Earlier this school year, we made a huge adjustment. All three of my kids moved from a traditional school to homeschool. Making that decision would have been so much easier had I known the rest of the country would be joining me before the end of the school year thanks to the coronavirus. As a newby to this homeschooling business, I thought I'd share some of the things I've learned that has made the transition easier for us.
Have morning time together.
Have a time at the beginning of your school day where you come together as a family. We refer to this as morning time and it is absolutely worth doing. Mentally, this is the point that tells the kids they need to focus on school. It, also, will hopefully set a positive tone for your day.
My kids wake up at various times. Meg is a night owl, while Clare is an early riser. We have consciously been working with Anne on sleep issues and her wake up time has varied throughout the year. At times, either Clare or Anne will wake up quite early and want to start on their school work so they can finish earlier. That is totally fine. Other times, they feel like baking something for breakfast or playing with Legos for awhile. Meg, almost always, will need to be dragged out of bed (though at times she surprises me and will surreptitiously do her school work in her room before I call her). All of these things can work with morning time. Regardless of whether the girls are sleeping, baking, playing or doing their own work, we gather at about 9 a.m. and officially start our school day.
Morning time can very. Pam Barnhill, at Your Morning Basket, is the queen of morning time and provides wonderful ideas. That being said, it doesn't need to be complicated. We've used morning time to read through the stories in Genesis from The Golden Children's Bible. We are currently memorizing William Wordsworth's Daffodils during morning time. During Lent, we are reading through saint biographies provided by Catholic Madness. You can choose a read-aloud book for this time. Sarah Mackenzie at Read Aloud Revival has wonderful suggestions for books the entire family will enjoy.
The importance of morning time is that it signals to everyone that it is time to focus on school work. Once morning time begins, I am no longer cleaning the kitchen or doing laundry. The girls are no longer playing Legos. At that point, we are all focused on school work until it is done.
Take advantage of being home.
The best advice, which I heard from several sources, was to remember you are not trying to recreate school at home. Being home is the benefit of homeschool. If the kids want to work in their pajamas, let them--unless you notice it is distracting to them. Read while sitting on comfortable couches, not at tables or desks. Do work outside if the weather permits. Anne has been known to sound out words from inside a blanket fort. If I forced her to sit beside me at a table and read when she wants to be in her fort, I would be dealing with a temper tantrum rather than helping her learn to read. Home gives us the flexibility to work where we are comfortable. For some, that can be distracting and you will need to create a designated work space. For many kids though, the comfortable work space will be a benefit and a very different learning environment from what they are used to. Let them enjoy it.
Reserve one-on-one time with each child.
Meg and Clare are very close in age and can do many of their school subjects together. We have some school subjects--science, for example--which all the girls can do together but then I give the older girls more challenging tasks. It is important to have these times together, but it is also very important for each child to have one-on-one time that is not interrupted by their siblings. Anne is very self-conscious about doing schoolwork in front of her sisters because she is a beginner, while they seem like experts at everything to her. My older children are strictly forbidden to ask a question while I am working with Anne. They generally follow this rule because they know it is a finite amount of time and they can ask their question when we are finished. If they begin interrupting with questions, Anne and I will simply move to a room where we can shut the door.
I knew from the beginning this uninterrupted time would be important for Anne, but I came to realize my older girls also craved time one-on-one with me. I have made math my one-on-one time with Meg and Clare. They refuse to do math on their own even if it is an assignment I know they can do. They want a chance to have me all to themselves and that one-on-one time is part of the beauty of homeschool.
I should also add that there is great benefit to allowing children who are not part of a particular lesson to eavesdrop. I was shocked to realize that Anne, who is only in Kindergarten, was learning parts of speech. She was often nearby when I taught Meg and Clare grammar, so she picked it up by listening. Similarly, we have been know to include her when we read together. While Meg, Clare and I will read a section of Black Beauty, for example, Anne will take her turn reading from a Bob Book. It helps her feel included and allows her to overcome her self-consciousness about reading in front of her sisters.
Make sure to add beauty.
It is so easy to get caught up in our list of school subjects, but it is essential that we give our children beauty in their education. Our family has had a difficult month and all three of my girls are showing particular anxiety regarding the coronavirus. They are concerned about their grandparents. They are worried that we'll run out of food. Clare is concerned she won't get another Shamrock Shake this year.
I can offer my children some reassurance, but I can't ease all their worries. There is simply too many unanswered questions and, when it comes to a virus, there are few guarantees. So rather than offering reassurance, I offer them beauty. One of my favorite quotes comes from Anne Frank and says, "I don't think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains." When misery seems to surround us, I try to focus on beauty. In our homeschool, I include art studies (we have been learning about Whistler) and poetry. We often have our local classical music station playing during school and Meg has taken to playing it when she goes to her room to read or work. Over the past week, we have been starting seeds and preparing our garden, which allows us to focus on the beauty of God's creation all around us.
During this time at home, make a conscious effort to find beauty. In addition to the school work that has been sent home, start a poetry tea time, which Julie Bogart at Brave Writer has made very popular in homeschool circles. Many orchestras and chamber music ensembles are streaming performances that audiences will not be allowed to attend. Watch those as a family. Rather than making them a requirement, you might just try turning on a performance to watch yourself and see if any of your children join you. You can find a list here.
Finally, encourage your children who are of writing age to keep a journal during this time (and do so yourself). History teachers and PhD students have taken to Twitter recently to remind us that handwritten journals during coronavirus pandemic might be what future historians use to understand this event. Journaling will allow your child to process their feelings and help them understand how historians know about events in our past. I threw this suggestion out to Meg and she immediately jumped on the idea. She even made her own journal so she could add paper to it depending on how long the quarantine lasts.
Enjoy this time with your children. You are going to have good days and bad days. Most days will fall somewhere in between. It may very well be that we all look back at this time with fondness because we slowed down and spent time together. Good luck.