Schools are closed. You need help teaching our kiddos. You’re here for answers, tips, tricks, schedules, and resources.
If you find yourself needing to educate your kids at home for a while unexpectedly, I get that you might be in a bit of shock. It’s overwhelming. I think a lot of that overwhelm comes from the idea that just a day ago we had a predictable schedule in place and knew what we were good at…we’re good at being a parent, we’re good at our job, we understood our current roles and then were handed another one: the role of teacher.
Not knowing how to formally teach our kids can make us feel like we’re really bad at that or we’re going to fail at it. Those are very unsettling feelings. The overwhelm is so real for so many people. Please know that you’re not alone in those feelings, that they’re valid, and that there are many people out there who understand. And there are those of us who have worked at home with kids for a while and want to help you rise up, find your confidence, and move through this overwhelming time feeling understood, resourced, and supported.
So many of us are searching for coping mechanisms among all of the heightened emotions. We’re feeling the need for humor or venting, or are overcome by frustration, unhappiness, even panic—these are all real emotions that real people are feeling. It’s important to acknowledge how you’re feeling. Name the emotions without shame. Know that they are normal, acknowledge them, and then use them as information to move forward. None of us want to live in those feelings of frustration, overwhelm, and unhappiness.
Please know that if the sources of your overwhelm stem from childcare, money, job, or food concerns, I wish I had the resources to immediately help you and calm your mama heart. I hope that there are friends, family, and local resources that you can reach out to now for assistance. I don’t think it’s too early to start accepting offers for help from school boards, food banks, churches, local organizations, and people who have been posting on social media that they want to be there for you. Believe them. Use them. Lean into your community. This truly is turning into a time of coming together even while we are apart.
Here are my top 14 tips for parents who are finding themselves doing all of life at home with their kids, including educating them.
1. Don’t Try to Recreate the Classroom. In home education, we don’t try to recreate the school classroom at home. It doesn’t need to look like a child sitting at a desk with their head down over a worksheet or even at a table with a chair. It doesn’t need to look like us hovering over them telling them they need to finish now. I’m not saying that is what public school or brick and mortar schools looks like. Not even kind of. What I’m sharing is what participants in my homeschool workshops have shared with me. That when they picture homeschooling their kid, it looks like their kid at the kitchen table, parent hunched over them, annoyed that their kid’s not listening or not doing their work right. That is not what homeschool is like or the setup we should be aiming for—for everyone’s sanity. It’s really freeing to know that you can learn just about anywhere: the bed, the couch, the floor, on a cozy cushion, outside in the morning sunshine, at night using a flashlight, in the car, in the yard, at the park, under your favorite tree, snuggling with your favorite pet.
This forced home time is stressful enough without changing a child’s whole world. School has taken on a whole new form and now their home—their safe space—has shifted as well. We don’t need to make one look or feel like the other. Home is home. Use your home the way you normally would…but with some schoolwork added in.
2. Create Your Own Schedule. I’ve seen parents asking homeschool parents for sample schedules that they can follow. I think that’s a great idea and a way to gather ideas that you can try with your family. I get it. It would be nice to just copy something that works for another family…but for many of us who homeschool, it took us a long time to realize that there isn’t any one size fits all schedule for every family, kid, grade level, etc. Some people are night owls, some focus better in the morning. You have to find your own groove. Knowing that will help you get into it a bit faster.
So if you asked for sample schedules or came up with your own, approach it as if it’s a first draft. This is you and your family trying it on for size. If it doesn’t work, you haven’t failed. You’ve learned. Analyze it, figure out what worked and what didn’t, and make adjustments from there. There is no perfect schedule. And it’s more than okay if your schedule varies from day to day during this temporary time.
That’s a bigger overview, but I know many of you are here for that schedule. You want pragmatic advice. While you’re coming up with your schedule, know that you don’t have to keep school hours. Nowhere does it say you have to start at 8am and end at 3pm. You don’t need to section off 25 or 45 minutes for one subject. You might find that your kids can complete a day’s work in an hour or less…and that’s okay. You don’t have to force them to keep going just to “stay ahead” because they could get burnt out really quickly (and so can you). On the flip side, if your child is into it and wants to keep going, I say go for it. If that feels right, your kid is motivated in the moment, by all means, go with that energy. That’s part of the flexibility of home education…you don’t have to put pressure on yourself or your child to keep going if they’re done, and you don’t have to stop them if they want to keep going.
