Whether you’re moving, vacationing, fighting an extended illness or injury, or battening the hatches because the coronavirus is impacting your community, there may come a time when you have to temporarily homeschool your children. If you have the luxury of working from home yourself, at least temporarily, this situation is manageable and can even be a way to connect with your kiddos in a unique way.
My family has been living in Norway this semester because of my husband’s work, and due to our travel plans and the inevitable challenge negotiating with bureaucracy in a foreign country, I’ve been homeschooling our two daughters temporarily. It hasn’t always been easy, and I’ve found it a challenge to juggle my own work, but homeschooling has also brought us closer together as a family and has given me insight into how school works for them in a way I hadn’t understood up till now. I should add that while my background in education does technically make me qualified to teach them in some content areas, there are incredible resources out there that can make any of us qualified to teach- temporarily! Here’s how we did it:
Start with your child’s school and teacher.
Is your school closed because of a strike? Wide-spread illness? A water break? In these circumstances, schools typically send out guidance and recommendations. There is no better person to tell you how to keep your kiddos on track academically while homeschooling temporarily than their teachers.
When my mother-in-law texted me a few weeks ago that she was worried about the children falling behind, I was able to reassure her that the school was on board with our plan and that we knew what areas the girls would need extra help in to keep up with their classmates. We had curriculum guides, math websites, and the books their classmates would be reading. Because we, pardon the pun, did our homework, we felt confident that we could take them out of school without doing damage. I should also add that legally you’ll need to communicate with your school if you are planning on withdrawing your kids for any extended period of time.
Practice inquiry learning.
Even with the school’s curriculum in my back pocket, I’ve learned to ask my girls what they want to learn. In the first week of homeschooling, I spent way too much time telling them what to do and how to do it because I was nervous they weren’t learning enough. After a week of them glaring at me across the kitchen table, I realized I was working too hard, they weren’t actually working hard enough, and it was making us all pretty miserable.
So, I took a step back and began offering them a menu of options to pick from each morning. This typically included some field trip options or some “chill out at home” work. It all depended on what they wanted to learn more about. There was a bit of an adjustment period when we started doing this as it put them in the driver’s seat of their own education and they weren’t used to being in charge. Plus, their idea of homeschooling was watching YouTube videos, then going someplace, looking at some stuff, and eating ice cream.
My “students” didn’t like that they had to do work no matter what option they chose. “Sure we can go to Jamestown or the Viking Museum or the Reptile House, I’d say, BUT what are you going to do before or after the trip to show your learning?” Or, “No problem, we can chill out at home, but what book will you be reading? When are you going to do your math problems?” You’re in charge, I’d repeatedly tell them, but you have to actually work.
There’s good research behind centering children’s own interests in their learning: it’s motivating to put the learner in charge of figuring something out for themselves.
My girls, I soon discovered, had loads of questions but very little sense of how to go about answering them with any depth. They knew how to Google, but not how to research. They knew how to read, but not how to read critically.
The advantage of homeschooling is that once they picked what they were going to study, I could really let them take the lead on how they wanted to work. There were excited lunch or dinner conversations where they told me what they discovered. The disadvantage of homeschooling is that I had to be their teacher and push them to go further and dig deeper than they wanted to, using their own questions as our guide. There were days my teen stayed in her room and mumbled responses to me when I checked in on her. One morning, my youngest told me she didn’t like me very much as her teacher. The less fun times for us all, I can tell you, were easier though because I got to say, “Well, you picked this topic,” or “Isn’t this something you wanted to learn more about?”
When we traveled, we knew our kids would be learning all the time from what was around them. We also knew that we wanted them to think about these experiences more than they would if this were just a regular non-homeschool family vacation. With this in mind, I gave them two choices: they could blog their experiences and share them with their friends, or they could keep a travel diary and write in it to share with just us. Both girls opted to blog.
Let me add that this was an easy choice for my teen who loves writing and could happily spend an hour or two digging deeper into the burial practices of the Hapsburgs (Why do the organs go to different places?). It was more of a challenge for my tween who has some learning differences and struggles to write.
It took us a lot of tears, but Libby’s blog became one of the things I’m most proud of as a homeschool mom. Because it was often just me and her, I was able to slow down and figure out what helped her write. I was able to give her the attention she needed to use speech-to-text software and could tell when she needed to try something different. It wasn’t easy (did I mention how much crying there’s been in homeschooling?) but this week, when Libby got to read her former classmates’ comments on what she’s been writing, her beaming face made it worth it.
Confession: last week I was tired and cranky and behind in work because of our homeschooling. When my brother-in-law arrived for a visit, I drafted him to share his engineering knowledge with the girls. What followed was an amazing lesson on buoyancy that would have taken me a week to plan for but was easy for him to make up off the top of his head. The girls, well versed in following their own questions at this point, asked a lot of questions and did a lot of experimenting using just our kitchen scale and a bowl of water. The best resource is often your clever family members, I learned.
A few days later, when we decided to study topics in honor of Black History Month, we turned to PBS videos. I was anticipating thinking about the legacy of Rosa Parks, but what followed instead was a homeschool discussion of Afro-futurism and the videos of Missy Elliot because that was what was available to stream abroad and the girls were interested. (PBS is awesome!)
I’ve also been lucky to have a piano in the apartment we’re renting and decent wifi. This means the girls have kept up with their piano practice and we’ve checked out about a gazillion books and audiobooks using our library Libby app. I am not above having the girls enjoy independent reading time or online geography or typing practice for a few hours each day so that I can keep up with work!
Back to Reality
The girls are finally enrolled in an actual Norwegian school this week and I am honestly relieved that our homeschooling time is coming to an end. In all honesty, we’ve been getting on each other’s nerves and the girls have started picking on each other. They are ready for some quality time learning from professionals with fellow students heir own age.