The National Homeschool Education Research Institute approximates that 2.5 million K-12 students homeschool in the United States, based on projections for 2019. Of our estimated 331 million citizens, Business Insider reported on April 7 that 95% are under stay-at-home orders. As a result the number of Americans attempting to teach or learn at home has recently gone through the roof.
You may find yourself among the millions of displaced teachers and learners around the world who suddenly find themselves homebound—and climbing the walls. Twenty years ago, so was I (see my December 2019 post, “Carpe Diem”). Today our home shelters one veteran educator trying to instruct his 7-8th grade public school students via computer and telephone, one undergraduate student attempting to finish her sophomore studies via computer instruction from her professors, one student doctor self-instructing to prepare for entering medical school this July, one homeschooled-since-preschool fifth-grade student distracted by all the novel action at home, and me, her instructor, with more than twenty years of K-12 homeschooling experience–trying to keep everything together.
As my mother-in-law observed, it’s good but challenging to have the whole family at home once more while we’re all trying to pursue various educational endeavors. “And they’re adults,” she said of my two oldest daughters, “so you can’t say much.” Our dynamics have changed, for sure. During this demanding time, I asked everyone to consider their most successful “homeschooling” strategies. Below are the best from each of us.
The public school educator (nearing retirement age) counsels, “Inspect, don’t expect.”
We learned this mantra from private school educators about thirty years ago. It served us well at the Christian school we helped to start, the secular university where I worked as an adjunct professor while getting my master’s degree, the public schools where my husband has taught and at home, where I now teach. Time constraints alone tempt even the most diligent students to shirk when they can get away with it. If an assignment is worth assigning, it’s worth checking. Never expect students to do something without making sure they actually accomplish it.
Keep in contact. Through trial and error, my husband discovered evening is the best time to make telephone calls. “Parents are using their phones during the day,” he reported, “but I reached everyone I needed to at night.” He also does video conferences, videos, calls and emails with his students.
While he seems laid-back and even goofy, my husband takes things seriously and tends toward workaholism. I was crazy to think that having him home would actually mean having him home: he’s here, but holed up in the den busier than ever on the phone or computer even weekends and evenings. Tonight, for example, he drafted the rest of the family to participate in recording yet another of his new video lessons; early tomorrow he’s planning on going back to school “for the last time” (again) to gather more supplies for labs he will also video and post for his students. Usually I can hardly wait for summer, but this year I wonder if I’ll make it!
Like our middle and youngest daughter, he’s very social, so the imposed isolation weighs heavily, causing him (and her) to go a little nuts at times. So far, he’s permitted to return to school and go outdoors, which seem to be his escape valves. If the social distancing screw turns tighter, he will find it extremely difficult to cope for a single day unless he establishes stricter limits on his work schedule, something I advise us all to do. After a busy week, even God took a day off. He expects us to do the same. Sabbath is a concept worth exploring and establishing. Now would be a good time, if you haven’t before.
Our student doctor is a typical oldest child: independent, perfectionistic and driven. She’s also a confirmed night owl like her father but, of course, more extreme. A university honors graduate with a bachelor’s degree in biology, she just finished her gap-year job and was looking forward to resting and studying the few months before her next four years of intense instruction. She and her dad were supposed to visit the area around her medical school last weekend to secure housing. Now we’re trying to do that online. Like most public schools, hers is shutdown, but its current students are now learning online. The school still plans to begin on time and on campus this summer, so she’s studying as if it will. Here is her best advice for self-instructors:
Try to set aside daily morning study sessions. I study in the morning, so I don’t have to think about it all day.
Her favorite science sites include Ninja Nerd on YouTube and khanacademy.org. Both are free, secular sites. She relies heavily on her Kaplan MCAT study books to refresh her anatomy and biochemistry knowledge.
She and I are a lot alike. I also try to do as much as I can of my Bible study and hardest writing/thinking/pressing chores in the morning before everyone else is up and the day gets away from me.
To maximize effectiveness, I use one of my mother’s favorite tools: a list. She was a former educator, too, and I chafed under those never-ending written chores she’d devise for us. While I loved crossing out completed tasks, the worn and wrinkled pages of columns kept on coming. My husband is content in the midst of a perpetual project or two, but our oldest daughter and I are finishers, impatient ’til the end. While I do have my own never-ending list on my phone where I can change what I need to immediately, I delete obsolete chores, prioritize categories and move any urgent unfinished task to the top for completion the next day. This has worked even better for homeschooling. Those assignments that never seemed to get done, now do.
Our university sophomore (middle child and former baby for ten years) is adjusting to her interrupted semester pretty well. Like her father and youngest sister, she’s a social butterfly (as I was once upon a time) and misses her friends and roommate but is glad to be back with her family and pets. However, the first two years of her music composition program are the hardest, and instead of performance, in which she excels, the emphasis has switched during the shutdown to exams, with which she struggles. She’s an aural learner, like her father, and computer connections (or the lack thereof) do not enhance sound transmissions or the identification/conducting of them. The rest of us are visual learners, so things like lag and distortion don’t affect us as much. This is what she advises other undergraduates in any major:
Try to find a quiet place, so you can focus on your work, even if that means running a fan or noisemaker outside the door to mask the household noise. Also, set up online meetings to connect with fellow students to study together and keep each other accountable. Get a good night’s sleep.
As a parent, I’m rather proud of that last point. She’s an early bird like me, retiring when the rest of the house is just getting ready to party.
For her best strategy, our battle-hardened fifth-grade homeschool student says, and I quote: “Shut your child up in a room where there is no phone and a computer with little or no video games. Set a timer, and if they’re not done by that time, multiply their work.” Whew! She’s much tougher than I am and pretty funny, but all of us concur with the quiet place maxim: the better you can concentrate, free of distractions, the easier it is to accomplish work. She actually does best by me, in a quiet room. Since the others have taken over rooms we used to occupy, we’ve chosen my bedroom, where it’s sunny and comfortable.
Her “multiply their work” advice is something I was told as a novice home educator. I’m not sure why I couldn’t pull it off with our older girls. It succeeds with our youngest, though. If she’s off task and I realize it, she knows she’ll have more to do than she’s already avoiding–so she’s less likely to stray.
Usually I’m pretty eclectic and frugal with curriculum, relying on used materials. Last year when I was laid up a few months before and after surgery, I purchased a yearlong core subjects subscription to IXL, a secular personalized online learning site my husband’s school uses. I’m using it again this year along with selections from a very old edition of What Your Fifth Grader Needs to Know, edited by E.D. Hirsch Jr., Beverly Adams-Gordon’s Spelling Power and Abeka’s God’s Gift of Language. In addition to other miscellaneous books and projects as needed, we also read, study, discuss and memorize the Bible as a family and individually.
I’ve always aimed to give my children a great education as fast as possible, so we’re not doing school all the time. I also like clear goals, so I use grade-level checklists to make sure I’m teaching them all they need to know. My favorite book to help achieve this is Robin Sampson’s What Your Child Needs to Know When. It was old when I bought it, but it gave me direction and assurance while educating my older daughters, who found college very manageable. I’m loosely using it with their eleven-year-old sister also. Since I trust my materials and teaching more, I’m not as much into checklists these days, but she does just as well as they did on her state-mandated annual achievement tests.
My best and final advice is, enjoy this fleeting time. Even when you’re with them 24/7, children grow up fast and life keeps us all busy. My motto (and theme song) is 1 Timothy 1:5, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Start out with the Bible and prayer, apply it and grace during the day and splurge on love throughout, even when everyone’s driving each other crazy. These days will pass. Soon. 1 Peter 4:7-8 says, “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.“