Advice From the Other Side of a Homeschooling Journey
I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.Jimmy Dean
Homeschooling in its common form is considered by many of us with years of experience to be a journey. It begins with a parent’s conscious decision to take the education of our children into our own hands, with a starting point and a destination in mind. A lot of thought and investigation and planning and prayer, as well as some tears, go into charting the course. From time to time, in the midst of it all, the wind changes direction or we hit stormy seas. When everyone feels like jumping ship, we discover we can just adjust the sails and move on, repeat that a few more times, and eventually reach our final destination.
Most of you are faced with school closures for the remainder of the year because of the coronavirus pandemic. What many families are now having to do with the closure of schools is very different than homeschooling, and in my opinion, much harder. Some have even labeled it panic schooling or crisis schooling. You have found yourselves in uncharted waters where your child’s education is concerned. You have had to pick up where teachers left off, using their plans and curriculum, and then figure out how to fit it all into another plan. Your previously well mapped-out journey is suddenly way off course.
Sure, you’ve overseen homework and occasional special project, but this is not that. You know it, and the educators know it. Most of all, the kids know it! Even though this wasn’t even remotely your first choice, you parents are now at the helm and it’s time to adjust your sails. You love your kids and want what’s best for them, but you did not choose homeschooling for whatever reason. It’s definitely not for everyone! While there are too many unique family circumstances to speak to, and there is no cookie-cutter homeschool situation in existence, here are a few general things you might consider during this odd new journey that has been set upon you.
First, it is common for homeschoolers who bring their kids home from a traditional school setting to need a period of adjustment with a more relaxed atmosphere. If your child still has work expected of him from a teacher, you don’t necessarily have that luxury. For smoother sailing, try to be as flexible as possible and expect the unexpected. A basic routine is fine, but be ready for life to happen. We’ve all just been witness to this. Write your plans in pencil, and above all, don’t try to replicate the classroom experience. You don’t need a desk and child-sized chairs and a white board and cubbies to teach your children successfully. The kitchen table and living room couch will do. All they need is for you to be available.
It is guaranteed there will be a bad day here and there when you’ll want to throw someone overboard, so prepare to give yourself and your kids some grace. There will be times the kids won’t want to do the assigned schoolwork and times they will fight with you or their siblings. Attempted mutinies will occur. Those are the times you change course and do something different. Get a snack, dig out a puzzle or a game, let them play with Legos, or read a book aloud. Allow older kids to immerse themselves in a great book, or listen to one on Audible, draw or journal about this quarantine experience, crochet, or build something. Have a tea party or picnic; inside or outside. Then get back to the task at hand. Sometimes the reward has to come before the work, especially when the seas are rough.
Also, try and remember you’re not a cruise director. Guide gently, but don’t plan every moment and activity for your kids. It can be difficult for some of us to be observers and not direct participants. Let your child make mistakes and learn from them. Help them discover what they are good at. Answer questions but also help them figure out how to find the answers they are looking for. This is the perfect time for your kids to explore new interests and you get to be the conduit for that!
Having been part of a traditional school setting, you are going to be surprised at how little time it takes to do assigned schoolwork. As we homeschoolers say, it’s all basically homework. There will be extra time for them to think and just be kids. In between school work and chores, they need solitary time, even though it may seem like they need constant attention. Their quiet time is your lifeboat! Make it happen.
Next, while you are learning the ropes alongside them, be observant of your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Make it one of your objectives while you have more time with them. This is a cool learning opportunity…for you. Figure out their learning style and you will definitely understand them better. Be careful not to pigeon-hole them into one style of learning, since all are important. When you figure out a main one it will tend to explain a lot about them. Teachers can’t really teach to particular learning styles, but you can while they’re home with you. You might even learn about yourself in the process and then you can make positive changes to better interact with a difficult kid.
This might seem like an obvious point, but try to have fun, regardless of these strange circumstances. Try not to panic your kids and cause them undue stress. This time in history will be written about, talked about, and remembered forever, but it doesn’t have to be all negative. In good weather, outdoor activities will get out some of that pent up energy. Technology is so awesome to allow your kids to Facetime or Skype friends and family, acquire entertainment, accomplish schoolwork, and learn a new skill. Learning can take place in lots of different ways, and you’ll want to make some fun memories along the way.
You and your kids have spent a lot of time apart most days and now you’re all in the same boat. And some days it’s not a luxury cruise liner. Suddenly not only is there no in-person school, and in some cases no work, but no outside activities. If there is anything to learn from this, it is how important family is. We have had to change rapidly from a culture of busyness to one of a much slower pace. Enjoy having family meals again and just being together, not necessarily “doing” together. Work not only on your kids’ brains during this time, but also their hearts. This is the real work of homeschooling, not just a by-product. This is important no matter your method of education. What you put into practice now could be long-lasting habits that will benefit your family.
When your kids go back to the classroom, they will have to find their school sea legs again. It will be a bigger adjustment than just sending them back to school after a summer break. You experienced the adjustment coming home, and there will definitely be one going back. Then again, you might discover over the next few months that this is a lifestyle you enjoy and is a benefit to your kids. You just might choose to continue homeschooling when you are given other options.
No matter your current situation, you need to batten down the hatches, sail the seas before you, and adjust the sails as needed. There will be good things that come out of this on the other side even though it may not look like it now. Keep in mind you are raising future adults who will be productive members of society and in the end that is the ultimate destination. Not whether they aced their multiplication tables in 4th grade.
Stay strong, captain! You can do this!