Advice from homeschooling parents
March 13, 2020 1:28 PM   Subscribe

What advice do those of you with experience homeschooling their kids have for those of us who are suddenly faced with doing something of a short-term version of what you do, as we try to structure learning for our kids for at least the next few weeks?

Like many parents around the country, we just learned that we have our kids at home for at least the next month, if not more. Honestly, we'd like to make the most of it, and minimize cabin fever.

At the same time, I know that we'll have to figure out how to keep the kids doing worthwhile things day after day without always having much time ourselves to prepare elaborate activities.

For those of you who have experience homeschooling your kids, how best did you organize your kids' days? What works, and what is just not feasible?
posted by umbú to Education (7 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Expect a week (or more) of "this is not school; we are not doing school things" from the kids - emotionally, if not intellectually. School is something that happens away from home, and it's hard to override that awareness.

Don't bother trying to put them in a classroom structure for at least the first week: even if you get them to sit down around a table and read books/fill out assignments, their mindset is going to be "this is playing at school, not real school." Stuff learned at home, at camp, at games with friends, goes into a different mind-slot than school, and this will go in that spot, not next to other school things.

After a few days of "hey this is not an extra-long spring break vacation; there's learning-stuff required here," they may be more ready to have "school at home" class-like lessons. Homeschoolers often spend months de-schoolifying before kids settle into learning at home, but you don't have months, and you're not planning on a permanent switch. But the first few days will definitely be treated like extra vacation, and pushing for a classroom structure will only confuse them even if they're cooperative. Everything about the setting will tell them this is not school and it'll be hard to engage the type of attention they use for school.

If you have materials from your local school, use those to plan lessons. (Just maybe not lessons that act like classroom learning.) Figure out what the school intends for them to have covered in a month--or, more importantly, by the end of the school year--and look into learning plans for those things.

The good news: The lost time isn't likely to matter. They're likely to learn faster than at school, because the teacher's attention isn't being split between a couple dozen students. If they have questions, those can get answered immediately. They can even be answered with, "why don't we look that up together? How do you think we should figure that out?" which teachers don't have time to do in the classroom.

If they're old enough and amenable to helping with their own education, go over the goals with them, and have them help figure out how they can learn those things. For example, if they're doing 5th Grade History, you can show them the list of questions and discuss what and how to study so they'll learn and remember the information. Do they learn best by reading? By listening? By watching documentaries? By filling out puzzles that have the answers as clues? By talking back and forth?

I guarantee they know what works best for them--it's how they learn info that they care about! If they can rattle off the names and types of 175 Pokemon, they know how to learn; they just don't know how to apply that to an academic curriculum.

Keep in mind that your goal is "don't fall behind the class" (which is likely to mostly be falling behind anyway, because most parents aren't prepared for homeschooling out of the blue) rather than "follow the district's standard lesson plan." Ignore the specific assignments unless they're required for grading; definitely modify the teaching materials and style suggestion to match your kids.

You have a great opportunity to do age-appropriate science experiments that are too complex or fragile for a classroom!

I homeschooled two daughters for about 1/3 of their school years. I didn't use a specific plan. We did a lot of flash game puzzles and watched and discussed a lot of documentaries. We didn't do testing, but I did use the "What Every X Grader Should Know" books to plan what to do.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:21 PM on March 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

We (mostly my wife) homeschooled the kids k-12. Well, they mostly homeschooled themselves in the high school years.

When they were younger we basically did 90 min in the morning and 90 min in the afternoon. With just 2 or 3 kids in class you'll be shocked at home much you can accomplish in 3 hours a day. Normally I'd say get them out of the house as much as you have access to woods or any natural areas? Get bird guides and go birdwatching, look for insects, find way to get them engaged with the natural world if that is an option given the circumstances.