3. Try Time Blocking. This is the real life time hack of many work-at-home-moms who also homeschool. Time blocking involves setting aside chunks of time to complete certain tasks so that you can be totally focused on that one task in the moment. So if your new (temporary) home set up includes: meals, work, chores, and now homeschool, instead of everything overlapping (which can add to the overwhelm), you can set aside blocks of time for each one individually. For example, I need to fit me time, work, homeschool, meals, chores, meetings, and reading into my day. My plan of action includes me waking up early and working by myself for 2-2.5 hours before my kids wake up (me time + hot coffee + work = 3 birds, one stone). Then we focus on homeschool after breakfast (because we’ve discovered everyone has better attention spans first thing, after eating, & before tv). After lunch, I work again. TV goes on or a babysitter comes over. Having two work time blocks allows me to follow up on communications from earlier in the day. We have outside time after that, including taking care of our small farm. Dinner after outside. Reading at bedtime. Day = Done. None of that would be fun if everything was overlapping constantly. But when it’s time blocked and spread out like that, it’s easier to give myself permission to be present for one thing at a time (a real struggle for someone who loves to work work work).
4. Remember that School is Supposed to be Do-able. The subjects, the worksheets, the games, the projects—all of it is supposed to feel do-able to you and your child. Many of us come from a brick and mortar education background ourselves. And a common notion that I see new homeschool parents hold onto is this idea that “if it’s not hard or a huge challenge, then your child is not learning.” It’s okay to let go of this idea. Curriculum is designed to guide children along at an age appropriate pace while lightly challenging them. That’s how natural growth works—it’s slow and well thought out. School work doesn’t have to feel heavy and burdensome to count as learning. Coming back to this thought has helped me time and time again even as an experienced homeschool mom.
5. Alternate Activities. I highly recommend that you pay attention to the rhythm of the day. Start off with a big activity, then small one, then big, then small. Or a quiet activity, then a loud one, quiet, loud, quiet, loud. Or an inside activity, then an outside one, inside then outside. A physical activity, then mental one, then physical, then mental.
You get the idea. Moving back and forth between these notions keeps children from getting too pent up from one type of activity only—i.e. back to back mental, quiet, small, inside activities can cause them to explode. Or opposite, getting burnt out from too much big, loud, physical, outside play to the point that they can’t come back to their project. It’s a practical way to loosely structure your homeschool day (and addresses common problems that arise without too much effort).
6. Keep Records. Your child will be learning whether there are provided worksheets, projects, goals, formal tasks or not. Whatever it is they are doing—the worksheets or just flipping through book on their own or helping you make dinner—write it down. Record keeping doesn’t have to be fancy. You can literally keep a list in your phone or write down all “learning” in a notebook. This might be a great time to pull out that journal that’s been sitting on the shelf for a while.
Keeping track of this learning will serve 3 purposes:
- If you’re asked to show your child’s progress or what you’ve been working on during this temporary change, you’ll have it.
- It will help you see learning in a new light…truly your child being outside and climbing or playing imaginary games or painting or watching a documentary or using an educational app or reading or helping you cook all count as learning. If the brain is expanding and processing new information (which is every moment for a child)…that’s learning.
- It will help you find that groove I mentioned earlier. In your records, you can include times, subjects, or even quotes and observations. Play counts as much as the worksheets. Chores count as much as the projects. Include everything. And when you do, your heart and mind will start to ease. The guilt of “are we doing enough?” will start to disappear as you realize what many longtime homeschool mamas already know: all of life is learning.
7. Give Grace (and then more grace). Know that there is a learning curve for everyone involved. This is new for you and your child. This relationship dynamic of mom/child has now expanded to teacher/student. Be open about how new it is for you and them. If you can keep coming back to the basic truths of this situation: This is new. This is intense. This is scary. This is an opportunity. This is unique. This is temporary. It makes it easier to give grace to yourself and your child. When in doubt about whether your “teacher mom” efforts are enough, fall back onto the heart centered role you do know: the role of mom. Love your child from that space first. The upheaval of everything doesn’t have to change or cloud that relationship. Be the mom first. Give yourself grace and space to be that first. This is a challenging time, we don’t need to make it more challenging on purpose. Take care of yourself. If that means you have to lie down for a few moments a few times a day, do that. If you need to lie down ten times a day, do that.
Practically speaking. Get the care you need. Sleep in, if your family could use some more sleep. Play games if you need connection or lightness or some fun. Eat if you’re hungry. Take a movie night. Take ten movie nights. Shower. Drink water. Bake together. Read aloud. Do what needs to be done to soothe your nerves, your family’s nerves, and bring love to the forefront. And yes, when you’re learning and working from home, you have the option to stop, give grace in the moment, receive grace in the moment, and come back to love first.
