Some Tips and Advice From a Former Teacher on Homeschooling During Coronavirus

Education
W, age six, doing schoolwork in our dining room. Photo by Elizabeth MacAndrew.

Overnight it felt like many parents got deputized into becoming homeschool teachers for their children because of the Coronavirus Pandemic. At the same time, those who were not laid off or asked to come in as essential workers found themselves being catapulted into being work-at-home parents as well. A lot of are now multitasking in ways we never thought we would have to before under some seriously stressful circumstances.

I’m a former high school teacher who made the choice to become a stay-at-home mom a few years ago. While my kids are elementary aged and not in the 7-12 grade level where I hold my certifications, I have a skill set that sometimes feels like I have an edge on understanding school related stuff for my kids. We were half way through a two-week Spring Break when our state made the decision to shut down schools, and I found myself preparing to do what I never expected to need to do and homeschool my kids. While my state had not officially extended the school closure until just this week, when we started I knew it was a matter of when, not if, so I started setting things up with the understanding that I was doing this for their entire fourth quarter.

My kids are receiving work sent via e-mail packets but their school is not requiring us to send them back which does give me some flexibility. We decided to do anything math, reading, and writing sent from the school. The school also had suggestions for “specials” like P.E. or Art, but we felt that what we had set up was covering that decently enough on its own. Now that we have just finished our first week of homeschooling with the supplementary stuff from the school arriving and being integrated in halfway through the week, this is what I would pass onto other parents.

As much as possible, have a schedule. I know with our kids, a certain amount of structure always helps. School breaks when things become a touch more free-for-all tends to be the hardest times to deal with and they take it out on each other. At least with school breaks I could get them out of the house or set up a play date. I can’t do that during a pandemic. Our oldest, A, age nine, threw a fit when we told him that break time was over and there was a schedule going into place. He nitpicked it, he threw all the shade and attitude he could summon at us, and then by the end of the day he was fine and he realized it wasn’t so bad after all. We worked in when they had to be ready for the day, but we also built in some natural break times as well which let them decompress a bit. They soon discovered they were done before they would be during a normal school day and had extra free time available. We also gave them their screen time during a specific period which makes it easier for my husband to get certain work-from-home things done or for me to do a chore or write an article. Knowing I have that time slot really lowers my stress levels on not just trying to get everything done, but feeling that I can keep things running in a way that alleviates my anxiety which was already at therapy levels before the pandemic.

Still have some flexibility even with that schedule. Your kids will have meltdowns and rough spots. First of all, they’re kids, not robots. Second, this whole situation adds whole new epic levels of stress and anxiety to everything. I think that our first five days had at least three days where one of our kids hit a spot where they just could not do something. We decided that the stuff they get from school and their martial arts practice are the things we don’t want to totally abandon, so we just redirected them to something else when this happened with the understanding they would catch up later in day, and they did. Your kid may need to ease into a schedule if things are super chaotic to adjust or have a little extra time to sort it out, and that’s also okay right now. Our kids quickly caught on that we knew this was hard and would work with them as needed.

Watch your bandwidth. With the uptick in online conference calls and tablets and home PCs being commandeered for school and entertainment, some families are discovering that their bandwidth was not prepared for this. When possible, you may want to try a few things to limit how many devices are making demands at once. Many streaming services will let you download some episodes or movies to a device so that if you need your kids to be screen entertained when you’re in a Zoom conference, they aren’t hogging your bandwidth.

Consequences may need to be reconsidered. Normally if our kids act up, screen time is the first thing they risk losing, but right now we need their screen time window to be able to get things done. Now, we’re more likely to assign them an extra unpaid chore if their behavior gets out of hand which must be completed before screen time. Right about the time we started social distancing, they were warned that they could get along or clean the house. The first violation resulted in them pulling all the craft supplies out of an IKEA 2×4 KALLAX unit, dusting the supplies, dusting the shelves, and then putting everything back. The next violation was a KALLAX that held board games. Two and a half KALLAX units after this consequence first turned up, and they are getting along much, much better and trying to keep any extra chores they have to a paid variety so they can fund their Switch game wish lists. The bottom line is try to come up with a consequence that isn’t going to cause you to feel punished as well or send your stress levels through the roof. Also, never assign extra schoolwork as a punishment. That just turns school work into something they resent and creates a bigger power struggle with their usual work load. My kids can differentiate between paid and unpaid chores, but if you make your kid write lengthy passages about their behavior, there’s a good chance it’s going to turn any writing assignment into a nightmare for everyone involved.

Work in some fun things too. We do crafting time, we often have lunch in our backyard when the weather permits because we are not on quarantine, and we listen to Josh Gad (Olaf from Frozen) read stories from social media streaming every evening. I’ve found myself saying yes more often to messier crafts than I did before. When my husband can tag out of work-from-home mode to relieve me, he’s even done board games with the kiddos. Cook together, watch some awesome zoo videos, play games, read stories, or have movie nights. Whatever it is, put whatever fun you can into the process and make some positive memories too.

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