break midday for lunch and free time, and over the years I’ve learned not to put time limits on this block because our kids seem to learn better in the afternoon when I don’t. If this seems counterintuitive or has you wondering whether their daily work will get done, then trust me – it does. 🙂 This block is also where I’m able to complete a number of my own tasks since I’m not working one-on-one with our kids. If your family requires a bit more structure than this, then no worries – just make sure everyone is on the same page with your expectations for how your time needs to be used.
In the days ahead, the best thing we can do for ourselves, our children and those around us (albeit 6 feet apart) is to demonstrate a whole lot of grace as we adapt to our “new normal.” Any structure we implement may fall flat. Your kids will almost definitely be in front of screens more than normal. They may not learn as much as normal. You won’t get as much work done as normal. All of this is OK. We’re all in this together.