3 Tips for Homeschooling When You Have No Other Choice

Kristi Pahr

Some families know from the start they'll be homeschooling families. Some families decide after realizing traditional classroom learning isn't working for their child that they'll be homeschool families. And some families are forced to become homeschool families when a global pandemic strikes and schools across the country shut down.

Most of us are in that third boat right now and, if we're honest, we're not handling it well. We're working from home and trying to manage the logistics and isolation of self-quarantine, all on top of doing our best to provide at least a little education for our children. We didn't ask to be here, we didn't want to do this, but here we are. And for lots of us, honestly, it sucks.

Now, if we're being honest, what we're doing right now, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, isn't really homeschooling, it's crisis-schooling, and that's a whole different beast. True homeschooling provides the freedom to go places, to integrate museums and trips to the zoo, into the daily curriculum. It's co-ops and classes away from home. This is not that, not by a long-shot, but again, here we are, so we're trying to make the best of it and do what we can.

So how do you handle being forced to homeschool when you never wanted to? How do you make it work under such extraordinary circumstances? Here's what the experts say.

1. Don't Stress About Quantity

If, like many districts, your school district has sent home what feels like a metric ton of work for your child to complete, don't stress and don't try to do it all. Many districts have switched to a pass/fail grading system and have relaxed rules about progression to the next grade level, so chances are, your child won't be held back for not completing every single math problem on their assignment list.

"Parents of young children should treat distance learning as more of a menu instead of a schedule," says Nermeen Dashoush, Ph.D., early childhood education professor at Boston University and chief curriculum officer at MarcoPolo Learning. "Pick and choose activities from different content areas that your child is excited about and can do without stress, and this means not forcing your child to participate in academic activities for the length of a school day."

For young children, preschool-age through early elementary, school is designed to promote social interaction as much as learning. "Almost everything about school for young children was designed

to leverage the benefits of direct social interaction with peers, as this is a pivotal age for learning social interactions and learning from one another," explains Dr. Dashoush. "Parents and teachers need to acknowledge the limitations and use distance learning as a way to simply make sure that young children know that their teacher and their classmates are well and a means to stay virtually connected with their peers."

2. Let Them Be Bored

There's no need to fill every moment of every day with activities for our children and end up burning ourselves out. This is the perfect opportunity to let them learn what it feels like to be bored which gives them the freedom to use their imaginations in coming up with ways to entertain themselves without adult involvement or direction. "In a society where parents are expected to work like they don't have children and parent like they don't have work, we are now dealing with a third layer: teach like you don’t have either," explains Dr. Dashoush. "None of this is realistic, sustainable, or healthy."

Dr. Dashoush recommends leaving ample free time, unstructured time throughout the day. "The best thing parents can do in this situation is to leave gaps in the day.  Parents should not feel like they need to replicate the school day or fill in every second of their child’s day. Leave gaps, let them decide what they want to do, let them discover boredom and play."

3. What About Backslide?

Just like the infamous "summer slide", many parents are worried that their children will lose academic ground during school closures, but educators are preparing to tackle it when school resumes. For parents teaching at home, the focus should be on quality time, not rigorous academics, or stressing over keeping children up to the educational standards of more normal times.

"Academic skills are important," explains Laura Morgan, mom, educator, and head of school at Stratford School in Sunnyvale, California. "But more important are the skills children are learning now: resilience, autonomy, independence. Those are life long skills, so encourage children to do for themselves rather than trying to do it all for them."

"The question should not be if our children are going to fall behind, but do schools have [a plan] in place to meet their learning needs no matter where they are in their development," says Dr. Dashoush. "When most schools closed there were approximately three months left of the school year. If you consider the whole life of a person and the many years of formal education, there is no such thing as being 'three months behind.'"

The Bottom Line

The most important thing for parents to remember is that you are not super-human. You cannot give 100 percent to everything on your plate right now, nor should you try. Give yourself breaks, give yourself time to regroup, and most importantly give yourself some slack. Love on your kids and love on yourself. These are unprecedented times and no one should expect perfection.