Families & the Community

Teaching Kids at Home During Coronavirus: Pro Tips From Homeschoolers

By Arianna Prothero — March 17, 2020 6 min read
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At Education Week, we write a lot about student well-being. But here we’re going to take a moment to address parent well-being—in particular those parents who now, with little to no warning, find themselves essentially home schooling their children.

An unprecedented number of schools are closed for several weeks, a period that could be extended. Tens of million of the nation’s K-12 students are out of school and parents are being asked to step in to support their learning. Even President Trump is urging families, when possible, to school from home. That’s a huge challenge. (See the latest numbers on school closures here.)

Some students are being asked to continue their schoolwork online. Others are on an indefinitely extended spring break.

So, what to do if you’re a parent who is trying to oversee your children’s schooling, in many cases while you’re being asked to continue your own work remotely? How do you make sure your kids are still learning, carve out time for yourself to work, find your voice as a teacher, AND keep somewhat sane?

There are people who do this every day—home schoolers. EdWeek reached out to some of them for pointers.

A lot of their advice comes down to one really important factor: changing mindsets.

How to Schedule Your Day

First, said Monica Utsey, a home-schooling parent in Washington D.C. who also works part-time as a tutor, contrary to a lot of advice she’s seeing online, she recommends ditching the regular schedules.

“Do not create your schedule around a school day,” Utsey said, whose oldest son is a home school graduate and is currently in college. Utsey is still home schooling her youngest son, who is 13. The family was featured in Education Week’s video series ‘Home Schooling in America’.

For example, if your kids are up late reading or playing video games, let them sleep in and give yourself that time to work. Then have a leisurely breakfast and start schooling.

“I think parents are worried too much about having a schedule,” she said. “Schedules are important when everyone has to be out of the house at a certain time.”

Utsey said if it’s overwhelming to try to work and keep your children on an educational task at the same time, then give dedicated time to each. For example, home school for an hour and then give yourself an hour to work.

Amy Leonard, a home-schooling parent in Washington state, makes time for her other responsibilities by frontloading the school day—doing the intensive subjects, like math, science, and English in the morning and leaving the afternoon for more self-directed work.

“They have had plenty of attention from me by that point, so they generally give me free time ... so I can work on running the household and fulfilling my responsibilities for my volunteer positions,” Leonard said in an email to EdWeek.

Don’t only focus on your children, either, said Leonard.

“I also think it’s vital to take care of yourself as a parent, get good nutrition, rest, and exercise,” she said. “I do yoga in the mornings before the kids wake up and generally go running just before dinnertime. It makes the rest of my day run more smoothly.”

See also: Home Schooling in America: A Special Video Series on Why Families Teach at Home

How to Balance the Parent/Teacher Role

Leonard said the first step is to remember that the parent-child relationship comes first.

“When I have butted heads with my children, and this is inevitable, I have found it important to back up on pushing academics and build the relationship,” she said. “Children are more willing to accept their parents in the role of teacher if they feel secure in that relationship.”

Leonard also said that she sees herself more as a facilitator than a teacher.

It’s a title and role that may sound a little less intimidating than teacher.

“I’m there to learn with them and help them answer their questions,” Leonard said.

Teaching is not a role that is as foreign as some parents are thinking it is, either, said Utsey. They should remember that in many ways, they are already teachers. “You are the first teacher and the most important teacher,” she said.

She also recommends trying to relax and see this time—as hectic as it may be—as an opportunity to spend time with your kids and be a bigger part of their education.

Adopting the Homeschooling Mindset

While some students and parents are getting direction and lessons from their schools, others are not. It’s not even clear in many cases how long schools will be shut down.

So, if parents don’t want to park their children in front of a screen all day, and they aren’t getting any guidance from their children’s schools, what can they do?

There are lots of online educational materials available for free, such as Kahn Academy, said Utsey, but there are also many educational opportunities that aren’t strictly lessons. It helps to be creative. Home education doesn’t have to look like regular school.

Utsey and Leonard like watching documentaries and listening to podcasts with their kids.

Leonard recommends starting an online book club, which she’s done with her children and their cousins.

Extended family and friends can also pitch in, said Leonard. Her mom teaches her children history and Spanish online. Their grandmother assigns homework and is available to answer questions on the phone.

Think creatively and lean into the moment, suggests Jen Garrison Stuber, another home-schooling mom in Washington state.

“Create art and music together,” she said in an email to Education Week. “Look up hygge [a Danish term that encompasses both the feeling and lifestyle of coziness and contentment] for ideas to make hunkering down in your house more fun. Write letters to distant relatives. ... There is so much to life that is learning that we often overlook when we’re in a “schooly” mindset.”

Inasmuch as there is one overarching philosophy shared among many home schoolers, it’s that the world is a classroom and that there’s not a strict dividing line between life and school.

“Read books together, discuss current events, listen to podcasts, really just include them in everything you do ... and grow your own interest in everything they are learning as well,” said Leonard.

Coronavirus Itself Is a Teachable Moment

Utsey said to remember that there are many educational opportunities to be found in current events.

“What’s going on in the world is very important part of our home school,” she said. “Coronavirus, we’re talking about that a lot. I’m reading the articles with him from the CDC and discussing things he needs to do to stay safe.”

Utsey said a dad in her home-schooling co-op is having his children do art projects on family ancestors who have survived past pandemics.

Finally, Utsey encourages anyone with questions to reach out to home schooling families for additional advice and support—she reckons they would be more than happy to help.

Most communities have at least one home-schooling support group, and there are also many online, particularly on Facebook.

“I would say reach out to a home schooler and make a connection that could last a lifetime,” Utsey said.

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Photo: Victor, 8, and Anna Laura, 5, studying at the kitchen table in their Seattle area home Thursday, March 12, 2020, after their school was shut down for weeks due to the coronavirus. (Natasja Billiau via AP)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.