As someone who has home-schooled her two kids, now 9 and 3, since the beginning, I have some advice for the newbies: Don’t overthink it.
Millions of anxious parents are worried that their children will fall behind academically. That’s a valid concern, but don’t bury them with what you think approximates the classes they’re missing. If you have any expectations of replicating your child’s classroom experience, throw them out the window. (Lysol them first, of course, and then throw them out.) It’s not going to happen. This is very hard for you. It’s even harder for the kids. Getting the same sort of classroom focus at the kitchen table is impossible to begin with. But children suddenly kept out of school on a snow day that could last two months are going to be especially distracted.
Your children will miss their friends. They can’t participate in sports and blow off steam. They’re probably still in a bit of shock, and they’re scared by the nonstop coronavirus news. Their teacher might not like it, but consider giving the kids a few days off to recover from the massive change.
The difference between regular home-schooling and home-schooling in the time of social distancing is that a lot of the usual options for sweetening the education experience have been canceled. I did the math, and my 9-year-old daughter spends 20 hours a week outside the house going to music lessons, dance class, sign-language club, soccer, karate, labs at the science museum and Hebrew school. We also participate in group field trips with others in the community. For something called home-schooling, we spend a lot of time outside the home.
Don’t worry about the house. It’s going to be a mess because it’s going to be lived in a lot more. I have two tornadoes in my house who thought it was a good idea to play badminton in the living room last night. Luckily, in home-schooling households, the only part that you actually have to keep clean is the little bit that shows up on the webcam behind your kid during online learning. My daughter’s karate school is doing live-streamed classes now, so make sure anything breakable within kicking distance is moved out of the way. I learned that the hard way. Sorry, Grandma’s flower vase.
Home isolation is a good opportunity to teach your children basic life skills they won’t learn in traditional school. Teach them to disinfect and wipe down surfaces, mop the floor, cook their own meals and do laundry. It builds character and you get a clean kitchen. My kids have been working in the garden planting seeds and turning compost. When society collapses, they’ll know how to feed themselves. It’s comforting.
Screen time is your friend. There are a ton of educational apps, documentaries and other online offerings by professionals who are better teachers than you are. My daughter is already on an online video-based curriculum for her regular subjects. (It’s called Power Homeschool and it’s fantastic.) She also takes online classes on Outschool and the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education. And don’t feel guilty if the kids spend time watching cartoons. Take a nap. Put a hat on the dog, pretend it’s a person and talk about your day. It’s fine. Disney Plus can babysit for a minute.
It can be hard for younger kids who aren’t on social media to connect with peers. Try to set up an online play date with their friends. Do the same for your socially distancing self. Grab some wine and FaceTime some pals. Show them your dog’s fancy new hat. Do your best not to go stir-crazy.
Let your kids get bored. Let them spend hours playing with Legos. Let them read comics. Let them draw pictures all day. So much is beating up the world right now; don’t go beating up yourself. It’s going to be okay. Your kids are going to be okay. Algebra will happen eventually.