By Wendy Kennar
Like most parents, I began homeschooling my son when the Los Angeles Unified School District shut down for the rest of the school year. Unlike most parents, I’m a former elementary school teacher which means I feel confident in assisting my sixth-grade son with his math (using variables to solve equations), history (a lot about ancient India), English (identifying figurative language in reading samples), and science (discussing the causes and consequences of global warming).
Homeschooling began in mid-March, and as we approach the last few weeks of the school year, I realize I taught my son much more than the 3 R’s. And while I hadn’t anticipated teaching him these lessons, I believe they will prove beneficial in his future.
1. It’s okay to use a calculator. (Sometimes.) As a teacher, you have to know when enough is enough. I’d often assign my students only the odd or even-numbered questions on their homework assignment. If you know how to properly multiply decimals for the first ten questions, chances are you’ll know how to properly multiply decimals for the last ten questions too. We’re at home. I’m sitting with my son. I see him working out the problems on his small white board. And when I see him getting burnt out on yet another very similar problem, I give him the okay to use the calculator.
2. Listening to music helps. My son watches assigned videos about different math concepts. The anonymous instructor’s voice sounds like a monotone reading of an instruction manual. Often, this unseen instructor over-explains and over-repeats. My son says it’s boring, and I agree. That’s when listening to music helps. Not-get-out-of-your-seat-and-dance music like Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” but something that can play in the background such as the soundtrack from the video game Flower.
3. Make yourself comfortable. Since we’re home, I tell my son to take advantage of it and create the most comfortable work environment he can. Adjust the desk lamp and the height of his chair. Turn the fan on (or off). Because these are all things he can’t normally do in a classroom.
4. Location isn’t important. My son has a desk where he completes the majority of his schoolwork. But certain days, he needs to get up and move a bit. He needs a change of scenery. And because he’s working off the family laptop, he can. He sat on the couch and completed an online English assignment. We sat on the soft red rug in his bedroom to work on a history assignment. We looked at science notes while propped up on pillows on my bed.
5. Practice for the future. During this “distance learning” not all of my son’s teachers assign daily work. Some teachers post one longer assignment or several small assignments with a final due date, and it’s up to him to figure out how to complete it. He’s learning to budget his time. To work independently. To be self-disciplined to get it done.
6. Take it “bird by bird.” I taught my son Anne Lamott’s famous words of advice as a way of not getting overwhelmed by a large project. Don’t look at the whole project and see it as too much, but simply take it one step at a time, and work on it “bird by bird.”
7. Start with “shitty first drafts.” We don’t curse in our house, so it was a big deal when I taught my son this one. The curse word just makes it more fun, more memorable. But, borrowing from Anne Lamott again, it’s basically a way to get started. Don’t become paralyzed by the big assignment, just start. It doesn’t have to be your best work. It doesn’t have to be polished. Just get something down on the page.