Welcome, everyone! Every day is a grand adventure these days, and if you have children, you’ve been forced into the amazing world of homeschooling because America’s schools are closed due to the Chinese COVID-19 pandemic. First, don’t panic. I’m a veteran homeschooling mom, even though I sent my kids to private school a couple of years ago. I have six years of homeschooling and working from home under my belt. Even still, I felt the same twinge of the panic I know you are feeling when I found out we were going to do it again. But don’t worry. Everything is going to be okay. You can do this and still get your work done and I’m going to help you with these very helpful tips.
6. Let them choose their own schedule
One of the benefits of homeschooling is the vast amount of freedom that comes with it. Want to stay in your jammies all day? Great! Don’t want to wake up until 10? No problem. Want to do science outside in the woods? Awesome. You see where I’m going with this, right? One way to get kids to cooperate with you and do what you need them to do is to list off everything that needs to be done today and let them choose the order they want to do it in.
And this can change every day! I find that allowing my 4th-grader the option to own her own schedule takes away a huge source of tension between us. All I have to do is make her a list of assignments and let her tackle them in her own time. So far, this is working great. She’s happily motoring through what she knows she has to do and has needed minimal help from me. (The teen disappeared into her room the second I came home with her supplies and said “thanks but no thanks” to my offer to help, so I guess I’m off the hook on that one.) But to limit the arguing, let them have a choice of what subject to tackle and in what order.
5. Netflix is a veritable goldmine
Did you know that Netflix has several series that are a learning bonanza, not to mention great TV? The many sweeping nature programs are awesome for any child studying life science. I plan on setting my kindergartner up on a schedule of these over our time at home. This gives him the screentime that he loves but also learning along the way.
Here are a few Netflix options that work great for learning entertainment: “Our Planet,” “Night on Earth,” “Oceans,” “The Universe,” “Natures Weirdest Events,” and “Dancing with the Birds,” to start. Once you select one of these, tons of related and similar shows will auto-populate as suggestions for you. Also don’t miss “Doomsday Preppers” for the older teens who might suddenly be very interested in learning some new skills. On Amazon, you’ll find “Mister Rogers,” which has every kind of learning for the young set, including the most important kind, emotional learning. And now is a great time to introduce classic musicals to your kids to supplement their music lessons. There are so many great ones available on streaming services. I suggest “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “The Sound of Music,” “Singing in the Rain,” and “My Fair Lady” to start.
4. Teach life skills
Besides the usual assignments, take this opportunity to teach some life skills. You have a kitchen, use it. Get your kids prepping and cooking each meal with you. Teach them to chop, measure, and use the stove safely. Even the youngest students can help in the kitchen. If we’ve learned anything from this current crisis, it’s that people need to be self-sufficient.
Teach them how to can food, make jam, or make bread from scratch (and if you don’t know, learn with them). Not only are these useful lessons but they can also count as math and science. Now is also a good time to teach them how to do laundry and learn some independence. If you have a sewing machine, teach them how to make something. Pillowcases are always a great starter project and for the younger crew, sewing on a button is great fine-motor practice. We made our own felt dolls with interchangeable costumes and it was so fun and easy. See YouTube for every kind of DIY video imaginable.
3. Utilize online free learning resources
Lots of online learning websites are offering temporary free access right now, including ABC Mouse, which has great learning games and lessons for all ages. Scholastic also has a program that is providing three hours of free learning per day! You can inquire about it on their website, which is experiencing some difficulty because of the high traffic but will be sorted out soon. PBS has a great website that has learning games that correlate to all your little one’s favorite shows and it’s always free. Most of the learning websites also have apps for iPads or tablets. Use them!
2. Send them outside!
Schools have very little time outside these days. This is your chance in the early spring with milder weather to get those kids outside to play and absorb some fresh air and sunshine. Send them out every day! It is proven that children need playtime for brain development. If you want them to learn as they play, then send them out on a nature hunt to find something interesting and draw and label it in a notebook.
Playing outside will enrich their minds and attitudes! Remember that it is tick season, so tie that hair back and put on a cap and long sleeves and pants and check for ticks on the way back in. Playtime outside will give you more time to get your work done as well. If you have children who need supervision outside, then go for a walk with them. The outdoors will do you good too. If it is raining, then get on YouTube and find an exercise video that is fun for kids and tell them to do it. They love those.
1. Set them up and walk away
I know what you’re thinking. “All that takes a ton of time and I need to work!” I know. But what you have to master is setting them up, giving clear directions, limiting distractions in the room, getting them started and then walking away. Go do your work. Then come back and check on them, set them to work again on a new project and walk away.
Kids old enough to write can make a list of questions they have instead of interrupting you and you can answer them when you come back to check in. Is there a read-aloud exercise that needs to be done? Have a reading child read to the non-reader. If a young child is supposed to practice reading aloud, have them read to the dog or cat or stuffed animal audience. This actually works. I’ve done it many times.
Limiting interruptions can also be done by setting up a snack area where snacks are accessible and easy to self-serve. Pre-packing lunches in the morning as usual and popping them in the refrigerator with labels is also a great time-saver so they can break when they want for lunch without interrupting you. And don’t forget that homeschool takes way less time than regular school, where there are bus rides and waiting in line and shifting classes. At home, you get straight to the work and just get it done. It may only take two hours and that’s okay! Above all, stay cheerful and optimistic and try to have fun every day. I think you’ll find that this time together will be a time you’ll never forget.
Megan Fox is the author of “Believe Evidence; The Death of Due Process from Salome to #MeToo,” and host of The Fringe podcast. Follow on Twitter @MeganFoxWriter