The Coronavirus turned millions of parents into instant homeschoolers. I never planned to homeschool, but COVID-19 didn’t care about my plans (or anyone else’s). This rapidly spreading virus closed schools across the nation and turned stay-at-home parents to full-time working parents into homeschoolers with little to no preparation.
Many school districts were able to set up online classrooms virtually overnight. Students were given schedules and were expected to log on to their virtual classroom to continue learning with their teacher and classmates. Parents were expected to monitor this, but they were not expected to develop a schedule or curriculum.
Other school districts shut their doors with little to no instruction for parents. Parents were left wondering what they were supposed to teach their children and how they were supposed to teach it.
My children’s school belonged to one of these “other” districts. They gave us nothing. Parents were notified at 9:30 pm on a Sunday night that school would be cancelled effective Monday morning. Parents were also notified that there was no plan in place for online learning.
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Homeschooling Without A Plan
Initially, I was frustrated. I’m a planner, and we didn’t have a plan! I wanted my children to continue their school routine as seamlessly as possible, and I didn’t want to risk them falling behind. However, after just one week of doing our own “free for all” homeschool plan, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It goes without saying that these are difficult times and everyone is coping differently. A structured online school routine would work for some, but it wouldn’t work for all. I thought a structured homeschool routine would work best for my family, but I am grateful that I was forced to try something different.
Get Off The Electronics!
My biggest fear was that my children would end up on electronics all day not doing anything academic. I imagined spending most of my day reminding them to get off the electronics. Days would be long and frustrating and my children wouldn’t be learning anything. I work from home, so although I am there to supervise and help occasionally, I need my children to be able to spend a large part of the day working independently.
Day 1 actually started off really well. My kids were excited about the novelty of homeschooling and my 12 year old daughter put together a schedule for both her and her 10 year old brother. I was still busy franticly meal planning and trying to ensure our pantry was stocked (not hoarding, but preparing). I was also scrambling to try to salvage what was left of my own small business, so I gratefully agreed to go with the schedule my daughter put together and let her take the lead. Day 1 was good. The kids stayed on task and for the most part stuck to the schedule. However, by the middle of Day 2, the novelty had worn off, and I found myself constantly reminding them to get off the electronics. By the end of Day 2, it was clear that we needed a new schedule.
That evening, we sat down together to come up with a schedule we could all work with. It was important to both of them to have time to connect virtually with their friends. I agreed that staying connected was important, but I also wanted them to continue their learning and enjoy a little non electronic fun. The schedule we came up with is below:
This schedule enables me to spend only one hour a day directly involved in homeschooling. The rest of the time is mostly independent. Here are the details.
9:00 – 10:00: Khan Academy Math / Nitro Type
During this time, I spend 30 minutes with one child working on the Khan Academy math program while my other child independently works on the Nitro Type typing program. I think it is super important to stay up on math skills, so I’ve decided to sit with my children and go through the Khan program together to ensure they understand it. The program is designed to be done independently though, so if a parent can’t be involved, it will still work. I decided to have this be the first thing we do in the morning so I can be sure it gets done. If the rest of the day falls apart, at least we did math. While I am working on math with one child for half an hour, my other child independently works on Nitro Type and then we switch. Both Khan and Nitro Type are FREE.
10:00 – 10:40: Silent Reading
40 minutes of uninterrupted silent reading while I work. This has worked out better than expected. We are normally SO BUSY, so reading rarely gets done. My daughter is a very reluctant reader and will typically only read graphic novels unless forced or bribed to read something else. Having this dedicated 40 minute window to read books other than graphic novels has been amazing. The other day, I heard her say, “Darn it, I’m almost done with this book. I don’t want it to be over!” Success!
10:40 – 11:30: Free Time / Virtually Connect with Friends
It is easy for the kids to be independent during this time. My son loves to play video games virtually with his cousin and my daughter likes to Facetime with her friends. I think it is important for them to stay connected during this period of social distancing, so I feel good giving them 50 minutes to do that. Plus, math and reading have been done, so again, if the rest of the day falls apart, it is still a win.
11:30 – 12:00: Journal Writing
We started off with blank journals and I told the kids to just “write about anything”. By day 2, they couldn’t think of anything to write about, so it became clear that more guidance was needed. I found some journal prompts online and printed them out. I then cut the journal prompts into slips of paper and put them in jar. Each day, they picked one journal prompt out of the jar to write about. If they didn’t like it, they could pick a different one, but they could only pick 5 prompts a day and had to choose from one of those. The writing began to flow! I have also given them the option to write letters to grandparents and extended family that we are separated from right now. I’m sure we will have some happy grandparents when the letters start arriving next week.
