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This week Brian Kemp issued an executive order requiring all K-12 schools to remain closed until the end of March. That order has since been extended to April 24. Many parents who have never considered homeschooling are now finding themselves with students who have no other option but to school from home. Homeschool mom LaSha Ackerman has some advice for parents who are about to manage their kids’ education.
It’s going to be different
Do not try to replicate public school at home. That will only set you up for failure. It’s like trying to drive a school bus as your family vehicle. Yes, you could do it, but why? Schooling from home offers much more flexibility than public school so take advantage of that to really spark your child's interests. Don’t worry about not having a desk or other school-type furnishings. Kids learn just as easily at a kitchen table as they do at a desk.
Set a routine, create rituals
Rhythms and rituals can help your kids feel stable and secure during this time of general upheaval. Create a very loose schedule that you can stick with to maintain a rhythm for your kids' days. Simple family activities like eating breakfast together can help reduce anxiety about everything else happening in the world, which therefore makes it easier for kids to learn. Even with older students or kids of mixed ages, having a "circle time" in the morning where you talk about what they learned the day before and share something interesting for them to think about (like a poem or quote) can be a very edifying and encouraging ritual to start the day.
Follow your kid’s cues
Move at your child's pace. Unless they have online classes that require them to participate for a certain amount of time, try to let them move through the material at their own pace. Take lots of breaks if they are working on something particularly difficult. Just like adults need to clear their head when working on something arduous, sometimes stepping away from difficult material for a few minutes is the best way to help them learn it. There aren't 20 other students to account for, so skip it if it's too much for that moment, and come back to it later on in the day with a clearer head or after a snack.
Be willing to learn
Use this time to really really get to know your kids, and encourage them to use this time for them to better know themselves. One of the things I learned about my daughter when we started homeschooling is that she is naturally a night owl like both my husband and myself. When she was in public school, it was difficult to get her to read for 20 minutes a day. Once she no longer had to get up at 6 a.m., and could go to bed later, suddenly she would read for hours and hours in the evening. Find the rhythm that works best for your child. Working with your child's strengths will make everyone happier, and will encourage them to learn.
It’s not a vacation
Make sure to plan something fun for every day, but remind them that this is not a vacation. There are a ton of great resources for educational games, both online and in real life, that are both educational and fun. Many online subscriptions are free right now due to the pandemic so take advantage! Learning things like multiplication tables is so much easier when it's a game rather than rote memorization. Take every opportunity to make learning fun.
Fresh air is the best air
Go outside! I really can't stress this one enough. If your own backyard isn't inviting, pack up your Chromebook or a couple of textbooks and head over to the Elachee Nature Science Center. Practicing spelling words is so much easier when you're writing them in the dirt with a stick. Kids are also more prone to eat healthier when you're out on a trail and there are no other options available like there are at home, so make sure to pack some carrot sticks and granola. The fresh air and exercise will do everyone some good, and as long as you stay at least six feet away from other hikers you're not likely to put yourself at increased risk of illness.
Your school is still there to help
Take advantage of your school’s website and don’t be afraid to seek help for any technology related issues from your school’s I.T. department. For many parents this may be the first time you’ve ever had to help your child log on for online distance learning, and navigating the myriad links and log-ins can be confusing at first. Don’t shy away from seeking help if you need it. If your child primarily does schoolwork via an electronic device, try to encourage using breaks to do something without a screen. Students who use their break times to watch a show or play an online game may actually feel more fatigued when they go back to their learning device. Use activities like painting or practicing an instrument to unplug whenever possible.
Online resources for parents and kids
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Behold, the internet
When all else fails, Netflix and YouTube can back you up. Perhaps the weather isn't cooperating, you've got work you need to do, or you personally are ill: There are hundreds of educational shows and videos available on nearly every subject you can think of. Do make sure to closely monitor what your kids can access, though. Don’t forget that you can use your library card to access a wide variety of ebooks and videos, as well.
Homeschool moms are right there with you
Know that what is happening right now is not what homeschooling generally looks like. The vast majority of homeschoolers do not actually stay home very often at all. Mine is a fairly average homeschool family and we are out of the house every single day. My kids participate in activities with multiple homeschool groups, visit the library on a regular basis, play sports, do Girl Scouts, go to church, etc. Staying home and socially distancing ourselves is as much of a completely new experience for homeschoolers as it is for public schoolers.
The biggest advantage homeschoolers have right now is that we already have a foundation of daily rhythms and rituals to work with and build. Our kids are missing their friends, co-op teachers, libraries, clubs, and gym time as much as public school kids are. We're all in this together, though, so even though my kids and I are not the most vulnerable demographic, if forgoing our normal activities can help flatten the curve even a little then it is a sacrifice we are happy to make.
LaSha Ackerman is a mother of two, and has been homeschooling for three years. She owns Waldorf and Wonder Workshop on the Gainesville square and teaches nature journaling classes in her spare time.