The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Homeschooling feels really hard. That’s because it is.

Teaching your kids well takes a lot more thought and effort than the coronavirus may be allowing.

A school in Hertford, Britain, is closed as the world tries to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Parents are suddenly trying to teach their kids at home, often while juggling their regular jobs. (Andrew Couldridge/Reuters)

You never thought you’d spend a single day home schooling, yet here you are: facing an unknown number of weeks at the helm of your child’s education.

But it’s not like 2nd grade math is rocket science, right? How difficult can this be? The kids will keep busy with their schoolwork, you’ll be able to get your own work done and this will all be fine.

And yet, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that managing school while working from home isn’t going quite so smoothly for most parents in school districts that have closed, even just a week or so in. There’s a lot to be done, after all: Parents have bills to pay and work to do and household duties they’re responsible for — and every time they get online or peek at the news, they’re reminded we’re living in an unprecedented time. It adds up to a fair amount of stress, and the fact that that 2nd grader refuses to sit and work on that math-that’s-not-rocket-science isn’t helping matters at all. How will it be possible to keep this up?

I’ve been home schooling my kids for a dozen years, I work full time from home, and I know: It feels impossible. But it’s not impossible. It’s just hard.

For one, it takes thought and care. If parents were choosing to home-school their kids, they’d likely have set some time aside to learn about methods, curriculum and workable home-school schedules. It’s what we do when we leap into a new, meaningful project: We prepare. But here, no one got enough advance notice to do that. So parents can’t expect to leap in and nail it from the get-go. There’s a learning curve here — for new home schooling teachers and their new pupils, and for the classroom teachers who threw weeks or months of lesson plans into new distance-learning formats in a matter of days.

Five myths about home schooling

So now parents are leaping into this without signing up for it, and feeling unprepared. They aren’t teachers. (Or maybe they are teachers, but teaching their own kids at home looks nothing like what teachers do on an ordinary Tuesday in the classroom.) None of that really matters in this particular circumstance. Just by being a child’s parent/guardian, parents are exactly the right person for this job. And learning at home can be an excellent way to give kids a rich and robust education.

These first few weeks are just a start, and even veteran teachers experience a transition time at the beginning of each school year. The teachers in my own family tell me that those first few days (sometimes weeks) of each new school year always feel a little wobbly. Everyone’s wiggling around a bit, trying to find their groove.

Most parents who are suddenly thrown into home schooling now do have one useful experience this is similar to: those early days when their children were newborns. Parenting seemed utterly overwhelming in a state of constant sleep deprivation — too new, and too difficult to figure out what to feed them when, when to worry about a fever and how on earth you’d get more than two hours of sleep at a stretch.

That’s the territory many parents are in now, too — especially the ones who are also now suddenly working from home and may be juggling a regular workload with the added pressure of interruptions every five seconds (perhaps in the form of small people with a knack for interfering during important calls and keeping you from your inbox).

Expect difficult days. Kids will resist. Parents will feel like they have more to do than time to do it in — and they’ll probably be kind of bad at it. There’s a new relationship dynamic to adjust to, as well, as kids aren’t used to seeing their parents as “teachers.” Adapting to these new roles will take some time on everyone’s part. But having these problems isn’t the problem. Having these problems is the work.

Over 2 million families home-schooled in the U.S. before covid-19 entered the scene and made learning at home the new norm for most of America’s students. We home schooling parents have been creating lesson plans, sharing strategies and finding workable solutions for learning at home for years — we already know it’s hard, and we’ve worked to make it easier. If we didn’t have to practice social distancing, I’d recommend joining a local co-op or home-school group; most home-schoolers I know participate in offerings from local museums, art centers, recreational facilities and zoos. That’s not possible right now, but there are still answers and camaraderie online. There’s no shortage of home schooling blogs, podcasts, forums, and online communities for every style of home schooling parent. Some of these communities are quite large, and many — like my own community at Read-Aloud Revival — serve families all over the world.

Stumbling along until you get it right is the story of home schooling. That’s how it works, whether you’re home schooling temporarily or you’re in it for the long haul.

Homeschooling during the coronavirus will set back a generation of children

I began home schooling when my oldest was kindergarten-age, and I hungrily devoured everything I could find on the subject. I had the benefit of choosing to home-school, of course, and the desire to read up on educational methods and philosophies. Still, I struggled, and worry was a constant companion. Was I missing something really important? How much time should we spend on each subject? How do I even know what I should be teaching?

A dozen years later, I now understand there aren’t hard-and-fast answers for any of these questions. It’s pretty much a given that we all want a great education for our kids. Worrying isn’t an indication that this won’t work. Whether you do it by choice or by pandemic, the truth remains: If home schooling is new to you, it will be hard. The fact that it’s hard doesn’t mean you’re not cut out for it, and it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it.

Nobody knows how long this will last. But parents can honor this transition time and give themselves the opportunity to get better at it a little at a time. That means showing kids what it looks like to be a beginner — and demonstrating how much we value them and their education, even (or especially) in times of crisis.

It won’t be easy. You won’t do it perfectly. There are difficult days ahead. But the time and energy we put into our kids right now will be worth every ounce of the gumption we can muster.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant. Here’s some guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

Variants: Instead of a single new Greek letter variant, a group of immune-evading omicron spinoffs are popping up all over the world. Any dominant variant will likely knock out monoclonal antibodies, targeted drugs that can be used as a treatment or to protect immunocompromised people.

Tripledemic: Hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of respiratory illnesses, staffing shortages and nursing home closures. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in coming months. Here’s how to tell the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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