And yeah, the goal here is not replace the professionally trained teachers. It's more keep them in learning mode - what they are learning doesn't really matter that much. Whatever they seem to enjoy plus whatever you enjoy doing to work great. Is there anything you always wished you had time to teach / do with the kids? For the next 2-6 weeks, you have time.
posted by COD at 2:45 PM on March 13, 2020

I homeschooled two kids who are now teenagers. The older one is going to community college now. My main advice would be not to feel pressure to do schooly stuff. You can do absolutely nothing intentional for a month, or for the rest of the school year, and it will make no difference in the long run. I wouldn't worry too much about organizing the day or creating any kind of structure. You want to make the best of this opportunity and one of the best things about homeschooling is that your kids can be free from pointless structure. You can decide to do things on a sudden whim. You can keep doing something as long as you want if you're all enjoying it. You can stop doing something if you're not enjoying it.

One of the most valuable things you can do for your kids is get them active and/or outside. So if you want some kind of daily structure, you might want to make getting outside the thing your day is built around. Outdoor activity is pretty safe for you and for everyone else around you. You're generally going to be at least 6 feet away from other people. You can hike, ride bikes, skate, let your kids wade in creeks, walk on the beach, encourage the kids to build forts in the yard, fly kites, go to an ice rink, go to a park or an arboretum.

Reading aloud is fun and worthwhile and takes no advance preparation. I feel like reading a zillion books aloud is one of the best things I've done with my kids.

I could recommend some other educational things, but I think what your kids will probably get the most from is whatever you actually know about (or want to learn about) and find interesting. My daughter really got into collecting caterpillars and I could write a long essay about how educational that was and list all the things she learned. But one of the big reasons that worked so well was that I was really into it myself. I was happy to hunt for caterpillars, gather leaves to feed them, find caterpillar and moth ID websites, buy a good caterpillar field guide, look up information and talk enthusiastically about all the biology and ecology concepts that came up. Not everyone is that excited about caterpillars. But there's probably something you're pretty into or something you think it would be really fun to learn more about with your kids. It doesn't matter if it's something they would study in school. In fact, it's probably more valuable if it isn't.

The other kind of thing I think kids get the most out is the opposite of that - the things you aren't very interested in and never push on them but that they get interested in and pursue on their own. If any of your kids seems to have an interest like that, making sure they have time for it would be helpful.

To start out with, you might identify one thing you would like to teach your kids about or learn about with them. If you spent some time on that every day, along with getting outside, reading aloud and giving your kids free time to do what they want, I think you could feel like you were making the most of your time. Some ideas: researching your family's genealogy, cooking, sewing or knitting or any craft you like, Snap Circuits, reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books and learning to do old fashioned things like making butter or maple syrup, nature observation, learning about some other place or time period, comparing hit music of the past with today's hits, learning a physical skill like ice skating or playing ping-pong, using Excel or Word, making a web page, learning to code, mental math tricks, learning a new language, writing fan fiction, making stop motion movies, planting flowers or vegetables.
posted by Redstart at 3:29 PM on March 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

Follow up question from an aunt who’s about to help with homeschooling: how do you do this without the seven year old (for example) making the five year old feel stupid? (Seven year olds really like flaunting their knowledge, and of course they know more than the five year olds.)
posted by ocherdraco at 6:21 PM on March 13, 2020

Emergency homeschooling
posted by latkes at 7:13 PM on March 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

Please check in with your local school district about home schooling. They can provide valuable resources. Don't go this alone; your public schools are there to help.
posted by SPrintF at 7:21 PM on March 13, 2020

Ocherdragon, regarding kids of different ages: Involving them in cooperative projects rather than knowledge-based questioning. Have the make something together, or measure things together, so that extra knowledge from one child doesn't particularly matter.

"Let's find out what all the plants in the yard are called" is a good science project. That means identifying all the different plants, figuring out how to describe them, and figuring out how to look them up. (Cellphone pictures, google to try to ID plants, etc.) Knowledge won't matter as much as observation skills.

Alternately, figure out the younger child's area of expertise, or at least area of interest. It's easy for a 7-year-old to flaunt knowledge in a standard school setting; it's harder when the 5-year-old may have skills that the school doesn't acknowledge.

Try to encourage the older child to support and mentor the younger child, instead of competing. Find cooperative activities like some of these 1st grade science projects where there is no "winner" who does better.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:39 PM on March 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

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