How in the world am I expected to work full time, from home, AND school my children?
Your children do not need to be schooled; they need to learn. There's a huge world of difference between the two.
Stick with me here... school is only one way to facilitate learning. It's designed for 20-30 kids to be educated at one time by someone who does not know each individual well. Talk to any teacher; much of the day is not spent in actual learning but in transitioning from one topic to another. The US public ed system was also designed with the stated intent (seriously; read the history) to quell curiosity and creativity which are two of the driving forces for learning in children. Until kids are taught that learning is a boring chore, curiosity and learning are as innate to them as swimming is to fish and flying is to birds.
Self-directed learners or unschoolers - kids 100% in charge of their own education - get into their top choices of colleges. They graduate college at higher rates than their public schooled peers and report higher than average job satisfaction and overall happiness. How is this possible? Because learning is innate.
I get that you're probably not ready to unschool your kids and might even want them to go back to school as soon as possible. That's ok. I only want to demonstrate how learning can occur without school while they're at home - or with very little of anything that looks like school.
Ok, so how do my kids learn without school?
How do you learn something new? If it's a deep-dive for a career you might seek out schooling. Otherwise, you learn through real life, community, and relationships. Think about a topic you were recently curious about. You probably read a book or did a Google search. Maybe you watched a documentary. No doubt you found others with similar interests and discussed it with them. It probably came up in conversation with your friends and family too. Each exploration led to more knowledge, and each conversation gave you a chance to refine your thinking and articulate your knowledge on that topic.
This is how kids learn best, according to research - when their senses and emotions are fully engaged in topics they are interested in, that are relevant to their real lives.
Finally, remember, your kid learned to roll over, sit, crawl, walk, talk, go potty, feed themselves, dress themselves, and heaps more without any formal education - simply by being in relationship with you and others. They can learn to read, write and explore every other topic in the same way.
I think I see the paradigm shift... But what does this look like in everyday life for us?
On Sundays you have a pancake tradition and you introduced the new "word of the week". The challenge is to use this new word correctly as often as possible throughout the week. Set a good example and make it fun! On other days, you read a chapter aloud to them from Tumtum and Nutmeg or other high quality literature at breakfast. Depending on their age, you spend an additional 5 minutes noting the weather, day/month, and on a math exercise. Literally, you're looking at 5 minutes here.... for littles you might do a counting finger play. For slightly olders you might skip count, or maybe you'll recite the 6 times tables together while banging out rhythms on the table. Kids returning to school? Add in 5 minutes reviewing their spelling list daily. Then you close your AM time with a song.
Not morning people AT ALL? Maybe this is best done at lunch time and in the AM you want to let your kids sleep in so you an work before they're up. Or maybe you want to get everyone out for a few minutes of fresh air in the AM. Again, adjust this as needed.
Subjects covered: English language arts, math, music, maybe more depending on the read aloud
Bonus: Kids are much better at leaving you alone for awhile when you've spent some time filling their emotional banks up.
You begin your workday. Kids returning to school when possible should probably spend 5-20 minutes at the breakfast table doing their "work" - a math worksheet and an ELA worksheet to keep them up with the public school curriculum.
Next, send them outside to play, run, vent some energy....
Back inside, they can have morning quiet time where they play with whatever toys while listening to an audio book. Choose something with some history or science in it. For example, Magic Treehouse is great for learning history/social studies.
Set them up with a community resource in the AM. Maybe they have an online game time with friends or take an out school class or meet with an online tutor for an hour.
Have them make lunch. Make a big deal of how big and responsible they are.
Subjects covered: math, ELA, PE, social studies
You quickly eat your lunch, review what was fact vs fiction in causal conversation about their Magic Treehouse (or other) audio book. Read a short nature story or part of one - fiction or otherwise. Then you go outside for a nature walk. Note what's happening with trees, leaves, plants going to seed, animals, insects, etc. At some point, you do another math exercise. You shout as loudly as you can or use a designated funny voice to recite whatever math facts are appropriate for their level. Embrace the crazy! Get some loudness out!! Shout/spell their spelling words together. They've had to be quiet a lot....! Alternately, end lunch break with wrestling or huge squeezes or whatever form of physical contact your kids enjoy best. Then slow it down with a back rub or something that settles them down for an afternoon rest watching a movie or reading a book or whatever. Again, this is about having a daily rhythm of energetic times contrasted with quieter down times. And it's about filling your kids' emotional banks so they can give you some quiet and space to work.
