“Wisdom is a way of seeing and knowing the same old ten thousand things, but in a new way.” – Richard Rohr
Homeschoolers all do this “homeschool” thing differently. While there is an inherent difference between homeschooling and school-at-home, it is the environment you set that will help your child most right now. Learning is happening in your home now, so aim to create a climate for its success. Based on conversations I have had with several friends and family members, I thought I would expand on a few ideas. Sometimes talking these things through helps.
You have probably received emails and/or materials from your school for each child by now, so you are ready to go. But some of my friends don’t feel ready. I have been asked, “What do I do if my 8th grader has been given only two hours of work a day?”, “My kids are complaining they can’t concentrate.” and “I have reluctant learners and I am giving up.” No-one expects you to become a full-on “homeschool,” but there are some things you can do to make your current scenario or situation the best it can possibly be.
Welcome to your new world of quasi-homeschool! Every school-at-home has different needs based on a range of factors: ages of students, whether one or both parents are working from home, the reluctance/eagerness of each child, for example.
Setting up a specific in-house school area shows your child you care about their success at home. It shows them you support what is happening (big changes!) and they have your attention. This is important. So the very first thing you can do to help your student(s) is to locate a work space. Find a desk or table with sturdy chairs and good lighting to designate as their new school-at-home learning space (beds ok for reading, but not the greatest for course work). Add a milk crate or file cabinet for organization and be close by so you can check in, if possible. In our house, Sophia has a desk in the living room, Oliver likes to work at the dining room table or kitchen island. Both move to other locations for reading, art and music, but the important thing is they each have a comfortable place where it is quiet and they can focus. After you’ve cleared an area for your student to work, you are ready to look at the big picture.
In the beginning, most home situations will probably fall into one of three scenarios:
Home-based Learning Scenario #1
Your teacher or school gave your child a work-load that is too small. This might happen in elementary or middle school and would not surprise me. Teachers know they are requiring work from their classes which represent a variety of home-life situations and they don’t want to overwhelm anyone. Some homes might not have internet or a child might have to share a computer with other family members. Some homes will have more support than others, so they probably will assign to a lower expectation level. If the required work your child has been given is too small a load, then supplement. Add in a typing course, online art, or extra reading time. Assign one documentary a day and make popcorn while enjoying the show. Schedule 15 minutes of P.E. in between every school subject. Your teacher wants your kids to advance during their distance learning time, but imagine how hard it might be for her to manage a large class remotely? As a parent, you have the right to ask more from your student if their school-mandated work-load is too little, but arrive at the daily schedule together. Be a team.
Though some might want more, three to five hours is plenty of school time for your elementary or middle-schooler*.
Home-based Learning Scenario #2
Your teacher or school gave your child a schedule that is too much. This might happen if your student is in high school and I would expect this. The question is, is it really too arduous? Probably not. High school is at it’s core, preparation for higher learning at the University level. High school students likely have an idea about online classes and might already be connecting with their teachers via email, zoom or other online forum. Your teen knows what they have to do. If the work seems too rigorous, then your teen should contact their teacher directly for help. Teens should know how to advocate for themselves. Your most important job, if you have a teen at home, is to check in with them, make sure they have what they need to do the coursework. It is not your job to learn AP Biology or brush up on your Trig from 30 years ago, you do not have to teach anything. Re-writing class structure to accommodate the needs of their students is what school teachers are trained for. Additionally, there are math resources available like Khan Academy and IXL Learning that have teaching components on every math level. If your teen cannot work independently, then there is no better time to learn then the present.
Four to six hours per day should be the minimum timeframe for high school at home (our high school days are about 6 hours long)*.
Home-based Learning Scenario #3
Your teacher or school has not given your child a schedule at all. Well, then you have a fun job to do. I would assume your kids are young with this scenario. Set your own schedule and be adventurous. Make up “School Hours” so it feels official! Set aside 2-4 hours per school day of activities and do them in any order*. Be loose, flexible and creative about the flow, but have a start, a middle and an end of the school day. Little kids tell time by their schedule and this act alone will create order in your home.
“It is the ability to choose, which makes us human.” – Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time
Apart from these scenarios, I want to get back to the reluctant learner. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I can tell you what has worked for us. I would try a little light bribery with whatever motivates. I remember years ago offering a new toy or a trip to Target when a book or workbook was finished. It worked. These are unique times. However, if your elementary or middle-schooler still will not obey a school schedule at home, then I would let it go. Negotiate instead a loose schedule of reading, watching documentaries, art, baking, play games. Be flexible and work on a new plan together so your expectations are in alignment. You can only do so much with the time you are given and making memories with your kids is more important than just about anything.
When applying new ideas, writer Julie Bogart reminds us to “Allow the transformation to come to you. Inhale, exhale. Be brave.” Even though this may not have been your choice, I hope you are able to appreciate the power you have to make a difference for your child and your family in your distance-learning setup.
*Note: The school hours I have have mentioned above are my own opinion and should be treated as such. We spend about 6-8 hours per day on school work, which is probably more than most home-schools. We don’t have nightly homework and don’t do school on the weekends, unless we have missed a day during the week. I record daily attendance as we are required by the State of RI to do the same 180 day minimum as everyone else.
For my boat-school friends, the title of this post is actually, Your Boat, Your School. 😉
Julie Bogart is the author of The Brave Writer online writing courses and the book, The Brave Learner. (link below)