How Does Homeschooling Work Anyway?
The homeschooling debate is currently moot, since schools across the country are rapidly closing and suddenly we’re all educating our children from the comfort of our living rooms.
Worried you don’t have what it takes to suddenly step into the hardest job you never asked for? Fear not. When it comes to teaching your kids, you can do a bang-up job even without a degree in education. *Looks around, surveys disaster zone*
Read on to find out more about how homeschooling even works—and how you can approach it without losing your damn mind.
1. Define The Schedule
One of the benefits of homeschooling can be the increased flexibility—something you probably need, especially if you are also attempting to do your regular job from home. Still, too much flexibility with no predictable schedule is likely to backfire big-time. In fact, one of the benefits of a traditional school program is the structure. Consistency helps kids stay focused and move seamlessly from one activity to another so they don’t get distracted and sabotage your life for sport. When it comes to crafting your daily schedule, you have options.
Option 1: Follow a Traditional School Schedule
This method basically requires you to model your homeschooling schedule after your child’s usual school schedule. Start your day in the very same way you ordinarily would (get dressed, have breakfast, grab backpacks), then settle into your school space (more on that later) to start the day however your kids would at “real” school. (Hi, morning meeting or first-period science.) Don’t beat yourself up if you end up starting things 20 minutes late, but do your best to stick to set times. Note: Definitely don’t let “morning meeting” take an hour, unless you are prepared to add six more hours to the school day than you planned.
If you’re going to follow your child’s regular school schedule, pull it up (your kid’s teacher would be happy to email it to you) and start making any necessary changes to suit your real life. So, if music is from 10 to 10:40, that might mean watching YouTube videos of African drummers or putting on Taylor Swift and dancing around. The idea behind following the school schedule is that it gives you a ready-made outline and condenses your teaching time. If you have two parents working from home at the moment, you can even trade off from “period” to “period.”
Option 2: Follow a Full-Day Learning Schedule
Some homeschooling parents opt to follow a looser schedule that incorporates blocks of learning time, punctuated by periods of normal home life, from morning ’til night. This method may be more challenging to implement when your child is used to attending regular school, but the gist is that learning happens all the time and you don’t need to explicitly block it out. For example, you might incorporate a science lesson into hands-on lunch prep, or turn bedtime stories into a targeted history lesson. (“Let’s talk about what was going on in the world at the time of Little House on the Prairie.”)
Bottom line: No matter which method you choose, you’re going to need to plan at least one night ahead and have a rough itinerary that meets the needs of you and your children. If you feel like you need some extra guidance setting up your homeschool routine, check out a variety of both traditional and creative samples schedules here.
2. Create a space
Getting your kids on board with your new schedule is a whole other beast, and it might mean you have to make your pad look the part. After all, calling home two different things is downright confusing to everybody, and you don’t want your kids to associate Netflix binges with the same place they study history or learn algebra.
The workaround? Designate an area in your home as a learning space and set it up to accommodate your scheduled activities. Often, this means setting up several different learning centers—arts and crafts, reading and writing, puzzles and games. The arrangement you come up with will depend on your personal living space and the age of your children, but in general, the classroom should be well organized with only relevant materials within reach. In all likelihood, your entire home (and yard) will be used as a homeschooling space, but by creating a main classroom, it will be easier to ensure that movement to other areas is purposeful and guided by you, the teacher.
Many parents find the Montessori approach particularly useful in creating a calm learning environment. Check out this Montessori resource for tons of creative inspiration and additional advice on how to organize your classroom.
3. Craft the Curriculum
Just like a good diet, the best education is well rounded. Lot of resources on the internet provide free worksheets and study books, so definitely use these to help your child learn how to hone valuable skills like reading, writing and math. And don’t be put off by computers and iPads. In fact, technology is a huge component of homeschooling, and as long as your daily lessons include plenty of screen-free time, the tech world can definitely be your friend.
Now, as for what to teach your children? Again, check in with the “real” teacher to see if he or she has any recommended resources or guidelines. (As schools across the country shutter, many districts are setting up remote learning options.) You can also purchase a prepackaged curriculum program through a homeschooling company like Time4Learning, and there are plenty of free resources available too. Think printable worksheets for all subjects and grade levels at Khan Academy, and activity and craft ideas at Exploratorium.com.
More than one kid at home? You can teach them at the same time! The content can be the same for the whole brood, as long as you provide a different age-appropriate activity or assignment for each child afterward. (So maybe your fourth grader writes a paragraph about worms, while your kindergartner draws a picture of one.)
Keep in mind that homeschooling doesn’t have to be an all-work-and-no-play proposition. A lot of learning comes from hands-on experiences. Whether it happens indoors (baking, for example) or outdoors (nature hike), you can call it school as long as you provide the exposition. And whatever you do, make sure your kiddos get outside and run around as much as possible.
Above all, be patient and set realistic expectations for yourself and your children. Remember: We’re all getting a crash course in resiliency right now, and that might not be the worst thing ever.