Back to School-ish
This school year has been quite the journey so far. Our spring break turned into an extended summer break, but for most of us, it WASN’T a break at all. Parents and teachers alike were scrambling to figure out how to get kids engaged and learning while doing it virtually. I don’t know if anyone really did a great job during these months of crisis schooling (because what happened from March to June WAS NOT homeschooling), but we did the best that we could with what we were given.
Now we are 5 months into this pandemic and, although educators went through copious amounts of training on how to start the school year virtually, parents and teachers are left again wondering how they will make this school year work for them.
For those of you who don’t know me, allow me to first introduce myself. My name Angela Linzay and I am entering my 6th year of homeschooling. I taught in the classroom for 14 years before bringing my 3 kids home (kinder, 3rd, and 5th grade at the time). Last year, I took a job with Pomona Unified to help build their homeschooling charter program. I help support homeschooling parents while trying to create a charter that provides a space for families to personalize their child’s education. Needless to say, I’m crazy busy. So all you working parents, I see you. I hear you. I feel you ((insert virtual hug)).
I know that there are a lot of worries about this next school year. From limiting screen time to working from home, to trying your hand at homeschooling, I’m here to offer you some tips that have been helpful to me.
First things first. I want to encourage you and say that YOU. CAN. DO. IT. Really! Remember that you love your children the most and as parents, we’ve just been figuring it out and making it work ever since our kids were born.
So here we go (again). Breathe.
Pray for wisdom
This pandemic was not a surprise to God. He knows us and He knows your kids. He knows when this crazy thing is all going to end, so lean hard into Him. He may just want to teach you something. Whenever I get discouraged and confused about my situation, I hold onto this verse from James 1:5:
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
My thought is that if you are sincerely asking God for His wisdom in how to deal with work, your kiddos, distance learning, whatever…. and if it’s His will that we reflect Him in how we act and respond to life’s circumstances, then why would He withhold that wisdom from you? He wants us to live a victorious life. So let’s run to Him, the Author of Life.
Now that we understand that, let’s move on.
So I’ve been getting messages from 2 types of parents. Both of which are just trying to figure out how they will make it through this school year. I will address them here and offer some tips for each group.
Working from home is tough when you have kids around. Here are some tips that I have found helpful.
Learning pods - Have you heard of this? This is a popular model that I’ve seen where kids learn in a small group with a hired teacher in someone’s home. Here is a spin on it to work for you. If your child is doing distance learning, why not find a small group (if you feel comfortable) of their friends in the same class and do the Zoom together? They can rotate houses so that no one family has to do all the work. This will help you get work done while it’s your turn to have the house to yourself AND your kids will get to be with some of their friends. It’s a WIN-WIN.
Schedule your work while kids are “in school” - Your kids will be doing virtual school usually from 8am-12pm. That is a perfect time for you to be productive. Make a list of your most important tasks and knock them out during that time. Studies show that when you set a time limit for each task, you will complete it much faster vs. not having a time limit. You’re actually more efficient and make better decisions. Weird I know, but it works!
Hire some help during work hours - There are a lot of college students that now have quite a bit of free time since their colleges are online. I even have some homeschooling friends whose older kids have been hired out to help kids with distance learning while parents work. Ask around for some references. Make sure that they’re not sick. Have guidelines for them while in your house (wash hands, sanitize, shoes off, etc). I’m sure your kids will also love having another friendly face around.
Limit screen time out of school - Your kids will be on the screen for hours a day. Blue light from computer monitors is a real thing and causes a variety of negative effects on our health. Don’t believe me? Google it. From headaches, to fatigue, to lack of sleep… all are recipes for disaster if it’s not regulated, especially in children. Do you think your children will want to behave and listen to your instructions and focus in school when they are not feeling well? It sounds more to me like a meltdown is near (no matter how old they are!), which will make your day harder on both parent and child. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Set an OFF WORK time - If you’re anything like me, I can work ALL. DAY. LONG. I get completely focused, determined to check things off my list, and nothing else matters. Sadly, not even my children. And they can sense it, too. This is not healthy for you or your kids. Working from home is difficult because the line between home and work is blurred. You get up, get some things done around the house, then sit back down and get back to work. Do that a couple of times and before you know it, you’ve literally been working all day long. When your kids see that you never stop working, they are more likely to interrupt you during the times that you set work hours. They won’t know when they can talk to you, connect with you, or when you’ll be available to them. Setting an end time to your workday will help your day go smoother since your kids will know that at “___ o’clock” mom/dad is all ours. When they see an end, they are less likely to interrupt you since they know they’ll get you soon. This may take some reminders in the beginning (Remember, I’m working and will be done at ____o’clock and then I’m all yours). Let’s just make sure that we all keep our word and really be DONE with work when we say we are. If you continue to work after you’re “off work”, then your kids won’t believe you and won’t give you the time when you need it during your work hours.
Set clear expectations - Set clear expectations for your kids when you work. Just because you are working from home, doesn’t really mean that you’re “home”. Before I sit down to do a huge project, my husband and I tell the kids that I am off limits for the next hour.We let them know what to do when they need something, have a question, and go over alternative options should they need me. In that hour, they cannot come ask me anything unless they’re on fire, which would be considered an emergency. I get very distracted so I am not one who can answer questions and get things done for my kids and then jump right back into my work. After that hour, I take a little break and connect with the kids before I jump back into my next task. My kids also know that when ___o’clock hits, I’ll be done with work and then I’m all theirs (refer to above tip)!
