I thrive on normality and routine; the mundane is my comfort zone. Because I enjoy predictable days and the ability to plan, the sudden changes to our routine this past week have been a challenge. We have all been affected by the events happening around the world—but as Christians we have a unique opportunity to respond well. In uncertain times, we can demonstrate peace and confidence because of our faith in a good, sovereign, all-knowing God. This is a gospel-sharing opportunity for those who don’t yet know this, and a gospel-living opportunity for those we share our days with.
This piece, written by a fellow homeschooling mom, is for those whose disrupted routine now involves the task of schooling their children at home. I love how she highlights that homeschooling allows us to reflect our priorities in our daily lives. Even if you are counting down the weeks until your children can return to school, take advantage of this time to build your days around what matters. Establish a Bible reading plan; read a devotional; answer hard questions; have long conversations. As you work with them on their schoolwork, show them how all their lessons are ways of discovering God-given order, truth, beauty and goodness. Perhaps some of these habits will last long after the normal schedule returns.
As a mom familiar with the joys and challenges of homeschooling, I can attest to what she says here. Don’t aim to just survive—though some days will fall into that category! Look for ways that this time can be life-changing for your family. And even if you are not in the category of ‘sudden homeschooler’, I encourage you to read and consider ways to help those around you. May these ideas prompt you to rely on Christ and joyfully redeem this unexpected time.
Advice for the sudden coronavirus homeschooler: a humble offering of things that have helped me, often learned from others
—from Hawley Schneider
I am a mama to four kids, and I once had them in school and savored those times away, and then chose to remove them to homeschool. Their friends primarily attend traditional schools, so I am getting requests from those who have been quarantined or had schools cancelled asking how they can successfully embark on this new adventure/requirement/emergency. I’ll share some advice, tips and thoughts publicly in the hopes of encouraging and exhorting my fellow parents who are newly and perhaps reluctantly or fearfully embarking on homeschooling.
What is being done currently by parents around the world, as most of us shelter in place, is what I have heard aptly referred to as ‘crisis schooling’. It isn't homeschooling as it might have been before COVID-19, largely due to the lack of ability to socialize, choose or plan for it, to play at parks or playgrounds, and to visit museums, science centers, libraries and other public resources. This makes what everyone is doing extra challenging—even for veteran homeschooling families. It is a time for grace, for your kids and for yourself. It's a time to embrace what is working and lower some standards. It's a time when many parents aren't just trying to figure out educating from home, but working from home too. I exhort you to strive to saturate your mind with Scripture, like Philippians 4:6-7, for it is for times such as this that we are to cast our cares on him who cares for us and to submit ourselves before him.
Homeschooling is like parenting. Some days will be amazing and you’ll be so grateful; other days you’ll wonder what you were thinking or why you have to endure this. Keep in mind that your kids may feel the same way. Some days you’ll thrive, and others you’ll simply survive. Whatever the day, don’t do it alone. Even if you’re quarantined, you have the ability to call or text friends and family for support, or have your kids FaceTime.
I am a broken person in need of a saviour and who finds their hope and blessed assurance in Jesus Christ—and homeschooling only underscores for me my need for Jesus’ forgiveness, mercy and hope. I do not homeschool because I have the patience of a saint (I don’t, and neither do you), or because I am uniquely qualified (I don't have a teaching degree, though I do know my kids better than anyone), or because I love it every day (spoiler alert, I don’t). Being on your knees before God, asking for his help and mercy is a surprisingly beautiful and powerful place to be.
I homeschool because it is 80% character building (for my kids and for me and my husband) and 20% academic. I homeschool so that we have time and ability to reflect our priorities in our daily lives—like reading the Bible and worshiping God together daily, and growing in a deep relationship and friendship with one another—and I homeschool because it affords us a lot of opportunities and joys that one doesn’t have in a traditional school setting.
So, here are some tips for those of you suddenly homeschooling.
- Spend time outside every day, no matter the weather. It doesn’t have to be long. Have your kids play in the mud or splash in the rain, throw snowballs or go on a walk. It will be good for everyone’s health! If you really can’t manage much, stand on a porch or balcony or open a window for ten minutes.
- Limit screen time. Use screens very sparingly and only after completing tasks or as a last resort. At least for us, screen time almost always results in kids who bicker and fight afterwards, and are generally less happy than before. When possible, redirect them to educational or uplifting screen activities (see resources below).
- Build forts, play games, complete puzzles, or read aloud as the kids color and build with legos, etc. Find focused activities.
- If you or your kids are grumpy, change it up. Eat a snack. Drink water. (Parents? Have some coffee!) See step 1 again.
