4 Tips for First-Time Homeschool Parents During COVID-19

Studies show that the most common definitions of a “happy home” are a place where you feel safe (69%), a place where you can relax (64%), and a place where you can truly be yourself (57%). Today, a “happy home” is also a place for working, learning, socializing, and recreation because during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is simply no other place where we can safely do these things.

Restaurants, retail stores, offices, and schools are all shutting down as Americans are asked to stay home to slow the spread of coronavirus. But children can’t put their education on hold indefinitely, so parents are stepping in as homeschool teachers. Of course, not all parents feel totally equipped to facilitate learning, especially those moms and dads with full-time jobs.

Below you will find some tips for parents taking on this new role during a global health crisis.

Don’t Try to Replicate the Standard School Day

The primary reason parents should avoid recreating a typical school environment and schedule is because, especially if they’re also working full-time, they simply don’t have the capacity to pull it off. And that’s okay. It’s not realistic to believe you can simultaneously work from home and manage your children’s’ lesson plans. This is particularly true if you have multiple kids in different grades, all learning different things. Trying to replicate traditional school perfectly will lead to frustration, which is not conducive to learning.

Balancing work and your children’s education can be tricky. Experienced homeschool parents recommend helping kids with schoolwork when their own work schedule permits. For instance, if you start work later in the morning or in the afternoon, use the early morning for school. If you work earlier in the morning, help with schoolwork in the afternoon. Don’t try to do it all at once. Relying on videos, books, and other online resources is not a cop-out; these tools can be massively effective and give you the time you need to prioritize your other responsibilities.

Stick to a Schedule

You don’t want to replicate a typical school day, but you absolutely do want to establish a routine. Start the day at the same time every morning and have the kids go through their normal before-school routine — brushing their teeth, getting dressed, eating breakfast. Studies show that physical activity helps stimulate the brain, so if the weather permits, get moving outside. If you’re stuck indoors, find something active the kids can do in the house, like a fitness video game like Just Dance or Wii Sports. The CDC recommends 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days per week, so set aside at least half an hour each day.

Depending on your child’s skill level with time management, either let them design their own “school schedule” or give them a schedule that lays out the order in which they’ll tackle each topic. Regardless, make sure there is room in the schedule for plenty of breaks.

Guide, Don’t Teach

Remember, you are a parent, not a teacher. It’s okay if you don’t have all of the answers; it’s okay if you’re not an expert on every school subject. Your role is to facilitate and supervise to ensure your kids are getting the best education possible. So, don’t try to control each lesson. For instance, when you sit down to work on a math problem, have your child demonstrate how they would solve the problem first. Let them show you what they know. The methods you learned in school may be different than how teachers are instructing students today. Let your child show you how it’s done, and if they’re struggling, then you can feel free to step in and provide assistance.

If your children’s school has provided online resources and lesson plans, then you don’t need to worry so much about figuring out what your child should be learning. However, if you’ve been given the responsibility of creating a curriculum, stick to the basics.

Austin Boxler, a Social Studies & Science teacher at Davis Aerospace & Maritime High School, says, “Oftentimes, schools are moving at warp speed to cover all content in the curriculum, and lack the time to further assist students with fundamental skills. Use this time to work with students on the basics like multiplication tables, balancing equations, grammar, parts of speech, etc. Even if you are just refreshing the information, it should help ground students’ academic work.”

Branch Out

Homeschool parent Ruth Funk reminds parents that not all learning needs to be academic. She says, “The philosophy is, you take real life and then you turn that into schooling.” Many experienced homeschool parents take the same stance on education. For instance, Veronica Rouse turns meal times into lessons and reads aloud while cooking. Stephanie Hall Powell recommends gardening as an educational tool — one that teaches engineering or architecture. Even fishing, which had approximately 11.6 million youth participants in 2017, can offer an important lesson depending on how you frame it.

Boxler reminds us that, “Students also need to know how to cook, change oil, make small repairs, sew, do laundry, balance a checkbook, etc. Use this time to make sure students have the life skills they need when they are adults.”

Finally, keep in mind that we are living through something the world has never experienced before. This is new territory for everyone, and we are all trying to figure it out. No one expects you to be a full-time teacher, parent, and worker. As long as your children are happy, healthy, and learning, you’re doing your job.

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