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COVID-19 and Schools: We’re All Homeschoolers Now

child, girl, young

As a family, we have been homeschooling for years now. In fact, our son has never attended classes at a public school! Now that the public health crisis due to COVID-19 is unfolding, many schools are closed for the immediate future. I am getting a lot of messages from friends who have kids that do go to schools, asking what to do now and how to handle their kids’ education needs at home. I totally get it- this is untested waters for many of you! It can be intimidating to us grown-ups when we face the fact that our kid’s education is now 100% dependant on us, even though we have no experience in teaching or even know where to start! So, let me start at the beginning.

1. You Need To Determine Your Child’s Learning Style

I generally find that most kids can fall somewhere into one of three categories. Most actually cross-category a lot, a highly structured learner can also be a slightly structured learner in some subjects. A slightly structured learner can also be a great freestyle learner in certain subjects! It really takes some attentive observation on your part, and trial and error until you find what works best for them. Talk to your child and explain the “experiment” that you are doing to find what way they learn best and let them have a hand in it. Some kids will just tell you plainly what works best for them, others are more open to experimenting and finding their “zen learner” place. Just try to keep the frustration to a minimum. If you are both getting frustrated, it’s a good chance that you just need to try a different approach or change subjects for a while or for the day. It’s okay. You’ll get it.

Highly Structured: These kids do great with highly structured, classroom-style learning. They thrive on lesson plans, syllabuses, testing, and exams. This involves early morning to afternoon lessons and classroom style “periods”, breaks, lunches, the whole shebang. As a homeschooling parent, I find this to be the hardest to accommodate, to be honest. Homeschooling a child who needs such highly structured lessons means homeschooling is a full-blown full-time job. Don’t expect to do housework and cooking while your kid is doing lessons because they need your full attention the entire time. If your highly structured learning kid is staying at home due to school closures, you will either need to just keep them busy until school resumes or dive in feet-first and become a full-time teacher. There really isn’t any middle room here. If you have a lot of books on various subjects that your child enjoys reading or a kindle, that could be a very good way to keep their brain engaged during this downtime and keep them out of your hair so you can get other stuff done. Most cable providers have started offering free educational programs for kids who are stuck at home if you don’t mind letting them watch a little more TV than normal. Check out below for some resources I regularly use!

Slightly Structured: Other kids don’t do so great with highly structured learning. They need a little more help, or more freeform activities to express themselves and learn in a slightly more abstract way. These kids are pretty easy to educate at home, only needing a little guidance and help with things they have the most trouble with. For these kids, set out a daily routine that includes learning and subjects to complete in the day. Give them simple assignments in each subject and the resources to complete those assignments. My son is a slightly structured learner and it is fairly easy for me to give him the guidance and help he needs, while still being able to get most of my housework done (but not usually all of it). Sometimes you just need to sit nearby and oversee their progress to keep them on track, but you would still be able to do simple things for yourself, like check your email or do basic work from home, while they do their educational tasks. Keep in mind that even though they can handle a more freestyle home education, they still need plenty of hands-on learning. Research on some printable coloring sheets, word searches, craft and science projects that they can do in addition to their basic lessons to further enhance their home education experience.

Freestyle/Unschoolers: These guys are amazingly open to learning all kinds of different things, all the time! What makes this the easiest type of kid to homeschool is that their drive to learn can totally take over. Let them learn what they are interested in learning and just keep tabs on their basics: Mathematics, Language Arts, Sciences, etc. When you feel they are falling behind in one or more topics, gently encourage them and guide them to explore those specific topics. It usually only takes a reminder of something they would actually enjoy on that subject and let them at it!

2. Expect Crossover Learning Styles

Most kids don’t stick to one learning style for all subjects. Even though my son is mostly a slightly-structured learner, he crosses over into freestyle learning quite often. His journey into learning to read was a disaster until I gave up for a while out of sheer frustration. I started watching the local news at 3 pm every day and, since my son was also interested in the current affairs, I read the ticker off on the bottom of the screen to him. One day, about two weeks into doing this, he stopped me and started reading it off to me instead! WOW! He had learned to read that fast, with a totally off-the-wall approach that I hadn’t taken as a means to teach him to read! He still reads mostly freestyle, though I do have to administer some reading comprehension exercises every so often to make sure I know the level he is reading at. So far, my 10-year-old is reading at an 11th-grade level. On his own. But he needs structured math lessons. It is totally okay if you don’t yet know what type of learner your child is, or where they need crossover style-learning. Figuring these things out can be a journey that takes time and patience.

3. Resources For Home Education

Personally, I love History Vault and Curiosity Stream as additions & resources for subjects! I have monthly subscriptions to both and regularly incorporate their materials into my daily lessons. I regularly guide my son to check their streaming services for something he is interested in under a certain topic and let him watch what he wants. I know it’s educational and that he is learning something he is interested in. Curiosity Stream, in particular, has topics to explore that make it super easy for him to find something good to watch under one of those topics. They have a good number of videos targetted to younger audiences and some especially for small children.

I use Khan Academy for my own son’s structured learning lessons. It is totally free and fairly easy to learn to use as a parent-educator to set up assignments, lesson plans and subjects for him. He enjoys the instructors in most of the subjects and finds them to be very entertaining, and he loves soaking up all that witty and funny education.

Twinkl is a great online educational resource that is offering free premium membership for a month while we have so many kids out of school. They have a TON of printables on a wide variety of subjects for all grade levels! They also have PowerPoints with talking points, videos, educational games and more. I use their resources very often and encourage you to do the same! After the free premium membership ends, your account will just revert to a free access account, so don’t worry about getting charged later for it. For new accounts, go to www.twinkl.com/offer and enter the following offer code: USATWINKLHELPS (This code will only work for new memberships.) For existing members, go to www.twinkl.co.uk/offer and enter the code PARENTSTWINKLHELPS at the login space. You will be able to download all the resources you should ever need, or save them to your Google Drive to print later.

In addition, I regularly google up random things he asks about and we read articles together or watch YouTube videos that are more educational. This can be anything from the dates of Alexander The Great’s reign to the tactics used by Gengis Khan, from astronomical facts to the history of the Abacus (which is what he initially learned addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division on!), from WWI info to the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy, from the moon landings to tutorials for learning languages. There’s a wealth of information online, we just have to learn how to effectively search and filter through results to find what we are looking for, and teach our kids to do the same.

The big thing to remember is that home education is a team sport! You may be great with one or two subjects, your spouse is better than you on a few subjects so you work together to give your child the best education that you can. If a friend is really great at something in particular and agrees to jump in and give you a hand with that subject, that’s GREAT! The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” is really one to keep in mind. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family for help on subjects where you aren’t so strong. It might surprise you to see how many people are willing to step up and do their part to make the next generation become the brightest generation ever! A friend of mine, who has been a teacher in both public and private schools for many years now, gave me the best advice ever. I’m going to pass it along to you here:

“The best way to teach your child at home is to teach him how to learn. Once you do that, the rest pretty much takes care of itself!”

Barbara Carnell, Educator and Early Literacy Specialist

In closing, please remember that home education doesn’t have to be stressful. It can be fun for both of you, and you might actually end up learning a bit along with your kids! We are all in this together. Find some Facebook homeschooling groups to join and keep on researching, keep on learning, and keep on teaching! It does take patience. It will take some trial and error, and it might be frustrating sometimes but our kids are worth it!