By Laura Catherine Hanby Hudgens
Lately, my social media feed has been filled with posts from anxious parents agonizing over whether or not to send their children back to school. In addition to fears surrounding COVID-19, many parents are also concerned about the effects and effectiveness of some safety measures that will be in place, such as mask wearing and isolated classrooms. Some families are wondering if homeschooling might be a better option this year, but they don’t think they can homeschool and continue to work. Some parents simply question whether or not they are up to the task.
I certainly don’t have the solution for every family, and I know the idea of homeschooling can be overwhelming. But as a former homeschooling mom and former public school teacher, I want to encourage families who are so inclined to give it a try. Whether you are working full-time and have access to childcare, are working full-time at home, or are a stay-at-home parent, here are few tips for a successful homeschooling experience.
School does not have to be between 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.
For starters, there is no reason for a homeschooling day to last seven hours. Depending on the age of your children, a successful homeschooling day can last anywhere from one to five hours. And one of the great things about homeschooling is that the school day can begin any time and be ordered to suit a family’s schedule. This might mean starting right after breakfast and wrapping up the day by lunch time, or spacing the learning out over several short sessions throughout the day, or even schooling at night in your pajamas. This kind of flexibility might seem unorthodox, but the first rule of successful homeschooling is that it will not look like traditional schooling.
You don’t have to cover all the subjects your children would be getting in “real school.”
Laws vary from state to state, so it’s important to know exactly what subjects are required in your area. But remember you are in charge of where you focus your energy and attention. My advice: focus on the basics—reading, writing, and math. When I was homeschooling my children, I began every year poring over science curricula, art programs, and enrichment activities. And every year we we would wind up spending the vast majority of our days working on math skills and reading good books. Children who read, listen to audiobooks, or are read to will likely have strong vocabularies and healthy attention spans. Reading also improves writing and aides in creative thinking. Best of all, the time parents and children spend reading together can promote bonding and reduce stress, which makes for a more pleasant homeschooling day.
Of course a school day focused on reading doesn’t mean a day void of other subjects. Reading biographies, historical fiction, and nonfiction is an enjoyable, low key way to incorporate social studies, science, and even art into your homeschooling day. Add to that a solid math curriculum and a writing program (letter formation for the little ones and composition for older kids) and you have a simple, but effective homeschool program that will likely be enjoyable and more than adequate to prepare your children for their return to “real school.”
Learning will look different.
Sometimes the bulk of your homeschool day might be spent snuggled up in a chair together reading. That’s still learning. Sometimes science might be an evening spent watching Animal Planet or Nat Geo, but your kid will still learn. Math on any given day might look more like baking. History might look more like exploring a museum online. Sometimes homeschooling will look a lot like just spending time together as a family. The important thing isn’t to replicate a regular school day. The important thing is that your kids are learning a little bit every day.
There are many types of socialization.
One of the main reasons parents want their kids back in school is for socialization—so that they can interact with other kids and have fun with their friends. No question, this is an important part of the school day, and it won’t be possible for homeschooling parents to provide the same types of socialization available in a school setting.
Still, homeschooled kids can practice important social skills and have meaningful interactions that are no less valuable than time spent on a playground or in an extracurricular activity. Homeschooled siblings tend to be close and form lasting bonds. Homeschooled children are often comfortable interacting with adults and engaging in interesting discussions. Some families seek out penpals for their homeschooling kids—a great way to make a friend and practice the antiquated art of letter writing. And depending on your family’s comfort level with social distancing, it might be possible to establish a small homeschooling group with other families who have been limiting their interaction with the broader community. Again, your child’s social interactions might look different during your homeschooling journey, but that doesn’t have to mean they are less meaningful or less fun.
There will be gaps in your child’s education.
Whether you spend eight hours a day homeschooling your children or two, you will miss something. I forgot to teach my eldest son how to spell our last name until he was in 3rd grade. One of my daughters told me she was fuzzy on some of her shapes for years, and my other daughter laughed about getting October and November switched around until she was nearly in middle school. But my kids did learn how to learn and how to enjoy learning, so in the long run, they all did just fine in “real school.” And yours will too.
Your kids will get bored.
If your school day lasts five hours, they will complain it’s too long. If it lasts two, they will complain that they have nothing to do all day. But the great thing about boredom is that it often leads to creativity. I’m not talking about you supervising crafts or helping them create a science experiment. I am talking about you working or doing your own thing while your children play outside, dig in the dirt, paint a picture, write a story, make up a dance (which you will have to watch at some point), or build a pillow fort. One of the great things about “real school” is that it keeps kids busy all day.
On the other hand, one of the downsides of “real school” is that it keeps kids busy all day. Homeschooling will afford your children time to do and think and create in ways that perhaps they haven’t before. Sometimes that process of creativity will be slow and painful, but in the long run it might be one of the most valuable lessons of their homeschooling experience.
You might love it.
Maybe not every day, but there will be moments. When you see the light come on as your child sounds out a difficult word or works through a challenging math problem, you will love it. When together you discover a poem you like or a weird animal you didn’t know existed, you’ll think homeschooling is pretty cool. And when you are cuddled up with your kids reading about the Revolutionary War or the giant squid, you won’t believe how lucky you are to be their teacher—even if it’s just for now.
Laura lives on a buffalo farm with her family where she enjoys baking, gardening and tending to her chickens and children. She is a public school teacher turned SAHM, turned homeschool mom, turned public school teacher, turned parochial school teacher, turned SAHM again—for now.
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