This is also the point where I need to tell you that you’re probably going to lose your s*** a few times. True story: I did just today. I reigned it in, but I was trying to get a work project done and one of my little kids was being the loudest she could possibly be. For some reason, I forgot she was just a little kid acting like a little kid and I wanted her to be less of a little kid so I could adult. In hindsight, my expectations were out of proportion, plus I was beyond hungry and needed to eat. That’s not my excuse, that’s me being honest with myself. That’s me extending grace, owning up to what I brought to the table, and learning from that moment without beating myself up. My husband extended grace to me in that moment, too, by helping me see that my expectations were…disproportionate. He then asked me what I really needed. Did I actually need her to be quiet or was it something else? It was something else. I needed to eat. I needed to walk away from the project that was quickly sputtering out and eat so I could come back to it recharged and ready. I also let my daughter know that I needed to eat and that’s why I sounded irritated. She suggested we eat lunch together. The day got instantly better. That’s the power of grace.
8. Go Outside (a lot). You can do worksheets outside. You can do projects outside. You can take the laptop outside. Read aloud outside. Or just let your kids blow off some steam and burn some energy with zero agenda, just playing. You can do that, too. I find that when I’m feeling tense from too much computer work but I still need to get work done, it’s best if I take my laptop outside and let the kids play in the yard where I can see them and work at the same time. We all feel lighter almost instantly.
Nature is so healing. It’s rejuvenating & refreshing. How fortunate we are that Spring is arriving for many of us. Go outside. Notice what’s happening in the natural world around you. It will get you out of your head for a moment. It will get the kids out of the house. And (bonus) it’s also learning. So write that down on your record sheet.
9. Resources are All Around You. If a subject seems hard or too complex for you and/or your child, look it up! Or ask for help. Ask other parents, look on Youtube, ask your child’s teacher for a resource, or skip it. (That’s my own personal opinion. I know not every parent or teacher is going to agree with it). My thinking is that if there is a math problem or science or literature concept that is beyond both of you, skip it. You’re already stressed out. Your kid is already stressed out. And if your reaching out and research still isn’t giving you answers or is making it worse, give yourself guilt-free permission to move on. That lesson will come, it might just have to come from the teacher in-person later. And that’s okay. You don’t have to be everything to everyone. You don’t have to know every subject. You don’t have to get it all right. You’re juggling so much more than that puzzling question on a paper that you just can’t figure out. Take care of yourself, your kids, your mental health, your nerves, and your family. Move on without guilt if that is what will serve you best in that moment.
If your child’s school hasn’t provided you with any materials or online options yet, but you still want to keep going with your child’s learning, I have a few suggestions:
- Do a unit study of sorts. Let your child choose a topic or concept that they are interested in and do a deep dive. Watch documentaries about it, read books about it, do an online search for projects. The possibilities are endless and your child’s imagination might just catch fire—a really positive start to your (temporary) homeschool adventure together.
- Read together. Read aloud (even if they are old enough to read). The benefits will amaze you (learn more at www.readaloudrevival.com)
- Lean into online options: apps, podcasts, documentaries, games, workbooks, worksheets.
- Lean into offline options: go to the library and stock up on interesting books. Read books you already have. Play board games and card games. There are skills and learning involved in games…and fun to be had, too.
And because I know you also want practical and actual names of other support, I’ve made a list below of my favorite resources with links.
10. Mindset is Everything. This…adventure, let’s call it…is likely to be temporary. Remembering that can help. In those moments of overwhelm, come back to that thought…this is temporary and we can do this. The energy you bring to this arrangement is the one your kids will pick up on. Dread it and your child will dread it. Panic and they will panic. Think it will be impossible and it will be impossible. We are being called to tap into our extraordinary strength as parents at this time. Do not underestimate the power of your mindset as the mom. You love your kids. They are some of your favorite people. This is extra time with your favorite people. Approaching this temporary situation from that angle as much as you can will help, I promise.
There will be ups and downs. Normalize those for yourself and your kids. It’s not going to be all snuggles on the couch with popcorn and a movie everyday (I mean, you could try. That doesn’t sound like a terrible goal). It’s not going to be all tears all the time over a worksheet either. There will be ups and downs. Let your kids know that is normal, that this is temporary, and you’re going to ride the wave of ups and downs together. Just like I’m here saying to you: you are strong, you are capable, this is temporary, there will be ups and downs, those are normal, we’ll get through them together. Let your kids in on the same truth: they are strong, they are capable, this is temporary, there will be ups and downs, those are normal, we’ll get through them together.
