HUFFPOST PERSONAL

I Home-Schooled My Kids For 3 Years. Here’s What Parents Need To Know Now.

Flexibility is 100% the key to staying sane as a home-schooling parent.

Up until this past week, I liked to refer to myself as a recovering home-schooler. I loved home-schooling my children, the way we love anything that stretches and exhausts and betters us, but I had come to accept that it would no longer be part of our journey.

We initially chose home-schooling in a bid for increased freedom and individualized learning, which worked ― some days better than others ― until I alone could no longer meet their needs. Just this past fall we made the difficult decision to enroll them all in “real” school. The irony that the year we put our kids in school just happens to be the same year that the entire world started home-schooling is not lost on me.

Now, I, along with millions of other parents across the nation, ready my home school and slog through the ups and downs of distance learning amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. Many moms and dads are navigating this new reality while at the same time balancing the demands of a full-time job and attempting to parent through an exceptionally volatile and potentially traumatic worldwide crisis.

Having taught my four children for three crazy, wonderful, tiring years, I understand the anxiety that accompanies this new normal and the upheaval wrought by a drastic change in circumstances.

Given that, I’d like to share my personal home-schooling thoughts and experiences in the hope that some may find them helpful. Please know that my perspective is shaped by my failures as much as, if not more than, my successes.

Don’t “do school” at home. 

Why? You don’t need to. Also, you can’t. I have seen all of those amazing, Pinterest-worthy daily schedules circulating on Instagram and Facebook. Yes, they are beautiful and inspiring, but they are also wildly impractical.

When we first started home-schooling four years ago, I did my very best to replicate the school environment. Our days were planned down to the minute, including bathroom breaks. It lasted exactly one week and we all cried. Every. Single. Day. It was a disaster.

Instead of a schedule, try to create a gentle, flexible routine. Some school days will start at 8 a.m. and some days will start at 10 ― because you have a meeting or it’s a beautiful morning to play outside or the kids are exhausted. None of that matters.

However, when you do start your day of learning, try to start the same way as often as you can. It could be with a prayer, a reading or a dance party ― anything to help signal the beginning of learning time.

Let your routine reflect your priorities. 

Understand that something will fall through the cracks nearly every day. Figure out what is most critical to the success of your family and work backward from there.

Our first subject of the day was always math. I did this for two reasons. One, I wanted to be sure that math was practiced daily and if everything else went off the rails, I knew this was checked off the list. Two, I had the most mental capacity and patience to help with challenging problems at the beginning of the school day. I am fried after two or three hours of teaching, so I oriented our routine in levels of decreasing mental output (at least for me).

Learn to pivot ― a lot. 

Flexibility is 100% the key to staying sane as a home-schooling parent. When I initially hit roadblocks in teaching, my instinct was always to push through ― whether it was with a frustrated kid, an assignment that was wonky or a concept that wasn’t landing. FYI, things usually just got worse.

Pushing through is almost never the answer in home-schooling. If something isn’t working, there is usually a reason and, most of the time, there is a better solution. I have never regretted hitting the reset button by taking a break, ditching the assignment or switching my approach. 

We are blessed to have the guidance and support of the amazing teachers at our kids’ schools and for that, I am so, so grateful. However, knowing that this is all new to them, there are bound to be bumps in the road. New concepts and certain curriculums may not translate as readily to an online format as we all hope. Your kiddo may resist a new teaching style or may not assimilate information in this new fashion. All of this is OK. It just means that we need to put on our flexible pants and give everyone all of the grace ― especially ourselves. 

Focus on your relationship, not the work at hand. 

This is easier said than done and takes lots of practice and self-regulation. It is very easy to get caught up in a moment of frustration or anger, especially with all the pressures we have right now. Expect to apologize ― a lot.

During our first year of home-schooling, I apologized on the daily, usually more than once. When possible, remind yourself that you are the teacher for this brief (we hope) window, but you have an opportunity to positively impact your relationship with your child for a lifetime.

So, be kind. Give everyone credit for showing up and remember the only thing they really must know right this moment is that they are loved. 

You can do this. You can teach your child and support their learning. It will be messy and challenging and there may be days when you wonder if your child needs far more than you can offer.

In those times, please know that you are uniquely equipped to guide your child through this because you are their parent. You come to the table with a set of skills that includes an intimate knowledge of what makes your kiddo tick and a dedication to their success far beyond the chaos of this moment. Use all of this to your advantage. 

You’ve got this. 

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