Amidst the escalating COVID-19 crisis, most of us find ourselves suddenly homeschooling our kids. My family has homeschooled our three kids since the beginning, but it was sort of by accident how it started. Much like the situation many parents now find themselves in.
Our homeschooling journey started when my son had speech delays at 2 years old and we thought he might be on the autism spectrum. I (dad), took some medical leave from my engineering job to help him through speech and occupational therapy and some testing. At the end of my medical leave, I realized we needed some more time so I asked my company if I could have more flexible remote work. They said no and so I told them, “adios,” and quit my job. Providentially, my wife had recently decided she was going to return to work in sales after two years off. We switched roles and she became our primary income provider while I stayed home with our kiddos.
As it turned out, our son was just a typical active boy who was taking his sweet time talking because he was busy doing other things like climbing to the top of every closet shelf in the house. He is not on the autism spectrum and now anyone who knows him sees how interactive and loud he is. I like to say that we did too good of a job teaching him to talk because he won’t shut up now.
We have continued this teaching trend into the school-age years and I continue to happily homeschool our three kids while also training for Ironman, teaching high school physics at the local homeschool co-op, and coaching athletes with Paragon Training. Our kids are 7, 5, and 3 years old so the following information is specific to their ages. I’m sure our approach will continue to evolve as they get older, but I hope some of it can be useful even for those of you with older children.
You might have been given resources from your kid’s school, but maybe you’re not sure how to structure the day or how to get through things. Should it be the same as at school? Should you have a schedule that you strictly keep for structure? How much time should the lessons and work take? How do you effectively teach the kids while still working from home? Is it even possible? Or would it be better to just take some vacation time?
These are my Five Foundational Tips for Accidental Homeschooling. These tips are drawn from my personal experience and the wisdom of others in the greater homeschooling community who have been doing it much longer than myself. I hope these tips provide some encouragement for those of you who were forced to start homeschooling so suddenly. Please feel free to reach out if you have additional questions and I would be happy to talk with you more in-depth about anything below.
FIVE FOUNDATIONAL TIPS FOR ACCIDENTAL HOMESCHOOLING
The Absolute #1 Most-Important-Rule-of-All-Time to Homeschooling is…wait for it…CLOSE THE KITCHEN!!! Cut them off from eating your house down so you can focus on other things besides being an on-demand cook. I’m actually fairly serious. Have set timeframes when the kitchen is open and when they can get a snack or eat meals.
#2 CREATE A ROUTINE
Create a routine not so much a schedule. I personally try to set a routine versus a schedule. I put things into blocks of time throughout the day. See details of our average daily routine below.
#3 KEEP A BIG PICTURE PLAN
I look at what I want to accomplish for the week (and month) and just fit it in. I try to stay very flexible knowing that we're going to get to the stuff eventually.
#4 LEARN AND EXPLORE DEEPLY
Homeschooling provides a unique opportunity for your kids to really immerse themselves deeply into something they absolutely love doing. Build an epic lego city, write a novel, program an Arduino, compose a song, the list goes on and on. Take your cue from the kid and what they really like, don’t force it upon them. Just encourage them to keep going, provide resources, and help them remove any roadblocks.
#5 DO FUN THINGS THAT YOU WOULDN’T GET TO DO OTHERWISE
See my list of ideas below and you can think of plenty more. The point is to do them. Shift at least some of your learning from worksheets to hands-on, real-life activities that the kids love.
#6 GET BORED
Here is a bonus sixth tip. Let your kids get BORED! That’s right, I said it. As long as it’s not too long and you guide and monitor them a little bit, let them get bored so they can think of things to do themselves. If you give them long enough, they will come up with some creative and sometimes ingenious things to do or make. This is totally different from school where everything is structured and scheduled, The kids (and you) might struggle at first with this, but stay with it and you will eventually see them think and create more independently.
OUR DAILY BLOCKS
BLOCK #1: BEFORE THE KIDS WAKE UP
I try to get up before the kids and do a workout, prayers, and other stuff
BLOCK #2: BREAKFAST BLOCK
Kids wake up (tell them to sleep longer if needed!)
Breakfast, morning prayers, gospel reading of the day
Get ready, dress, teeth, etc
Play 30-60min (preferably outside in the sunshine) No screens. I do stuff during this time like physics, coaching, cleaning or whatever. You can extend this if needed or make the kids get breakfast on their own so you can work uninterrupted for a block of time.
BLOCK #3: LEARNING BLOCK
Lesson block starting around 8:30 or 9:00 AM where we knock out most of the work.
OR a trip somewhere. If a trip, then lessons are either before or after that.
Snacktime fits in here sometimes
BLOCK #4: LUNCH BLOCK
Cleanup from morning (kids help), chores if needed.
Play some more. Still no screens. Workout or more work stuff for me while the little one naps and kids play quietly, read, or do a project.
BLOCK #5 SECOND ACTIVITY OR LESSON
Lessons again for a bit but usually lighter and more creative.
Go outside for an activity or get chores done if needed.
After this, the whole family usually does something active and interactive together.
BLOCK #6: DINNER BLOCK
Everybody help make dinner and clean the house for sanity. Teach kids to clean well and perfectly complete the task, not just partially
BLOCK #7: BEDTIME BLOCK
Night routine, reading, prayers, quick plan for tomorrow and examine conscience (kids can do this too, just ask what was their best and worst part of the day and how they might improve tomorrow)
I’m not great at this next one, but I like to try to keep the bedtime lights out time consistent at 8:00-8:30 PM-ish so everyone gets good sleep.
Jess (my wife), helps with the creative aspects of homeschooling, which I really appreciate, and the kids get instruction and interaction with mom in that way too. My wife works from home too so we try to keep both spouses involved throughout the day so one person is not burdened with doing most or all of the stuff during the day. The other plus is that the kids get to interact with both parents.
OTHER TIPS AND TRICKS
A few other activities that incorporate some form of learning for the kids:
Do a puzzle
Play board games (we love monopoly!)
Bake a cake (our kids can do this completely independently besides putting the cake in and taking it out of the oven)
Kids make a whole meal for the family
Paint lots of pictures and decorate a whole wall in the house with them
Build an entire lego city
Look at old photos together
Create an extended family tree poster
Tell imaginative stories
Make a fort and camp out
Camp in the backyard
Look at the stars and map out constellations
Read some more
Listen to an audio book and have them tell you the basic story of what they listened to
Family fitness workout- pushups, sprints, etc periodically throughout the day
Do a long ride or run together. Let your kids “in” on your endurance sports training
Chores (set up a “bonus” chore chart that earns money)
Lesson on money and using it well
Call someone who needs a cheering up
Learn about state parks
Study about animals
Draw plants, photograph and classify wildflowers
Dissect a bug