Subjects covered: social studies, science, math, ELA, maybe PE
Set them up with a fun activity or another community engagement activity online. Designate more outdoor time. Bribe them with extra money or a weekly takeout from a fave place if they can get everything spotlessly cleaned up from lunch (seriously though...these are rough times for everyone so make it FUN, and give them a bit of slack if it's not absolutely perfect; help the to feel like you're all on the *same team* making this work for everyone). Have them explore and watch 3 BrainPop videos. Any school teacher should be able to give you access to this for free; otherwise the subscription is worthwhile. Know your kid's rhythms... do they need downtime after lunch? How about a movie or reading time if they enjoy reading? Realize that after that downtime they'll need to move again. That's a good time for you to take a coffee break, get them outside, and blow off some ENERGY. You'll figure out how it all works best for you... be willing to experiment, to discuss with your kids what did vs did not work about each day, and how to make it all better so that *everyone's* needs are being met. Kids are pretty wise when you include them in this stuff and they feel heard. And they're more likely to listen to you when you say "I really needed more quiet at x time when I was having my meeting, but I think you were needing more activity then. How can we make this work for everyone?"
Subjects covered: many, depending on activities
Again, you need to focus on connection when you're done working. Let them help make dinner. This includes math skills of measuring, sorting, dividing, counting, etc.
This is a good time to discuss what they've been learning about. Let it come up naturally in conversation. "What did you decide to learn about on BrainPop today?" After they answer "Oh yeah... I remember when I was a kid and learned about that _____" or maybe "Oh that's so cool! I didn't know that. Tell me more!" or "Wow! you know I read in the newspaper recently that ______." The key here is to be an engaged parent/friend not try to sound like a teacher. :)
Take 20 minutes after dinner to check over their breakfast ELA and math worksheets and review anything tricky. Do a family cleanup. (Aim for easy to clean dinners, use of the dishwasher, or use of paper plates.) Make it fun! Let the kids pick the music. Have a cleaning dance party. Then do an evening activity. Maybe Mondays are for baking (math); Tuesdays are family game night and you listen to music of the 50's (math and music); Wednesdays are art night. You share a favorite painting from a book/online. Everyone does an arts/crafts project. You listen to classical music or jazz music.... (art and music). Thursdays are poetry night. You read poetry while drinking tea and eating deserts from fancy dishes (ELA). Fridays are pizza and movie night of course. Pay attention to how many subjects can be learned via movies/fiction. You might be surprised! Documentaries can be fun and informative, but so can historical fiction shows you watch (Little House or Call the Midwife). Sci-fi series can lead to discussions and google searches on AI and physics and space. Keep it casual and adventurous.
Subjects covered - all required and more
A 30-60 minute read aloud at bedtime can calm kids and provides an incredibly rich opportunity for learning to continue.
As you can see... with just a bit of intention, your child is learning every subject covered in school and more merely by engaging with real life! :)
Hmm... Got any more ideas!
Weekends are great for a longer walk, hike, snowshoe, sledding or other nature adventure which counts as both science and PE.
And don't forget about things like feeding birds, a weekly trip to the library (ask them what topic they want to learn about; it's great seeing what they come up with!!), outdoor sculpture parks, watching a play/ballet/musical or live music event online, following live-cams online that show their favorite animals in zoos or in the wild, online martial arts or dance or other classes, and so on.
There is a world of opportunities for learning just waiting to be discovered. That's why during non-covid-19 times we see the world as our classroom (it's wonky even for us veteran homeschoolers right now!).
Kids grocery shopping with you? Teach them about unit prices. Let them weigh produce and estimate cost. Teach them how to analyze your grocery spending by looking at the mean, median, and mode on the receipt. Let kids help plan and execute the grocery budget and menu planning. Gently correct grammar in real life. Play MadLibs and allow all the crazy "potty" words you don't normally allow. Discuss current events. Listen to audio books in the car. The more you think of learning outside of a school context, the more you'll find it happens everywhere.
Finally, remember these things:
1. Play is the single best thing for cognitive development through the early elementary years!
2. Neuroscientists have found our brains are wired to remember things in the context of stories. Read to them! Tell stories!
3. Movement should be a part of play and is vital to brain development - let your kids get dirty! Embrace rolling, skipping, dancing, tiptoeing, running, swimming, sliding, swinging, climbing etc through mud, grass, leaves, snow, water, trees, pebbles, etc
So that's all I have to do to homeschool?
You'll need to record and file paperwork to the school superintendent's office if your child is age 6 or older. Check out my How to Homeschool in NYS post which gives you a brief overview in plain English and links to the NYS regs.
For more resources and ideas, check the learning resources or homeschooling/unschooling tabs on the side of this page.
Finally, be wiling to have fun and be flexible! You won't get your family's rhythms and needs all met perfectly on the first try. In fact, they'll change as your kids grow. Keep lines of communication open and keep being flexible. You can do this!