Once upon a few weeks ago, homeschoolers were the vast minority of the population – a single-digit percentage of the kids in this country. And now? Well, now it’s essentially done a total flip, as schools nationwide (and beyond) have closed their doors for the foreseeable future. So this raises a few talking points: How are people faring as they deal with education – and life – taking such a dramatic and sudden turn? What do non-homeschooling parents need to do and be concerned about in terms of what their kids are learning right now? How has this impacted families like mine, who already educate at home? Where will we all be when life returns to “normal,” whatever that may be? I don’t have the answers, but I always have thoughts!
So how is it going for those who normally are at work and their kids at school? I can’t pretend to know, and the current social distancing makes it hard to connect in-depth. I do know a wave of parents have appeared on homeschool sites, looking for help, guidance, and reassurance. I have only this year learned the term “de-schooling,” and many veteran homeschoolers have commented on posts that it is hard to make a sudden switch from public to home; there needs to be a time for adjustment and shedding old routines, habits, mindframes, and such. There is a refrain I see repeated quite often: homeschool is not school at home. However, parents are finding themselves in a weird limbo as their schools haven’t officially closed for the year, they may have been sent home a certain amount of work that the child is supposed to complete, and they are struggling to get the work done while attending to life. Unfortunately, for these families, homeschool is school at home, and I don’t envy them. I have had to do similar packets before and felt I was having to do the teaching for the school, in a manner and style not my own or anything I would choose, all while having to guess and gauge how much the child currently knew. I can promise you, it’s not easy! I had wondered at the time how some make do – say, children at home with a caretaker who may not speak the language fluently, or struggle with the work themselves, or don’t want to do it for one reason or another. I have seen some people advise that the family simply withdraw for the year and officially homeschool to avoid the snarl, but this poses problems too: figuring out the laws for the particular state, finding and filling out any required paperwork, and then, if this is not a long-term choice, navigating re-entry and what that means for testing, ground lost, records, and all that jazz.
Note that I say “ground lost,” not “learning lost.” This brings me to the second point – what these parents should be doing or concerned about. Educationally, these kids have the potential to learn far more than what what they will miss. By ground lost, I mean in terms of the standardized path plotted out in public schools. I have mentioned in the introduction to the Literacy subject page that entering the 8th grade I could not tell you the eight parts of speech, but I could use them all with full competence. That is essentially the concept: school rolls along, with or without you, on it’s way to graduation. If you take a detour or make a pit stop, it is up to you to figure out what points you missed on the map as it doesn’t backtrack – other than sticking you back at a previous mile marker. Homeschooling meanwhile tends to be about taking the scenic tour or the road less traveled on a whim, just to see where you wind up. A meandering highway may go to the same city as a six-lane interstate, but the experiences are little alike. So, should these parents be concerned? I still say… not really. First, virtually everyone is in the same boat. When schools resume, I imagine there will be a lot of latitude given and pandemonium expected. Second, this is such a rare chance to share in life with your kids in an amazing way, and they stand to benefit so much. They may miss out on learning an era in history or studying the periodic table, but they now can learn the things that they will actively need and use the day after graduation. What can parents do? Explore interests with their kids. Teach them valuable day-to-day life skills. Unplug and unwind. Have long talks across a myriad of subjects and reconnect. Set goals together of what you all want this time to look like and work towards it. Work on health and fitness – try new recipes and exercise routines together. Play a lot of games, do a lot of puzzles, laugh as much as possible, and aim to learn some new things about each other. Fill a book or jar with them or anecdotes from each day or the past. Make a time capsule with the whole family. This is a crazy and hectic time right now as people learn to juggle a new normal – so might as well accept what can’t be changed and embrace this unicorn of an opportunity to be a family at home together.
And the rest of us? That tiny fraction that already did this homeschooling thing – how are we doing? Well, for us – pretty okay! We rather like being able to hole up at home, play in the yard, work in the garden, read a lot of books, and do a lot of what we generally do anyway. There are some changes and takeaways for us too though. Here’s some things I have noted: At age 5, it is so nice to be around friends to get your energy out and really flex those play muscles (physical and mental). Though “home” is right there in the name, our school experience involves a lot of outside stuff we miss. If anyone envisions kids stuck in a dim, dusty room, hunched over books while their mother knits or something… yeah, that’s not how it goes! We have an awesome library with tons of programs that we visit at least weekly, family centers, a program at the rec department, outdoor classes, a nature group, a co-op we do with a friend, and plenty more. We’re looking forward to returning to all that stuff soon! However, I did notice that there is a certain pleasure in dawdling at home without pressure. I, too, get that antsy feeling at times when we’re home too much, regardless of how much he enjoys it. Right now, there’s nothing to get to – so I can relax, focus on important things like my kid without that nagging voice in my head pestering me about tasks and errands I need to attend to. And I’m even getting my dishes washed every day! Another interesting thing is that we’re active online now. Apart from watching the occasional clip or nature show on my computer before, we didn’t do any online school stuff. That may sound strange in this very technological age, but I try to avoid a lot of screen time and much prefer him being actively involved in what he learns – and I like to be, too. Now there are tons of really interesting offerings out there that are heavily shared so even folks like me (who try hard to live under a rock) run across them regularly. And I find myself torn. Suddenly the last few days have seen way more screen time around here than I care for – and, like junk food, once it starts, there is the urge for more, more, more. On the flip side, these things are (relatively) fleeting and quality experiences in their own right. So? The jury is still deliberating in my head, but for now we’re following several and enjoying them
So what happens when social distancing ends, schools and jobs reopen, and we go back to the world as it was? Will it be as it was? Who knows. Maybe more things will stay online after this. I’m not sure I’m excited about that possibility; I’m a big proponent of in-person interactions and connections. However, there may be a benefit to homeschoolers if more resources are available when this is all said and done. I do hope people who held a negative view of homeschooling come away with a better understanding and appreciation for it. Every homeschool approach is unique, with its own pros and cons. There are several general types, plenty of fully-developed curriculum available to follow, and a boatload of perspectives and techniques; now is a great time to play around with a handful of options and see what works for your family and what doesn’t. If I could wish one thing for every family out there, it would be that this time gives them the opportunity and ability to really reconnect and enjoy those they love most and to have an absolute blast helping each other through all the crazy. I’d want everyone to take the time to smell the roses, take long, deep breaths, and make new discoveries together – however big or small. And I hope on the other side of this we all remember how to pause and just be sometimes, and to carry on being kind and helpful to one another in the same manner we often can at moments of crisis.
What does this time look like for your family? What changes – positive or negative – have you noted? What are you struggling with? Are you having some wild successes? What are the high and low points of all this for you? Share, comment, connect – at this appropriate social distance of course! – and let’s find a way to come out on top and better for it.
Stay safe, sane, happy, healthy, loving, and, of course, learning!