I home-schooled; you can, too

Tips and encouragement for educating your child during COVID-19

Joshua Baran, then 8 and now 35, works on math at his home school in 1994.
Joshua Baran, then 8 and now 35, works on math at his home school in 1994.

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For two decades, I did something many people thought they could not do. I home-schooled my six children for most of their educational years through high school.

For many of you, I know home schooling is not your first choice. And I want you to know that, for however long you must home-school, you can do it, too – even if you don’t have great internet (or any internet) or one or more devices.

Actually, until the last couple of years, we didn’t use the internet for school at all. I wanted my kids to learn concepts the old-fashioned way. Most of them never really encountered a calculator until junior college.

But their math skills are excellent.

Because I put together my own program, all six of my kids were required (by me) to earn their GEDs. And they did. In fact, the youngest three have gone to college and graduated, all with honors and one with high honors.

Five of the six (one is disabled) have great jobs, and four of those five make more money than I do.

You really can do this.

But I’m working from home!

During my first wave of home schooling (before I became a single parent), I did not work outside the home. This did not necessarily make home schooling easier.

All of my children’s friends were in conventional school, and my children seemed to think that was a better deal (“Amanda has open book tests. Why can’t I?”).

They also seemed to think that, because I was not working, I was eternally available to them.

And by the way, “Amanda” now lives in another state and home-schools her kids.

During wave two, we as a family delivered newspapers by night. By day, my husband worked at the school across the street, and I freelanced from home.

Because now that my kids realized I was less available to them, they were more on task with the routine as they knew I was not eternally available to them. Which brings me to the importance of having a routine.

Set a new routine

Set a new routine, even if that routine changes and needs adjusting during these crazy times. People tend to thrive under a basic routine, even people who say they don’t.

A routine will ensure you hit your highest priority tasks, will help you anticipate the rest of your day and will lessen stress and anxiety in the moment.

If you must deviate, give an explanation: “The store changed its hours, so we must get groceries now. We’ll check your math tonight.”

Use small increments of time.

Have just five minutes before that next phone appointment? Read a book to your child.

Or drill times tables.

Or see how far down a spelling list you can get.

Play “Beat the Clock.” Who can finish a work-related task first (school is your child’s work), you or the child?

For multiple kids, let them compete against each other – if they are good with friendly competition. (My kids completed to the death, so this didn’t work for us.) Keep prizes simple: The winner gets a sticker, gets to pick out the next story or gets to pick tonight’s family movie.

You get the idea.

My kids loved speed drills because these were grade- and skill-based. So it was just between the child and the clock. Speed drills are short bursts of math problems that we did to a timer. They were graded on the number of problems completed and accuracy.

I don’t have the patience to home-school

I doubt few people have the patience to home-school.

Developing patience is like developing immunity.

Small exposures to instances that make us impatient will gradually build up a tolerance to them and then, voila!

You have become a patient home-schooling parent.

I’m not qualified

You went to school and learned stuff.

Just share it with your child.

Don’t worry if you don’t remember a lot of it because you can collaborate.

Be collaborative

You don’t have to know everything.

In fact, you might be better at home schooling if you don’t.

For instance, I am better at English than math. So trying to teach the difference between direct objects, indirect objects and objects of preposition to my dyslexic child who excelled in math was challenging for me (and her).

It’s OK to say, “I’ve never seen a complex fraction in my life. Let’s tackle it together.”

Sometimes the kids would figure it out before I did and delight in showing me something I didn’t know. Even today, they love knowing more than I do and letting me know it.

If you do have internet...

Use it to look up projects that use everyday items: science experiments, crafts, word games. (“Can you find all the hidden words before Mommy finishes her story?”)

Do science experiments with simple ingredients at home.

If you’re still ordering online, I recommend the “Backyard Scientist” series from the late 1980s by Jane Hoffman. Most of the experiments really do use items you have at home.

Writing ideas

Make up stories, write them down and read them back to each other.

Write little notes of encouragement throughout the day.

Read together

It’s doubtful you have zero reading material at home. Now’s the time to dig out those books the kids received as gifts and never read. Or download some books on your phone or tablet.

Yes, the kids can read alone.

But also, make time to read aloud to and with your child. That’s how we did our home-school reading, all through high school.

We read short stories, poetry, essays and entire whole novels aloud, 15 to 20 minutes at a time, sitting side by side, alternating paragraphs and giggling over who kept winding up with the extra-long paragraphs.

Besides you have not lived until you’ve read “Idylls of the King” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson with your 17-year-old son and he starts ad-libbing his own version (in perfect Tennyson language) because he feels sorry for Sir Gareth when Lynette persists in taunting him with her “Kitchen Knave” and “Sir Scullion” remarks.

By reading aloud together, you can instantly gauge your children’s comprehension and oral reading skills. You can commiserate on a really awful piece and wonder just what the author was thinking.

A little trick to get your child hooked on reading

Reading aloud is nice, cheap drama. You can get as dramatic as you like. You can end a chapter on a cliffhanger and wait until tomorrow to finish it.

I did this with novels I read aloud to my children over lunch, a chapter at a time.

I remember the time I was reading a young adult novel from my childhood to my kids. We were down to the last chapter when one of my kids informed me that her older brother had smuggled the book into his bedroom.

Mostly, she was annoyed that he would get to the end of the story first.

I smiled and told her not to worry. The last couple of pages had fallen out years ago and I was planning to summarize the end.

Her brother showed up a short time later with the book. He was not happy.

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