- Know you have two responses available. When you want to respond negatively, ask yourself what you want to say/do that you know isn’t great. Then ask, “If I were the parent I want to be, what would I say/do?” Try that response instead. Consider how you would feel if someone said that to you, or what might be going on in your child, and try to respond the way you would want to be treated. Apply the golden rule here. Children are people, too.
- Try to find joy and opportunity in this extra time with your kids. What do you enjoy? Share it with your kids. What do they enjoy? Try to share in their enjoyment and come alongside them. Take time to see, respond and be present with them in a way you may not have been able to before.
- If you have multiple kids, encourage them in their relationships and friendships. You might even consider small payments as rewards for gracious, kind play with a sibling.
- If your kid asks you any question, run with it! Look up how bridges work, make a meal from a country they’re curious about, find out more about plants in your yard or area, research why birds sing and how their songs differ. Whatever they’re curious about, take it seriously and add on to it!
- Set clear boundaries and a routine—especially for eating. If old enough, have your kid contribute with washing dishes, clothes, cleaning up, etc. If they don’t know how then teach them!
- Try not to whine. Yes, you. Your kids will whine at times. It helps if we catch ourselves when we’re having an attitude because our kids will reflect it back! Try to have a positive outlook and encourage your kids rather than nag or belittle them with your frustrations/disappointments. I'm currently struggling with this myself, but it helps to name it.
Since some of you will need to continue teaching your children, you may like some helpful things to do so. Here are some things we use and enjoy at our home.
Xtra Math: Drills for math facts. We are striving to do this about ten minutes a day. Currently my kids are bad at it; that’s why we are doing it! Free.
Happy Numbers: Like a video game where your kids get fun visual rewards of special creatures hatching from eggs and revealing new planets for having completed math practice. It adjusts based on where your student is academically and repeats in new ways when they aren’t understanding a concept to help make it more clear. Free if you sign up as a teacher or if you get a login provided from your school.
SeTerra.com: A fun, interactive geography game with quizzes so your children can play and learn about the world. Free.
Modern States: Older students of any age (but geared towards the more advanced) can study a variety of courses taught by college educators for free—and even earn college credit!
Your online library: If you aren’t quarantined, put a bunch of books on hold at the library and pick them up. If you must stay home, find out more about your local library’s offerings. Apps and programs like Hoopla and Libby will allow you to have picture books read aloud on a computer to your kid or give you access to movies, ebooks and audiobooks. You might even want to call them to find out all that they have to offer. They are a treasure trove for the homeschooler! Read books aloud together or have audiobooks read aloud for you all. For little book lovers, try Tumblebooks from your library.
Busy Toddler: If you have a little or little ones at home, this is an amazing resource. The mama who runs it is funny, charming and down to earth. She shares very simple and engaging ideas for activities for your kids that use things in your home already or can be acquired very cheaply. Free resources on her website and Instagram account.
The Good and the Beautiful: This curriculum has free samples you can complete and there are also free PDFs for levels 1-5 available to print at home. My kids love it and so do I! (They asked me to make sure I include this resource.) Can be free, but also currently 15% off pre-printed resources!
Google Lens: This free resource lets you look up what a plant is by taking a picture of it. Have your kids use it outside to learn more about the plants nearby. Free.
Art for Kids Hub: This YouTube channel offers approachable, simple art instruction from a father and usually his son. Grab some paper and a pen or pencil and enjoy! Free.
Cosmic Kids Yoga: Videos on YouTube with imaginative storytelling through body movements. Fun for younger and low elementary aged kids. Free. If your kids are too old for this, try looking up YouTube video exercises for stretching, yoga, or other workouts.
Cooking and baking: This offers so many practical benefits such as math and relational learning as you work together, and underscores the importance of following directions. Prepare meals with your children if you’re up for it. It can be fun—and then you have food to eat!
Cuddle and show affection: This is one of my kids’ favourite thing to do. I’m not a physical touch person, really, but think of how you all understand love best and try to show it.
Tea time: Offer your kids tea or a fun snack/drink mid-afternoon and enjoy listening aloud to an audiobook or reading aloud. Maybe even do so on a blanket outside or on your living room carpet.
Humour: Get silly. Write jokes, read jokes, act like a fool or throw a dance party. Sometimes we all just need to let loose and find a way to savour or shift the mood of the day.
If all else fails, think of what you’d like to do and do that instead (within good reason, of course). If you’d like even more ideas, I’ve got some. Forgive me for any errors, please, and forgive your kids and yourself, too!