[caption id="attachment_171007" align="aligncenter" width="1150"] Image: Pixabay.com (2013), CC0/PD[/caption]
My dear cousin Katie called me this morning and asked me to give veteran homeschooling advice for all of the accidental homeschoolers out there. Several other friends have requested “tips” on homeschooling, and my response is always that it is completely different what I do (choose curricula tailored to my child and set the agenda for the day) versus what they do (execute assignments handed to them from curricula they are not familiar with). Nevertheless, I do believe there is some general advice that will help the accidental homeschooler.
Get your parenting house in order
As any new homeschooling parent will tell you -- especially when her child has been to traditional school and is now being brought home to homeschool -- the first few months are the hardest. It’s not the planning and teaching itself that is so difficult, oh no. It’s the parenting. You see, when you see your kids just a couple of hours a day it is pretty easy to choose not to deal with certain behaviors -- maybe some sass or delayed obedience. But when you are together all of the time day after day, those “little” problems show themselves to be the outward sores of an internal infection. So the first job when you get your kids back home is to address the parenting issues in the most loving and charitable way you can.
Get your spiritual house in order
The next thing you learn as a new homeschooling parent is this: if you, the teacher, are having a bad attitude day, your kids will too. (Unfortunately, the contrary is not true. If you are having a good attitude, your kids may or may not follow suit.) If you are snippy or impatient, I guarantee you that your kids will be that way too. It may not be fair, but it’s a reality. The first thing you need to do -- before your feet hit the floor in the morning! -- is ask God to fill you with His grace. You’ve got to learn how to cast your cares upon Our Lord and leave them with Him.
It does really help to pray a morning offering with your children every day. Every morning before school we gather on the couch and praise God for his faithfulness and love. We pray for people who will die that day, the people who take care of them, their family members, our own friends and family who are going through a difficult time, souls who have died, our priests, and for our own day. We end by praying together, “And now we give you all we do, all we say, all our work, all our play, all our joy, and all our sorrow for the greater glory of God.”
Bite your tongue
It can be really hard to realize that your kid doesn’t understand a morsel of whatever it is he is supposed to have learned. And it can be hard to be the parent of a kid who is not performing up to standard. There were times early on when I yelled at my children in frustration. “How can you not get this? We did it yesterday and the day before that and the day before that!” Yelling only tears down -- it does not produce results. What I have come to realize is that a child understands what he understands. What I think he should understand has no bearing on the situation.
I read something once that has helped me plenty in my homeschooling journey: “You can never help your child too much on the road to mastery.” It’s a fine line as we want to challenge our kids, but we need to set up our children for success. If he can’t think critically to understand why a certain argument is flawed, then you, teacher, did not build a strong enough foundation in critical thinking skills. Back up and work on those skills some more and then try again. It’s humbling and tiring, I know. But God made your child as He did, and it’s a major step in parenting to accept your child as he is.
You are on a team with your child, not his adversary
Along those lines, if you want to design a homeschooling session that is going to end in tears, frustration, and ill will, set yourself up as the judge with the answers and your child as the contestant. If you want an experience where your child will end up feeling closer to you and loving you even more, talk in the language of “team.” Use phrases like “we can handle this”, “what do we have here?”, and “your old mom is going to help you figure this out.” Set up the entire quarantine homeschooling experience as “we are in this together and we are going to help each other through.” It makes a world of difference.
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Know your child
If your child is best in the morning, school then. If he needs 20 minutes to run around outside between subjects, don’t make him plow through. If she finds it hard to sit in a chair, let her stand. If he finds division difficult, get out some m&ms to divide. If she finds reading cumbersome, read the book first to her and snuggle with her while she reads it a second time. If he cannot memorize the thirteen colonies for the life of him, set the list to the tune of a familiar song.
This is the beauty of homeschooling, and although you were handed certain assignments to complete on a certain timeline, you can still find ways to tailor it to your child.
Know your priorities
Is your priority to get the assignments done or is it for your child to learn? The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive, of course, but I can tell you from experience that it is awfully tempting to prioritize checking off a box on the school to-do list over taking time to be sure your child has mastered the material.
Do you prioritize getting school “out of the way” or do you value making learning a part of a normal person’s lifestyle? Again, it doesn’t have to be either/or, but it can be so tempting to present school as an obstacle to life/fun rather than an integral part of life and fun.
This might require more communication with your child’s teacher. Perhaps you will ask for your child to do an alternative assignment more suited to the way in which your child learns or perhaps you will ask for your child to be able to move on to more advanced material if she shows mastery of current assignments.
Consider this: you are the primary teacher of your child always. The quarantine is highlighting that fact and perhaps challenging you to fulfill the role in a more tangible way.
Structure the time
A huge help in homeschooling is creating a family rhythm. Set up expectations for when school will be done, when outside time will happen, and when electronics can be accessed. If you do this and adhere to it, you will save yourself myriad headaches from kids who would otherwise constantly badger you to play video games or watch YouTube.
Consider adding in some alone time (no screens), and don’t forget to include time to explore the riches of our faith -- something that wouldn’t be done in a public school. Perhaps you can try to live the liturgical year as a family and learn as you go. This is your chance to create rhythms where body and soul can thrive!
Adhere to consistent, reasonable expectations (and then give yourself wiggle room)
One of the great things about homeschooling is that we can schedule our learning time around the patterns of nature. When the weather is rainy, hit school hard and then read aloud for an hour with your kids in your lap. On days when the weather is glorious, if your own work permits, take the day off from school (or at least the morning or afternoon) and go enjoy the treasures of nature and each other’s company!
Like most skills, you get better at homeschooling the more you do it. Our time with our children under our roof is relatively short. This time of accidental homeschooling, while challenging, can also be tremendously rewarding.
Copyright 2020 Amanda Woodiel
About the Author
Amanda Woodiel is a Catholic convert, a mother to five children ages 11 to 3, a slipshod housekeeper, an enamored wife, and a “good enough” homeschooler who believes that the circumstances of her life -- both good and bad -- are pregnant with grace. She leads a moms' group at her parish that focuses on simple and meaningful ways to live the liturgical year at home. Amanda blogs at In a Place of Grace.