Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

How to Homeschool Temporarily (in the Event of Quarantine)

I read an article in the WSJ the other day about families in China, self-quarantined in deference to the coronavirus, who are "homeschooling" -- basically doing on-line charter school stuff, video classes, the same books as in the classroom, schedules, etc. The kids were bored, and the parents were stressed and exhausted trying to keep up with all the classroom-style filler. One mom, trying to work from home at the same time, bemoaned the fact that supervising the projects that her very young child was assigned was taking up all of her day. Another parent was considering sending her children to stay with their grandparents in Chicago, but worried that after two or three months of missing school, they'd be behind the children who were keeping up with the assigned classwork. "Intensive" was the word she used, I recall, to describe the work being done.

Friends, I am here to say: online charter school is the worst way to homeschool. It's the worst of both worlds -- the boredom of classroom work and textbooks without the mitigating influence of a good teacher (video/online discussion is a poor patch on in-person interaction), with none of the freedom and flexibility of homeschooling. It's not a good way to inspire a love of learning, or to try out homeschooling. It is good for nothing but checking the education box, and neither school and home benefit from it.

I am a homeschooler of long-standing, both as a student and as a parent. For that reason, I've long since ceased giving homeschooling advice, since I've realized 1) how little I know anymore, and 2) how individual children and families are. What works for my family may not work for yours, or may not be your style, etc. But I think there are a few general principles at play here, that can make things easier for families who find themselves in a temporary homeschool situation. If your children are sent home from school, or you choose to pull them for health reasons, and you are considering homeschooling for some indefinite yet finite amount of time, here are a few ideas for making this a liveable and interesting time, a treasured memory rather than a tale of boredom and agitation.

Don't do the textbooks. Don't do the classes. Don't do the online charter work. 

First, sleep in a bit. Your kids probably get up ungodly-early to go to school. Let them rest! What's the point of being off school if you can't spend some extra time in bed? Your growing children need their sleep, and you need the morning peace. Ease into your day.

There is a wealth of knowledge, of information, of literature out there, well-written, gripping. Dive in! Take this time to read your child books that you loved as a kid. Find out what they love reading, and let them read it. Send one person to the library, and disinfect the books that come in, and wash your hands, and dive in.

Do they have trouble reading? Audio books are your friend. And then ask them, "What was that chapter about? What did I just read?" Learning to narrate back something you've just read is a life skill, and a great mental exercise, and just about every good thing you can think of, educationally.

Keep some structure. All free time and no schedule makes everyone nuts. Have a morning gathering time, where you read together and talk about what goes on today. If the math needs to get done, set a time (not so long that you all go insane) to work on it. If bedrooms or bathrooms or the kitchen need to be straightened, have a time when that happens. If the kids are old enough, have them make family meals. Eat dinner together, and discuss what your evening will look like. Schedule movie time. Have a regular quiet hour.

Learn a skill or a handicraft? Always wanted to try knitting? Want to make great cakes? Try a big cross-stitching project? Now's your chance! They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in something. Allow your child the space to work on something intensively: drawing a web comic, learning origami, memorizing Pokemon facts. My homeschooled brothers spent all of those hours during their teenage years learning to play the piano/guitar. Now they're musical gods.

Let them write. Have 15 minutes of journaling time each morning. If you need to drill basic grammatical units (nouns, adjectives, verbs), play Mad Libs. Write letters to grandparents, to friends, to international pen pals, to the editor, to your senator. Here's a primer if you've forgotten how. This is a great time to memorize the Morse code and write secret notes, plan a novel, write up life goals that will be hysterical when you find them in five years.

Put on a show! Have the kids write a script and perform it. Memorize monologues from Shakespeare to impress the teachers when school starts again. Try some improv. Have a tongue twister battle. Make a costume out of random stuff from closets and the kitchen. Then make the kids put everything away, because that's a valuable life lesson.

Learn to make phone calls. Having a conversation is a learned skill. Call grandparents, call other quarantined friends. Have them role-play, and take turns leaving messages or making appointments or demanding to see a manager or providing customer service. (Have ground rules about civility so this game doesn't get out of hand.)

