It’s no secret we home educate our children (even though I did wish I could do it “undercover” when I first started). And if you know me in person, you know how passionate I am about homeschooling and education and lifelong learning in general! I have shared things on Facebook to help families who are unexpectedly facing a lot of time together at home over the next while as we comply with government recommendations to socially distance ourselves. But, parents, this is not the time to do school-at-home! Academics is not what you need to work on right now. First, let’s focus on learning to coexist in such close proximity without losing our minds!
I have seen some hilarious memes floating around Facebook lately related to homeschooling and this pandemic. And as a homeschooler, I find them funny; but I’ve tried to resist the temptation to share them in my Facebook feed…because I remember how terrified I was as PJ and I were contemplating this homeschool lifestyle. I clearly remember being very worried about what it would be like to have my kids at home with me ALL.DAY.LONG. It scared me! Turns out, it wasn’t the earth-shattering adjustment I thought it would be; but the point is, I remember how it felt.
And I feel for parents who suddenly find themselves scrambling for childcare, figuring out how or if they can work from home, worrying about the health of aging parents and grandparents, wondering about their investments and if they’ll even have a job to provide for their families by the time this worldwide crisis is over. Parents, you are juggling so much. Please don’t add to your stress by trying to replicate some form of school at home right now.
So if you’re curious about what our family has discovered over the past six years as we’ve learned to spend a lot of time together under the same roof, keep reading…
Will they survive each other?
Aside from your fears of how you will survive with your kids underfoot 24/7, you’re probably worried about how they will survive one another. There might be a fair number of sibling squabbles in the beginning, but believe it or not, I have noticed that my kids get along better now than they ever did before we started homeschooling. They do get used to being around each other. Hang in there. You might be refereeing a lot right now and in the coming days, but if this whole social distancing thing drags on for awhile, they will adjust. They won’t really have any choice. It will get better. They will get used to each other. They will learn to coexist better than they are right now.
A clean house? Let the dream die
Another thing you’ll probably notice is how impossible it is to keep a tidy house now that you are all spending so much time there! The dream of a clean house was one that had to die when I started homeschooling. But the good news is that you have a few more helping hands around now. So if you’re okay with a job being done but not necessarily to perfection, recruit your kids. Don’t pay them! Don’t bribe them! Talk to them honestly about the need to work together as a team. You are a family. I know this doesn’t happen overnight, but routine and consistency are your best friends! When your kids know what’s expected when, you will meet with a lot less resistance. This might be a good time to teach them how to do their own laundry. Each of our girls has their own day of the week when the laundry room is all theirs. Maybe you can appoint a different child as a “kitchen helper” for each meal of the day. They can help you prepare the food, set the table, and clear and wipe down the table after you eat. I promise you this is all possible! There is no need for Mom or Dad to do it all!
Routine or free time? Both!
One of the things I most value about our lifestyle is the free time that our children enjoy. I have seen some amazing talents blossom in them as they have the time to explore their own interests. But, too much free time on their hands, and the atmosphere of our home goes down the tubes as they say! Routine has been my lifesaver over the last six years. So, although I would not encourage parents to try acting as teacher to their children, I would encourage them to implement some sort of routine. I try to keep mornings fairly structured and predictable and then give lots of free time to play after lunch. Incidentally, that is also the time of day I need some time to myself! My children are old enough now that I can go for a walk alone around the neighbourhood. When they were too young for that, we had an hour of quiet time everyday where everybody had to separate. They each had egg timers. I would retreat to my room to read or nap. Routine and free time are not mutually exclusive; make them work together for the sake of your sanity.
Find anchors in your day to build family culture
Maybe some sort of simple routine anchored to your mealtimes would be helpful. Christian families might want to read a Bible story at breakfast. You could read a fun poem each day, maybe choosing one to memorize together. Pick a hymn or a folksong (or both) to listen to on Spotify each morning. After a week or so, you’ll all be able to sing along. If you insist on something “educational” there are SO many wonderful living books on just about any subject you can imagine available online for free! Pick a book on nature lore or history or mythology. Here is a great website that has a lot of children’s classics. You can search by author, genre, reading level. Read a chapter a day, but remember to leave them wanting more! Suppertime is another chance to enjoy a good read aloud. Something lighthearted would be a good choice, given the current climate. We enjoyed some laughs together over Farley Mowat’s “The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be” and Richard Atwater’s “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” and Beverley Cleary’s Henry Huggins books and Robert McCloskey’s “Homer Price.” Reading together builds amazing family culture as you get to know the characters in these books. They become family friends that you talk and laugh about for years to come. Or maybe you’d like to dive into a series like Narnia by C.S. Lewis. There are so many lessons on courage and faith in those books.
Think beyond “Reading, writing & arithmetic”
If the thought of no formal schooling for weeks on end really bothers you, try to see the next few weeks as an opportunity to expose your kids to “subjects” they don’t have much time to explore in a typical school day. Get to know a famous artist or classical composer. Learn a new handicraft together. YouTube can teach you anything! Origami, crocheting, knitting, embroidery, simple woodworking. Plant some seeds in egg cartons or a yogurt cup…beans or herbs. It’s fun to watch things grow! Show your kids around the kitchen. Give them some tips on how to use sharp knives safely. Supervise them as they follow a simple cake or cookie recipe and enjoy the results together! Let them make a mess, and teach them how to clean it up. You can ask your older children to keep a journal. After all, this might be the “biggest” global event of their generation. How cool would it be for their children and grandchildren to have a personal diary of these days we are living in?!
If there’s one word of advice I have, it’s ROUTINE! Get your family into some sort of predictable routine, and you’ll prevent your home environment from descending into unmanageable chaos. Believe me, there will still be chaos. As I sit here typing this, there is LEGO spread all over every square inch of our dining room table and this week’s flyers spread out all over the living room floor along with bits of yarn and elastics and other craft supplies. Our house is lived in for sure! It’s messy most of the day, but emotionally it’s pretty peaceful. There may be outward chaos, but we have learned to foster an inner calm by using predictable routines anchored to certain pivot points in our day along with a heaping dose of free time. It’s a winning combination that’s good for the mental health of parents and children!