After wrestling with the decision for weeks, you’ve finally decided to skip in-school instruction this year and homeschool. But for many parents, (many of whom were educated in a traditional school system) the transition to the role of teacher seems like a daunting one. If you’ve been wondering how to homeschool successfully, you’re not alone.
“I am certain that so many parents never imagined themselves here, choosing homeschool versus, well, public, private or charter schools,” says Shawn A. Hall, Founder, All Roads Education. And since you might be struggling with how to effectively educate your child and still get the 5,862 things you need to do that day completed, you’re going to need some strategies, momma. So take a deep breath, and read on to find out how to homeschool successfully, safely, and sanely.
1. Homeschooling Doesn’t Mean Being At Home
Sure, the name would suggest that your child is going to live (and learn) at home, but that doesn’t mean that you’re stuck inside all the time. “Homeschooling is NEVER about being home 24/7,” says Hall. “Parents should be prepared to think outside of the box and to see their entire world as a school because there’s learning all around us.” Of course, the pandemic might put a big crimp in your plans, but with some creativity, you can craft an education that includes indoor and outdoor learning.
2. Take Every Opportunity To Learn
One of the biggest takeaways from homeschooling is that there is an opportunity to learn at every turn. “Everyday errands suddenly become a field trip because it’s all about perspective,” says Hall. A quick trip to the supermarket can help your child understand ingredients and how they come together to make a meal. Or you might take a look at the food labels to determine which snack is healthy—and which one is not. By seeing your world in a new way, you will teach your child far more than they could have learned in a classroom.
3. Set Some Rules
Yes, you might be Mom or Dad first, but your kiddo still needs to respect you as their educational instructor. That’s why there should be some clear-cut expectations that both you and your child can abide by. “Set some rules for what the school experience will or will not be” says Hall. “Write down what you expect and have your child write down what they expect from you and what you can expect from them.” Now, the expectations might not match up at first, but it’s important that everyone’s voices are hear, and eventually, you’ll get on the same page.
4. Pack In The Playdates
Socialization (or lack thereof) doesn’t have to suffer when you decide to homeschool. In fact, you should still make friendships a top priority for your pint-sized learner. “Isolation doesn’t have to be a given,” says Hall, suggesting that parents form “social pods” in which everyone can get together in smaller groups. “Decide what the group rules will be regarding mask-wearing, social distancing within the group, and rules around what interaction will be like outside of the group.” Not only will the pod offer some much-needed socialization, but kids can learn from each other, too.
5. Use Tech To Your Advantage
As a homeschooling parent, you have the world at your fingertips. So be sure to use tech as part of your teaching materials. “Technology is your friend,” says Hall. “With so many venues online such as zoos, national parks, and museums, children can go beyond the confines of your homes and are only bound by your imagination.” Your child can write a story about what they’ve seen, or even draw a picture depicting their favorite part.
6. Include The Elders
Just because you’re homeschooling doesn’t mean you can’t recruit some help. And there’s no better teaching assistants than the ones who raised you. “Schedule some time for grandparents to talk to children via Zoom, Facetime, and even Facebook video if grandparents are international,” advises Hall. “Grandparents are walking history books and can provide great insight to children about the world they grew up in and how the world is now.” You can even encourage your kiddo to write a real letter (with a stamp!) to their grandparents, which can be a safer option in the age of COVID-19.
7. Make It A Celebration
Just because you and your kids are still in jammies doesn’t mean you shouldn’t jam when homeschooling begins. “Public schools often do special activities on the first day of school,” says Tiffany Andrews, a homeschooling mom of five. “Take pictures, eat doughnuts for breakfast, or craft a ‘First Day of Homeschool’ sign. Do something fun to make this new journey exciting for all involved!”
8. Set Realistic Expectations Early
Once you get into the groove of homeschooling, you might be tempted to tackle some major projects. But taking on the tuba might be too much for your toddler. “This isn’t time to take on learning five new musical instruments, 2 new foreign languages, and advance your kids 3 grades above age level,” advises Andrews. “This is time to ease into the awesome experience of educating your kids at home.”
9. Consider “Deschooling” To Start
If you thought that you had to make your homeschooling experience be identical to a traditional classroom, think again. “Many homeschool parents are products of the public school system ourselves, so it is natural that our initial view of homeschooling is usually a reflection of our own school experience,” says Mary Ann Kelley, publisher of TheHomeSchoolMom.com. “Although common, it can be a hindrance to making the most of homeschooling, which is not school at home and does not need to be.”
That’s why Kelley wants homeschooling parents to consider entering a period of “deschooling.” “Deschooling is a period of freedom in learning that allows both parents and their homeschooled children move out of the mindset of public or private school culture as the norm,” she says. “It’s a sort of break-in period while everyone figures out and gets used to the new normal.” You can take the time to explore interest-led learning by doing things like going on field trips in person as well as virtual, and participate in community projects as well. This can help your child (and you) celebrate the fun that can be had with homeschooling.
