By Beth Swan
Many parents are struggling with stress and anxiety amid the historic COVID-19 pandemic era as home education has been thrust upon them, forcing many to take career-altering steps back and drastically change their routines.
Focus on Connection
For homeschoolers, the change was less jarring because we were already enmeshed in routines in which our children can occupy themselves and pursue their own interests and skills. We have habits, tools, and rituals, but new homeschoolers have to discover and create them. This will take time and continuous adjustment. Be patient and have perspective. You are the expert on your children, and no one is more invested in them than you. Focus on the connection. What will matter most will be students’ mental health, their enthusiasm for learning, and their enjoyment and confidence in being able to use the skills they have acquired.
Prioritize inspiration, foster curiosity and creativity, and nurture emotional intelligence.
This time can be an opportunity for children to explore their own interests more deeply, create self-motivated learning habits, learn at their own pace, and take a break from the stress of external distractions that can drown out internal calls to action. Prioritize inspiration, foster curiosity and creativity, and nurture emotional intelligence.
Children can spend quality time with their siblings, parents, grandparents, and those that make up their isolation bubbles. Grow something! Enlist your children in helping with chores to teach responsibility. Cooking is an opportune time to practice reading carefully, measuring, fractions, chemistry, and the rewards of their labors. Children and teens can sleep according to their biorhythms.
Flexibility for Parents and Students
Homeschooling is a spectrum, from daily strict-scheduled lessons at a desk happening to unschoolers who take ownership of their learning and pursue their interests with abandon. It is a spectrum where most homeschoolers fall somewhere in between and is as eclectic and varied as the different types of people there are in every family. Some families have one child who thrives on structure, while another requires more freedom and agility. Learning style, whether visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc, is also specific to each child. Finding out what works for your family can take some experimentation, but allows for the gift of more specific educational paths.
In our family, we aren’t dogmatic in our educational path. We are secular, pursue some academic classes vigorously, and use a variety of tools, which include educational graphic novels, entertaining educational apps, excellent YouTube programs like GeographyNow or SciShow, or cultural anthropology resources such as PlanetDocs and Faces Magazine by Cricket. When one of my children asks a question, we sometimes spend a whole morning researching the history of China or paper-crafting a model of a seaside fishing village, for example. Long walks outside include looking up insects or plants and exercise. The world is our teacher, and the learning is continuous.
Take the time to see what ignites your child’s interest and feed it.
Notice what your children are interested in. Motivation is an amazing instigator of deep learning. Take the time to see what ignites your child’s interest and feed it. Homeschooling can be an active exercise not done during a set time, but throughout the days, every day, even throughout the summer, because teaching isn’t the goal – learning is. Watch as they take ownership of their education.
What About Socialization?
We are frequently asked, “What about socialization?” While I don’t have any magic bullets in this unprecedented time of physical isolation, we have enjoyed virtual programming, Zoom chats, VidHug, texting with grandpa, and online party games.
When we’re not living in a raging pandemic, I can safely say that socialization is a non-issue. We spend a lot of time playing with friends at playdates—some are educational group activities—but most are good old-fashioned fun. We go to the library and museums frequently, and they spend full days with their grandparents.
I highly recommend joining local groups. National and international groups can be a great way to connect to the wider community. Most groups actively offer support to new homeschooling families. They are a wealth of resources and provide an overwhelming cacophony of varied opinions, tools, styles, and personalities. Use local groups to ask specific questions or to check out others’ comments about particular learning tools.
Take Advantage of This Unusual Time in History
Be gentle with yourself. We all feel the loss of friends, classes, museums, zoos, aquariums, and public libraries keenly. The instability of not knowing how long this will go on for and what an endgame will look like is wearing. We are currently teaching one of the most valuable lessons of all, which is how to endure really difficult times.
Remember evolution favors “good enough.” Some days we watch a movie and eat ice cream or just take a long walk in nature because it’s incredibly hard right now. You don’t have to have all the answers—look for answers together. Try to be joyful in this opportunity.
As Aunt DeDe told us on the boys’ VidHug birthday video: “It’s wonderful to grow up in interesting times. It’ll give you stuff to talk about when you are old.”
- Khan Academy: Online videos, self-paced exercises, and tools for teachers in math, science, computing, history, art history, economics, and more.
- High-quality YouTube channels, such as SciShow, GeographyNow, CrashCourse, and the Amoeba Sisters.
- CK-12 Foundation: Free online textbooks.
- Free language resources such as DuoLingo.
- Your public library offers many resources, including other language resources, digital books and audiobooks, and documentaries.
- Hoopla: Borrow movies, music, audiobooks, ebooks, comics, and TV shows through your local library.
- Kanopy: Stream free movies through your local library.
- Museums, zoos and aquariums all have excellent programming and resources.
- Outschool: Take online classes and camps. Tip: Read the teachers’ biographies to determine if they have a degree or work in the field they are teaching. The site also provides tutors, including special education tutors, in several subject areas.
- Junior Ranger Programs at National Parks: Interactive and printable activities, as well as virtual tours. For some programs, the service will send students a badge when they complete certain activities.
Information on Getting Started and Navigating Local Homeschooling Laws
Facebook Groups to Consider Joining
- My unschooler is interested in
- Lists of resources based on the interests of your child. Search first as many have already been asked and there are valuable lists.
- Secular Eclectic, Academic (SEA) Homeschoolers
- An eclectic secular group that features academic resources and connections.
- Secular Homeschoolers of Massachusetts
- A secular group specific to Massachusetts that helps connect like-minded learners.
Beth Swan is a graphic and interior designer entrepreneur who specializes in nonprofits, conservation organizations, and public libraries. She recently won the Gloucester 400 Commemorative Medal Design Competition for the city’s 400th anniversary celebration. She is the mother of two boys and has been homeschooling them for more than a decade. Living through learning, they very much look forward to continuing to explore many interesting subjects together while supporting the natural unfolding curiosity of two active children and facilitating their many exciting educational adventures!