For those of you new to this blog, who happened to land here by way of a misstep or because someone said, “hey, there are some ideas for how to fill your day with the kids at home,” I am a novelist. I spend my days as a hermit on the regular, so take that, Corona Virus. Social Isolation is my jam! But a good number of years ago, I was also a homeschooling/unschooling parent. How’s that for anti-social? Boo yah! (I’m actually very social… if coffee is involved.) Don’t worry. This is not going to be a bleak post. It’s meant as a hopeful one, a reassuring one, an “I’m in your corner to help in anyway I can (except I will not babysit your kids. Not what this is about), but I’m here to offer emotional support and to share my own experience” kind of blog post.
Much like today’s state-wide mandatory school closings, homeschooling was not my first choice. A number of factors came in to play: systemic problems in the public school, my kids’ unique learning styles that fell outside the presets of public school, and inspiration from a handful of amazing teachers.
Our first day of homeschooling was probably much like yours. You’ve got all these great plans to not let your child fall behind in their academics. You’ve scheduled things like “math, science-hour, language arts, a phys.ed. substitute,” etc.
Let’s cut to the chase. Throw that silly playbook right out the window!!!
Please. You’ve got this amazing opportunity smacking you in the face and you want to duplicate what your kids’ have been doing all year? Your first and worst enemy will be yourself – self-doubt, perfectionism, a narrow view of what it is to be educated. Your second enemy will be everyone around you telling you what you should be doing.
So here’s a game plan: ask your kids what interests them. Here’s your chance to join them. Find out what interests your kids. Talk to them. They’re gonna be angsty teenagers soon enough and cut you out of their thoughts and feelings, so get stuck in there while you can.
Technology: Are your kids playing video games? What if you let go of that? How many hours will they play on day one? (The answer is about twelve.) Day two? (About six) Day three? They start to come up for air a little more frequently. How about you set aside an hour or two to play with them? You will be shocked and amazed, (maybe a teensy bit appalled) by what they’re playing. But you may begin to see the value in so many games – history based games, text-based games, imaginative games. Ever heard of Scratch? There is plenty of free software out there to help your child learn to design their own games. Minecraft is like a virtual Maker’s Lab.
P.E.: Feeling caged in? Ask them if they want to go on an adventure, then set a course for some place you’ve never walked before. You can hike while respecting social isolation. Can you let go a little and let your kids build an obstacle course in the yard? In the basement? In the living room? What about a physics challenge? It goes something like this: “I challenge you to move this slimey pumpkin left over from Halloween over to the compost bin… without touching it.” (Note: boys tend to get complex and inventive with this task, often with messier results. Girls get the job done as efficiently and cleanly as possible. See if you note the same thing.)
Life Skills: Prepare meals together. It’s a life skill! Let them do their own laundry. (Yes, you will have to pull the six year old’s head out of the top-loading washing machine, but it’s another great life lesson.) Having your kids at home should not mean more work for you. If ever there was a time to implement a schedule, it should be with regard to cleaning. Channel your inner drill sergeant and take advantage of all the free labor around you. “Make your bed. Your night to load the dishwasher/do the drying/milk the cow/run the vacuum.”
Science: Plant a tomato plant in a pot. Don’t have a pot? Make one. Use a 5-gallon bucket. Make a compost bin. Build a potato tower. Grow something funky in the fridge and treat it like a science experiment by keeping data. (Science and math.) Visit one of the crowd-sourcing sites that allow the general population to collect data on everything from frog song to bird sightings to weather reports.
Art: Is your kid a little Picasso? Make a sketchbook from brown paper bags and challenge them to fill a page per day. Build dioramas, draw up some plans for your garden/a secret room/dream club house (botany and art and math.)
Language Arts: Read. Please, for the love of CoVid-19, read to your kids. Encourage your kids to read. Read, read, read and the rest will follow. (Did I mention the importance of reading?) Don’t restrict or limit what they read. There is value in everything from the box of cereal on the kitchen table to the newspaper to fiction to graphic novels. (We called them Comic books in our day.)
Stay connected! One of the most common misconceptions about homeschooling/unschooling is the notion that all homeschooled kids live in isolation and have no contact with the outside world. (Insert angry buzzer sound.) Well, in your case, this will partially be true, because, yeah, Corona Virus. It’s a jerk. But today we have ways to stay connected with friends. Call them on the phone (old school), collect e-mail addresses and schedule a “block party” on Google Hangouts, so easy, even a parent can navigate it.
Now, if you’re not dealing with this mandated homeschool scenario, I return you to my usual lit’rary mischief. Go write some words!
Sofie – raised a pa’r-a-normal young adults and living a romantic comedy within a cozy mystery.