10. Find Some Homeschooling Homies
While you might set up playdates for your kids, it’s also important to find friends who are also going through the homeschooling experience, too. “This helps your child know that they aren’t the only ones learning at home, but also other homeschooling parents can become a huge support for you as well!” says Jenna Dowd, an elementary instructional coach and family literacy educational consultant. “Create a virtual scavenger hunt or an inquiry-based project for your child and their new homeschooling buddies to work on together (over Zoom or safely socially distant).”
11. Start Slowly
Even though it might be the first day of school, you should still take time to transition both you and your kiddo into a homeschooling mindset. “Don’t expect your child to be able to go from summer vacation to full throttle assignments in one day,” says Dowd. “Take it slow and allow your child to build up their stamina for their focus and attention.” For example, you might have your child work on some review sheets for a little while, and then grab your bikes and go outside for a break.
12. Know That It’s About Quality, Not Quantity
A typical school day goes from 9:00-3:00, but that doesn’t mean that your homeschooling has to. In fact, a huge plus is that you’re not stuck following the same school hours that your child would have if they were in a brick-and-mortar building. “Homeschool hours are not the same as regular school hours,” advises Dowd. “I’ve known many successful homeschool mamas who dedicate just mornings to schoolwork or alternate work and play times every hour.” Ultimately, it will be up to you to make your schedule work for both your and your child’s needs.
13. Be Realistic
Look, there are going to be good days—and there are going to be rough ones. And that’s okay. If this is your first foray into homeschooling, you need to lower your expectations and be realistic about how it’s all ultimately going to flow. “It’s not going to be perfect— especially if this is your first time homeschooling,” says Dowd. Your child might not want to do schoolwork that day, or you might have a big work project that’s going to take up a bigger chunk of your day. The key is to go with the flow in order to have a good day with your child.
14. Let Your Kids Lead
There will be days that you want to ditch school instruction—and you should. “To foster independence, allow your children to choose what they want to do each day,” says Lindsey Wander, Founder and CEO of WorldWise Tutoring LLC. “Maybe they can pick an activity from the Bored Box, do a craft at their craft station, work on their hobby in their room, or complete a chore.” You can even put your child in charge of snack duty at the regulated “Snack Station.”
15. Stick (Somewhat) To A Routine
While you can stop and start your homeschooling day as needed, there will be times when it’s crucial to stick to a schedule. “While every family’s situation is unique, schooling at home will certainly be easier if everyone is on the same routine,” says Wander. “For instance, you can aim to eat breakfast, have play/free time, and then be on laptops for school by 9am in the hopes you can end the school day by lunch.”
16. Have A Plan
Things can get tricky when you’re homeschooling more than one child at a time—and both are clamoring for your attention. That’s when you need to think like a teacher and assign some independent study, advises Wander. “When instructing one child individually in a core subject (math, reading, or language arts), the others can spend thirty minutes working independently on reading, hobbies, or learning programs on the computer (some parent favorites are Teach your Monsters to Read, Reading Eggs Reading Eggs, and Mathseeds),” she says. After the lesson is over, you can always group your kiddos together for a family-style learning that isn’t age-specific, like art or music. It can also be a good time for some physical activity, so your kids can strap on some sneakers and head outside to play.
17. Get Dressed
While the temptation is there to spend the day in sweats, you should really try to get everyone dressed (including yourself). “Keep your morning school day routine, like getting dressed and eating breakfast just like when school days were on campus,” says Dr. Lindsay Elton, a board-certified pediatric neurologist in Austin, Texas. “No lounging around in PJ’s all day! The message we want to send to our brains and bodies is ‘Wake up! It’s time for school!’”
18. Be Flexible
Although you might want to tackle all the core subjects each and every day, it may not be realistic. That’s why you should be flexible and consider various schedules until you find one that fits. “Try out a few different schedules throughout the first week, and move forward with the most manageable option,” advises Frank Milner, president of Tutor Doctor. “Then, create that schedule and stick to it each day if necessary – and take time for a 10-minute break every hour if possible.”
19. Look For A Sunny Spot
In order to encourage your little learners, you need to set the stage for scholarly success. For starters, look for a space that has as much light as possible. “Select a bright sunny room for the learning home base,” advises Laura Kronen, a homeschooling expert and author of Homeschool Happily: Yes, You Can! “Children will pay more attention and be more open to learning in well lit spaces.” And you should also find a dedicated study space for your child that will serve as their classroom. Says Kronen: “Something as simple as a special place to work can minimize distractions, boost a child’s motivation and, in turn, their confidence.”
20. Be Patient
This school year will see more homeschooling parents than ever. And as such, many are nervous about what taking on the teacher role will ultimately entail. So above everything else, be sure to practice patience, for your child, and more importantly, for yourself. “If you have the patience required to get through your daily life and the patience to parent, you have enough patience to homeschool,” says Kronen. “And the longer you homeschool, the better you will get at it and the easier it will become.”
Although it might not have been in your plans, you have the potential to make this school year amazing. By making this experience exciting and fun, you’ll not just show your child resilience, but you’ll create priceless memories that will last a lifetime.