12:00 – 1:00: Lunch (help make it and help clean up)
My children are used to be waited on a bit. Again, they are SO BUSY, so I am typically happy to lighten their load and prepare and clean up after their meals. Social distancing has put an end to the long school days, social commitments and dance and baseball obligations, so I am making it a priority to teach them some life skills and have them help out with meal prep and clean up. Since we aren’t in such a rush, it is working out great.
1:00 – 1:30: Art
After lunch, I have the kids choose an independent art activity. I printed out some step by step drawing activities on Drawing Now and they liked it so much that I ordered The Drawing Book for Kids. They can choose from drawing, painting (I have the supplies organized and easy to access), play dough, legos (building something is sort of art – right?), or whatever other art project they can do on their own. Depending on my work schedule, I sometimes join them during this time and do a little art therapy myself.
1:30 – 2:30: PE
PE is probably the best part of our day. I structure my schedule to be able to join them (I need some physical fitness too), but if I couldn’t, they could do it on their own. We’ve been going on long bike rides near the river close to our house. In the middle of this pandemic, it is so nice to see my children looking out at the river saying, “Wow. This is so peaceful.”
2:30 – 3:00: Life Skills Math
Math is a priority to me, so in addition to having my kids work on the Khan Academy each morning, I also have them work together on some life skills math. My son is in 4th grade and my daughter is in 6th grade. I bought a set of Real-Life Math workbooks for grades 3 – 5 (but really it is appropriate for grades 3 – 6). My children work together on this and it works out great. They can think through the real-life math situations together and help each other work through the problems. The real-life scenarios include math related to pet ownership, going to a drive thru restaurant and shopping at the mall or other stores. Both of my children are enjoying working through these workbooks together, and I am happy to see them applying math skills to real-life situations.
3:00 – 3:30: Chores
Another thing that has fallen off our normally busy routine are consistent chores. We typically do family chores on Sunday or as needed, but my kids haven’t been on a consistent chore routine for a while. With everyone home, it is more important than ever for everyone to help out with maintaining the house. We intended to try Zone Cleaning a while ago and never really found the time for it. However, with our new slower paced schedule, we have been able to incorporate Zone Cleaning and not only get the kids to help out, but actually teach them HOW to help clean up the house.
3:30 – 4:00: Board Games / Card Games
Yes, the “school” day could end now, but I don’t want my kids on electronics all afternoon, so I extended our schedule. At 3:30, my children play board games or card games together, and depending on my work schedule, I may join them.
4:00 – 5:00: Baseball / Dance
My son is an All-Star baseball player with dreams of playing in the major league one day. Yes, he is only 10, but to him (and my husband), this dream is very real. Baseball used to take up hours of his time each day, but with the season canceled, he is left to do what he can at home. He and my husband go out for at least an hour each day to practice hitting, throwing and catching. When the weather isn’t good, they practice in our garage where he hits off a tee and does arm strengthening exercises.
My daughter is a competitive dancer and is used to spending 2 – 3 hours most evenings at her dance studio. Her dance season has also been canceled, but she is able to take online dance classes and practice at home in the small space we have set up for her.
Although they are both used to much more rigorous routines with their sports, they seem to both be enjoying a lighter schedule.
5:00 – 6:00: Free Time
This usually means electronics, and if they stayed off the electronics for most of the day, I’m fine with it.
6:00sih Dinner (help make it and help clean up)
Again, everyone is pitching in to help get the meal on the table and clean up afterwards. It is nice to feel freed from owning this responsibility on my own.
After Dinner: Read Aloud
Over the past couple of years, I have rarely read aloud to my children. They are getting older and we are SO BUSY, but with our new slower schedule, I’m taking this time to connect with them each evening by reading a book aloud together. We are starting with the Newbery Award Winning book, Holes, which is about a 12 year old boy sent to a juvenile detention camp. So far, we are all enjoying it and plan to watch the movie together when we are done with the book.
Evening: Free Time / Movie Night (often with historical movies)
Some nights, we are all just doing our own thing, some nights we are watching junk on TV, and some nights we are watching movies based on historical events to create a bit of a history lesson.
I never thought I would say this, but one week in, and I am loving our homeschool routine. I’ve always thought I needed to be busy, but slowing down and taking time to connect has been such a nice benefit to the difficult situation we’ve all been put in. I received an email from the district last night that said they are trying to figure out an online learning platform, and I am already wondering if I can opt out and stick with our current routine. I’m not ready to give my kids back to the public school system just yet.
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