#suddenlyhomeschooling post image

Hello! See that photo there? That was our first day homeschooling. More than 22 years ago.

If you’ve come here via Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or who knows where, welcome. Especially if you’re a parent who suddenly finds yourself home with your kids and that’s not where you planned to be.

Please let me introduce myself. You can read about me here. And about my family’s homeschooling story here. In a nutshell: I used to be an elementary school teacher. Then I homeschooled my three kids for twenty years. My teaching experience got in the way more than it helped. But homeschooling? Best decision I ever made.

I’m going to share the post that may have brought you here. It was quickly written and in no way complete. But it has some links to get you started.

Bottom line? This is a crazy time. Cut yourself some slack. Don’t worry so much about your kids’ education. Prioritize your relationship over academic progress. Have fun with them. Snuggle on the couch and read together. Even if that were all you were to do, you have no idea how much those kids would learn and grow.

If you have questions, leave a comment below! I love chatting with people in the comments. As evidenced here for almost twelve years…

P.S. to experienced homeschoolers: please chime in with a comment! Many experienced voices will be reassuring to new folks, and I know you’re with me on much of this.

From Facebook:

Hey all you people who are #SuddenlyHomeSchooling due to COVID-19, or know someone who is, please know that you don’t need to replicate school at home! Years ago I taught elementary school, and then went on to homeschool my kids for twenty years. I started off with daily schedules like the ones I’d written as a teacher, like the ones I’m seeing shared all over social media now. 

Don’t do it! Detailed schedules will only stress you out and create conflict between you and your kids.

My oldest set me straight pretty fast. I was not his teacher, I was his mother and he did not interact with me the way my students had. He did not do something just because I asked him to—imagine that! Trying to push him to do what kids do in school, on a school schedule, didn’t work. Even if I cajoled him to do something I wanted him to do, which he didn’t want to do, which he would set to like a grumpy old man, I began to wonder what he was really learning. 

He was learning was that he didn’t like math. Or writing. Or whatever I was trying to push that day.

I began to notice what happened at other times. When he was building a house from a refrigerator box, when he was drawing a ship from an Ed Emberley book, when he was telling a story about quokkas (a real animal—look it up!) and I was writing it down for him. When he was listening to me read from Frog and Toad. When he was playing pirates with his little sister. At those times there was a gleam about him. A focus that said don’t interrupt this. He was totally engaged.

You could also call it learning.

I learned to chase that gleam. It was hard! I constantly worried that I wasn’t “doing enough,” that he would “fall behind.” But I began to see how much more he was learning when he was engaged. When he was playing. Playing is how kids are wired to learn—that’s why they play. I tripped up constantly, pushed when I shouldn’t have pushed. But luckily all three of my kids were vocal and opinionated and they set me straight. I learned to follow their interests, even the ones that weren’t “academic.” (Pokémon, Broadway musicals, Lego Island, baseball, Quidditch, gnomes, Batman, home movies with titles like Johnny Goes to Biscuitland. I could go on and on.) 

Here’s my advice to you: Don’t try to replicate school in your home. If your kids have packets of schoolwork they must complete, try to get through them quickly. Don’t let them take up your energy or become a source of conflict. Schooling at home is much more efficient than classroom learning; you don’t need to stretch it out for the length of a school day. You also don’t have to interact with your kids all day! Playing is good for them. Help them find things to do for stretches of the day that don’t involve screens—if you can pull that off, consider the day a success. Exploring interests on their own will help your kids become independent people. I had to learn not to feel guilty about leaving my kids to play and explore on their own for hours at a time—but I saw huge benefits in the long run.

Spend the time you do have doing things you enjoy together. There are lists and lists out there with suggestions—Melissa Wiley’s post is an excellent place to start: http://melissawiley.com/…/suddenly-homeschooling-dont-try-…/

I’ll focus on a few that were vital to my family. You’ll note the literary bent. ☺

* Read to your kids. Talk about what you’re reading. Fiction, nonfiction, all of it. There is nothing better for learning and family connection. Almost everything my kids learned about how writing and literature works was gleaned from books enjoyed together and casual conversation: http://patriciazaballos.com/2011/05/02/talking-literature/

* Ask them what they want to learn about and help them find resources. Help them brainstorm projects. It’s harder being confined at home, but there is so much available online. Most libraries are still offering audiobooks, e-books, and various streaming services. Let your kids learn about whatever they choose, even if it’s nonacademic and seems silly to you. The more they’re into it, the more they’ll learn. Also, the more independent they’ll be, which will free you up for your own work. (Be prepared to be humbled by how much “academic” knowledge they pick up from stuff you deem slightly ridiculous.) I’ve written lots of posts about child-led learning here: http://patriciazaballos.com/child-led-learning/

* Take dictation from younger kids—even kids who can write themselves. This could mean stories or nonfiction based on their interests. This is something that schools can’t do based on adult-child ratios but it has huge potential to help kids with their writing. It can also become a beloved shared activity. Take advantage of this time together and try it! I’ve written lots about taking dictation here: http://patriciazaballos.com/the-dictation-project/

* Play audiobooks. You can stream them from the library. Let the kids listen while they build with LEGO or embroider or stab toothpicks into play dough. Once upon a time I worried about such endless hours of passive entertainment until I began noticing my kids dropping words like “sodden” and “intrepid” into conversations. Audiobooks helped them develop ears for good storytelling and fluid sentences. They helped make writers of my kids. http://patriciazaballos.com/2010/07/16/audiobooks-anyone/

* Chase the gleam. Note the times when your kids are focused on something, so engaged that they don’t want to be interrupted. They might be studying Pokémon cards, dancing, drawing aliens, building a pillow fort, making cupcakes and narrating every action like a television chef. Whatever. Note what they’re doing. Ask them what they like about it (when they’re not in the middle of it!) Help them make more of this in their days. Watch where it takes them.

This is such a stressful time for families. You didn’t choose to homeschool; you may be trying to work from home. Worry less about what isn’t happening. Pay attention to what is. Don’t try to recreate school at home. This is a unique opportunity for your kids to have more say in their days, in what they’re learning. A unique opportunity for play and family connection to have more space in your life. Keep your focus there.

4 comments… add one
  • Nina Mar 19, 2020 @ 16:04

    So helpful, thank you!

  • Julia Mar 24, 2020 @ 7:52

    It’s great to hear your voice again! Thanks for the refresher and for reminding me to cultivate my kiddo’s wondering! Sometimes I get trapped in my quest to make routine – so important for my family – and I miss the delicious opportunities WITHIN my fine container. Its like remembering to add warm water instead of cold to make the dough rise. Now I’m looking forward to today! Thank you.

    • patricia Mar 25, 2020 @ 11:14

      Hi Julia! I’m so glad to know you’re still homeschooling.

      I love your analogy. Yes! Believe me, I can relate. I struggled with that the whole time we homeschooled. I got better at it over time, but it never totally went away. Keep adding that warm water! And thanks so much for saying hello.

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