Regardless of what kind of schooling your family does, COVID-19 has put a serious wrench in all our routines and educational plans.
Public school and full-time private school mamas and dads, I want you to know that what you are embarking on over the next month is WAY HARDER than homeschooling. For one, it was sudden and a complete surprise, and therefore way outside of your norm and routine. Two, you're having to implement a curriculum you didn't choose and aren't familiar with. You've had little to no prep time (mentally and emotionally, nevermind academically) to figure out completing education and having your kiddos home 24/7. Three, the schoolwork you are doing is having to be majorly overhauled in many situations in order to work it into an e-learning format. THIS IS SO HARD.
So while we are all adjusting to new normals here are our best tips and advice from a full-time teacher, to homeschooling Mama, to Head of School, and to university-schedule school.
2. 1. Do your best to avoid iPads, phones, and TV during home learning days (or AT THE VERY LEAST until schoolwork is completed). Obviously, this doesn't pertain to your child's electronic device used for e-learning. Based on many years of experience, you will have a MUCH harder time with attitudes, motivation, and work completion if technology is allowed to be used intermittently between schoolwork assignments for fun or babysitting. Just a show here and there, just a quick game here and there. It will ruin things! Trust me on this one!
2. Establish a routine! This is of UTMOST importance. The biggest mistake families make who come from full-time school to the university-schedule school (or even who move to full-time homeschooling) is treating "home learning days" as Saturdays or no school days. This is when your entire day goes out the window. Before you begin e-learning on Monday, have a chat with your kids. "This is not 'no school for a month.' Here's the school calendar showing us what days we are required to do our schoolwork via e-learning. On these days, we will get up and routinely run our school day until it is completed (see tips to follow). These days are treated just like the days you wake up to go to your school building down the road."
3. Be consistent! Force yourselves to be up and and ready to learn earlier rather than later. If it's past 9am and your people are still lounging around, you're going to struggle! Keep bedtimes normal. We HIGHLY suggest that all mandatory school work is done in the morning, sometimes extending into early afternoon, and then allow your kiddos to spend their free time however they want. Can this include technology? Sure. But, we can’t emphasize how much better our days home are when we don’t use electronics. (Myself included)! If you are new to this whole schooling at home thing, a great "ease your way into no-tech home education days" would be to restrict all TV and technology until all schoolwork is completed and they've done something non-screen for the afternoon. Save the show and iPad play until the witching hours when you're preparing dinner and winding down the day.
So, if my kids finish schoolwork by early afternoon and I'm trying to avoid technology overtaking the remaining hours until dinner and bed, what can we do?
1. Get outside. As I type this, it's snowing in Indiana, on March 14th. Classic. However, hopefully it won't last long and we'll have some better weather. At least the plus of coronavirus hitting when it did is that we are slowly moving into spring weather at the same time. What about your big kids? Yep, kick them outside too. Moving their bodies FOR AT LEAST 30 minutes a day is PARAMOUNT. If your big kid is too old for your fenced in backyard and swingset, have them go for a walk around the neighborhood, ride their bike, or even run on your treadmill. Get their bodies to move and everyone will feel better mentally and emotionally.
Ideas: Ride bikes. Build fairy/troll houses with rocks and sticks. Make an obstacle course. Take a walk. Put them outside and tell them, "Don’t come back in until I come get you." Don't take on the Mama guilt that YOU have to be outside playing with them and curating their fun. They are KIDS. Kids are supposed to play outside, be creative, and make their own fun. Use their time outside to take a breather for yourself.
2. Audiobooks. Instead of turning on the TV or handing your child their iPad after schoolwork is completed, hook up your blue tooth speaker and tell everyone to get a craft or project, find a spot to sit, and hit play. Yes, this works with big kids and teenagers too! Even if they think you're weird at first for making them "listen to a story." Access to audiobooks is free using Hoopla and Libby. There are also a lot of fun educational podcasts.
Ideas: Coloring, Legos, loom bands, play-doh, Pearler beads, drawing/painting, putting together puzzles.
3. Read Alouds. Pick a good book and make it a point to sit down and read aloud at least 10 minutes every other day. Don't feel pressured to do it every single day, because you won't. Instead, make it a goal to finish a certain number of read alouds before school resumes mid-April. It might be one chapter book, or maybe two. Your kids are NEVER too old to listen to you read.
Ideas: Your kids can do any of the audiobook ideas above while they listen to you read. What books? Where do I start? Check out The Read Aloud Revival website, Facebook page, and podcast. You'll find yourself incredibly inspired to bring back this lost art.
4. Art on KidsHub via YouTube. Yes, you need a screen but your kids are engaging with paper and pencil/marker. You can get creative and read a book and then lookup a subject from the book and learn to draw it!
5. Cook together, write friends, family members, and grandparents a real snail mail letter.
6. Stay positive. This could be the best opportunity to slow life down and connect with your kids without the hustle of activities taking your time away from one another.
The last word of advice- don't set yourself up for Mama guilt! Go into the next month with WAY, WAY less on your list of "all the amazing things we are going to do with our kids this month at home." It's so easy to see all the Pinterest and Facebook posts about fun, educational, and connected things to do with our kids, and feel an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt that we can't or don't want to do all those things. Those things do not make you a good or better Mom than the next.
When you resist the urge to curate a plan to do ALL.THE.BUCKET LIST.THINGS. you actually free yourself up to have the mental and emotional bandwidth to do SOME of ALL.THE.THINGS and not feel guilt about it.
So, outside of finishing required schoolwork, I suggest picking two things to focus in on.
Mine are simple: Be calm and read aloud. That's it! No crazy lists of ALL.THE.THINGS. we should do with our kids. Outside of getting the required schoolwork done, those are the only things at the must-do top of my list.
Goal #1- Be Calm. Be calm and control MY reactions towards my kids. Yes, they are going to complain more about school than usual because they are now full-time homeschooling and were not before. Yes, they are going to complain about being cooped up, and not being able to watch TV ALL DAY LONG, and yes, they are going to fight with their siblings more because everyone is out of their normal routine. But if I stop and control MY response and remain calm, I can handle all their crazy much better. (And check out the resources and podcast of Celebrate Calm. These will be a HUGE encouragement).
Goal #2- Read Aloud. In this day and age of Pinterest and social media posts about ALL.THE.THINGS. everyone is supposedly doing with their kids that is perfect and struggle free, it's easy to feel guilt that you aren't measuring up and that your kids are a literal hot mess. They aren't. They're humans, just like everybody else's kids. Don't underestimate the INCREDIBLE act of connection, relationship, and memories that surround reading aloud. Keep a running list pinned up somewhere of all the books you read, or color in a printable calendar for every day you read to your kids. It'll help you see that you really ARE doing much better than you think!
And more than anything- do not base your ability to home educate on e-learning!! E-Learning is the WORST indicator of anyone's ability to do anything with their kids. The worst. Just, keep that in mind. :)