If you have a backyard the kids can spend time in, kick them outside for a while and let them grub in the dirt. If you're stuck in an apartment, have them observe nature through a well-placed window. Keep a notebook at hand and have them make lists of what they observe -- animals, people, weather, traffic patterns. Draw leaves and birds. Plant a seed in a plastic cup and watch it grow.

You're stuck at home, and you've got the internet. Watch videos! My 11yo son has worked through most of the oeuvre of Mark Rober, NASA engineer turned YouTube experimenter. For fun, dopey, awesome experiments, you can get a lot of value out of The Backyard Scientist. If your kids are old enough to handle profane yet erudite takes on classic lit, Thug Notes with Sparky Sweets, Ph.D, is your jam. My children have amazed me with the literary info they've picked up by watching Overly Sarcastic Productions. Of course there's plenty of straight-up scientific and literary analysis, but hey, you're quarantined. Watch something fun.

Speaking of fun, you could do a lot worse educationally than to watch the entire output of Studio C and then JK Studios. I mean, this sketch is funny, but if you know classic literature like The Count of Monte Cristo, it's hysterical.

If nothing else, you'll gain a lot of family catchphrases.

Ask yourself: what's important to me? What do I want to pass on to my children? Look through old family photos. Research your heritage. Teach your children to cook your favorite family recipes. Sit them down with you each morning and read the Bible or whatever sacred text informs your life.

Do not discount the benefits of your children just being in the same place with each other, and with you. Take away the phones, the computer, the internet, and let the kids learn spend time together. Learning how to navigate, accommodate, and tolerate the different personalities in a family helps knock the rough edges off of humans. And parents have a major influence in the building of well-rounded humans. Help your young humans to flourish without killing each other.

And remember, on the hard days -- you get to send them back to school eventually. Raise a glass for those of us who live like this all time.

Part 2: Homeschooling the Little Kids


mandamum said...

Mark Rober videos, one of my husband's new go-to things to watch.

I think there is a big difference between saying, "This is what you should do" vs "Here are many things to consider". I am feeling re-invigorated by your list, and I'm just doing my regular Feb - I mean March - slog as a regular homeschooler ;)

It is strange sometimes to get homeschooling advice and encouragement from people whose oldest child is in kindergarten..... Hard to take them seriously. Yes, they may (may) have a handle on keeping the toddler set busy, but really? I seriously unschool kindergarten, so it's much easier to roll with the toddlers at that level in any case. But then, those with more experience have the experience to know how much they don't know, not to mention children old enough to be off-limits for blog-stories, and so they are mostly silent.

Meredith said...

I appreciate your advice here. It wouldn't be Lent without a surprise crisis or two.

Anthony Andres said...

Thanks for this brilliant article. I love that you start with: "I am a homeschooler of long-standing, both as a student and as a parent. For that reason, I've long since ceased giving homeschooling advice." And yet how grateful I am that you overcame your typical restraint to share so much wisdom in so few words! I feel the same regarding giving advice, despite having written 2 books, Homeschooling with Gentleness and A Little Way of Homeschoolong. I'm glad to have you share the wealth of your experience and so many good practical tips with those who are temporarily homeschooling. If they follow your suggestions, quarantined families will not only enjoy their time together, but reap the benefits of learning not with compulsion but with joy. I'm looking forward to trying out some of your ideas myself! Gratefully, Suzie Andres,

mandamum said...

Meredith, isn't that true! I feel like the whole country is joining us this year in having our Lent chosen for us. Memento Mori with a vengeance.

mrsdarwin said...

Mandamum, March is the new February.

Thanks, Meredith. Hopefully something here will be useful for you, if you find yourself in this pass.

Thank you, Suzie! I've read and appreciated your books. I would be very glad if homeschooling lost the connotation of being scary, and something only a few talented people could possibly do.

Emily J. said...

This is great! I’m actually looking forward to having my big kids home again, if/when school is cancelled here, once we get past the transitional boredom phase.

Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin said...

I'm saving a local copy of this, the file to be named "How to teach yourself."