Ok, homeschooling parents. You’re up!
Have a routine – I taught in a traditional school for 14 years. My life was run by the bell. Ring. It’s recess and my restroom break. Ring. Lunch time and copies. Ring. My afternoon bathroom break. So when I began homeschooling, I naturally had everything scheduled down to the minute. That broke me. It was almost impossible to stick to a strict time schedule and I ended everyday feeling frustrated and that I had failed. Do not do that. I would suggest a routine, a rhythm to your day vs. a schedule. Yes, we have time frames but it’s not our end all. The routine is what has given me sanity and given my kids order to our day. I would say that you should have a consistent start time to your day. We begin about 8ish.
Prepare – The more prepared you are for the day, the smoother it will go. If there is a project to do, have the supplies ready to go. Books you want to read to them? Have it there. Worksheets? Have them already copied. Do not wait until that morning to rush to prep for the day or do not prep while your kids are waiting for you. You will lose them.
Have a clean workspace – It’s hard to work in clutter. Have a place for supplies and books. Make it easily accessible for your kids. Let them know where to get supplies and have them put them back in the correct place. This will help your day feel more organized instead of having to stop the flow of your day to find a pair of scissors, crayons, or even lined paper. I give each of my kids a shelf in our bookcase. All their books are there so there is no need to go searching for anything.
Put your phone aside – If you are distracted with your phone then your kids will get off task. Last year, I had a homeschooling boy say to me that his mom was not paying attention to him and teaching him because she was always on her phone. OUCH. While that may not be you, being on your phone while you’re teaching your kids can send them the message that what you’re doing with them is not that important. Put away the distraction and your kids will see that their homeschooling day is a priority to you.
Co-ops/Learning pods - Homeschool co-ops are learning pods in the homeschool world. Families get together and either take turns teaching or hire a teacher. Co-ops are fantastic for both parents and students. Kids get to learn with others in a smaller setting while parents connect with other homeschooling parents. This also gives parents a break from being the main instructor. There are homeschool co-ops everywhere. Google your area or ask other homeschooling families.
Drop off school – These days are GOLD to me and one of the reasons that I can say “Hallelujah” at the end of the week. Drop off school is just that, a “school” where there are a set of classes that you can sign your kids up for and just DROP THEM OFF. This is a great day to recharge, get some errands done, or just sit and sip hot coffee without having to reheat it 100 times. I LOVE my drop off days and feel like I’m a better teacher because I get a break. My kids always look forward to seeing their friends every week. It gets a 10 out of 10 for me. Highly recommend. To find a drop off program, ask any homeschooling mama. I’m positive that she’ll know them all. 😊
Outsourcing subjects - I know PLENTY of families who do not like to teach math, science, or writing… so they outsource it to others. Whether it’s an online class or at a drop off day, you don’t need to teach something that you hate. Outsource it. You can find these classes at your local homeschool drop off programs. Don’t know where they are? Ask a homeschooling mom. Again, I promise she will have a directory listing them all.
School from anywhere - Remember that in homeschooling, the world is your classroom! School in your backyard for a change of scenery. We’ve done school at Panera, the library, Starbucks, you name it. It really adds an element of fun.
Celebrate the little things – Homeschooling is a huge transition from traditional schooling. At school, they may celebrate birthdays, have award ceremonies, give out class rewards, etc. Those celebrations do not need to stop once homeschooling begins. Celebrate the little things. I always give little “First Day of School” treats for my kids, we have a Christmas party with the principal (my hubby), an End of the Year awards ceremony with cinnamon rolls for breakfast, my daughter would ring an obnoxious cowbell whenever she would finish reading a large chapter book (neighbors LOVED us), and so on. I guess what I’m saying is that you can make your kids feel special by celebrating the little things!
I want to end with this. I feel like I cannot talk about this weird season that we are in without addressing a very serious issue. Mental health. So many of us are feeling isolated and alone. I think kids are feeling it hard since they do not have the ability to drive themselves around. Our kids depend on us to drive them places, the plan for friends to visit, etc. Here are some points that I wanted to quickly address. Please make this a priority for your family to feel connected during this time. It’s good for our mental health. Kids will not learn if they do not feel connected and safe (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).
Taking care of your children’s emotional/mental health:
Keep kids active - get them moving, have them play outside, ride bikes, beach trips, etc.
Kids in community – get your kids involved in small groups, host Church at Home, be intentional about connections/community, connect with other homeschooling families for you and your kids.
Eat dinner together – since some sports are taking a break, this a great time for your family to connect. This gives space for kids to speak what has been on their mind and a time for parents to come together and connect as a family. Studies show that family dinners do A LOT of good for children and help them to be more emotionally connected and secure. Don’t underestimate the power of a meal together.
I know that the way this year is going is not what you had expected. Again, God knew. Is there something that He wants you and your kids to learn during this time? Could it be that He wants to use this season to redeem your family time that had been lost to crazy schedules, sports, lessons, and homework? There’s so much to be learned in every season, and it WILL be hard. But you can do hard things. I believe in you.
I’m rooting for you. You can do it. We’re in this together.