That’s how we comfort each other. That’s how we support each other. It’s a two-way street…be the support and receive the support. When your thoughts start to spin out (which they will), come back to your truth. You are strong. When tensions are high (and they will be), come back to the idea that this will pass. When you’re feeling like you’re not enough (and we all do from time to time), know that you are enough. This is hard. But learning is happening all day every day. You’re learning right now, just by reading this. Kudos to you! That’s something to be celebrated. We’ll move through the downs together. We’ll enjoy the ups together. Because (mindset shift!) you are strong, you are capable, this is temporary, there will be ups and downs, those are normal, we’ll get through them together.
11. Lean into the Process. This is panicky time. There are a lot of unknowns. There are some big big big implications from being asked to stay at home. Small businesses and big businesses alike are taking a hit and we are all feeling it. Taking a little bit of time each day to zone in and teach your child/learn alongside your child could be viewed as a much needed break from that panic. It’s you turning off the world and tuning into your child. It’s okay to give into that notion, to reframe this task of educating your child at home as a bit of an escape rather than yet another burden. I know this notion won’t speak to everyone, but it might be the permission slip that some need, that’s why I mention it.
12. Lean into Your School’s Resources. There are many teachers and schools who are trying their best to provide their students with info, tasks, projects, and tips. Every school and every classroom’s expectations are going to look different. Don’t be afraid to step up and ask questions, read the materials they are providing, and talk with other parents from your child’s class. If you find yourself floundering and all alone in this journey, that is your cue to reach out. Don’t stay at home by yourself feeling unsure—please reach out. There is no shame in needing help. We all need help from time to time. And you’re never alone. There is a whole world of parents in your position to lean into, learn alongside, and support you.
13. Communicate with Your School Community. Be in contact with your child’s teacher/school/district. Not only use them for the resources and information they can provide, but also be honest with them in your communications. If schooling at home is feeling like too much—you’re having technical difficulties, your work is taking up all of your time out of necessity, your nerves are fried, you need food resources, childcare is proving impossible—basically anything that is preventing you from “keeping up” with the work, tell them. Be honest. This transition to being at home is going to look different for every family. The point of this time off from school truly is about the health of people. If you’re at home with your child, you are also probably needing to work. Stress levels are high. Your number one priority is your family. If you find yourself in a situation where that priority is conflicting with the home education part of all of this, focus on your family and be honest about your need to do that.
There might not be a balance to it all of this that feels good. Health comes first—including mental health. Keeping your family afloat, a roof over your head, and food on the table is paramount. And I truly believe that all teachers and school systems will understand this. If the amount of school work you are being asked to complete is too much and a burden on your family, speak up and let the teacher/school know. If you feel like they haven’t given you enough and you feel under-resourced, politely let them know that, too. Chances are high they are scrambling to get it together just like us. This is where grace comes in (again).
14. Take Care of Yourself. Reframe this time together inside your home. Think of this as an opportunity for connection with your family and a time when you can learn, too. What project have you been wanting to start or finish? What book have you wanted to read? What podcasts you’ve wanted to catch up on? Now’s the time. Home education isn’t just about workbooks and to-do lists that center around your kids. It’s about your education, too. Take the time to dive into something for you, knowing that your efforts will not go to waste. Your kids are watching—it’s you leading/teaching by example. It’s you finding stress relief. It’s you completing a task from start to finish (like organizing that cupboard that you’ve been meaning to clean out for years or building that bird house kit that’s been sitting in the garage). It’s you finally pursuing your passion project of gardening by planting the seeds that have been sitting in the drawer (they might sprout, they might not…either way, it counts as science—write it down).
My last pro-tip from this experienced homeschool mom: if you want your kids to be interested in learning, you have to be interested in learning. Nothing brings kids to the table faster than a mom silently sitting down to do her own project.
You can do this. I know you can. Moms are some of the strongest, most compassionate, caring people I know. We were made to do hard things. And this is one of those hard things. We were designed to thrive in community. And this is a time when our community is coming together. You are not alone in this unique time. We’re all winging it, while rising to the occasion.
You can do this. You are enough.
Be kind…with yourself and your children. Be gentle…with yourself and your children. Come back to what is most important…the health and safety of your family. You’ve got this.
Lori Beth’s Favorite Podcasts for Kids:
Big Life Kids
Molly of Denali
The Two Princes
Burgess Animal Book for Children
Lori Beth’s Favorite Podcasts for Adults:
Wild + Free
Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations
Read Aloud Revival
The Purpose Show
The Kate & Mike Show
Lori Beth’s Recommended Books for Adults:
The Call of the Wild + Free by Ainsley Arment
The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart
Do Less by Kate Northrup