Going into this year (so long ago now…), we all thought that Decision 2020 was going to be about casting our vote for President of the United States on November 3. Silly us. That decision pales in comparison to the difficulty of determining what school will look like for our kids this fall.
I really feel for my friends with kids in public school who are struggling right now with near-daily emails from their districts, changing policies, unhappy teachers and parents, food insecurity or health issues, the challenge of working full-time yet having their kids at home, and (for some) being suddenly plunged into the homeschool world willingly or unwillingly, for a wide variety of reasons.
As a long-time homeschooler (beginning my 20th year), you would think that this whole stay-at-home thing would be a piece of cake by now. That COVID would be a mere blip on the radar of our usual days of homeschooling. But the chaos that this virus has unleashed has been difficult for homeschoolers as well.
Back in March and April, homeschoolers were busy on the internet and on other virtual forums, assuring public school parents that what they were being forced into with school shut-downs wasn’t homeschooling—it was crisis schooling. There’s a huge difference. Spring was not much fun for anyone. I know kids in all school situations who did well, and those who did not, and those who did nothing. I know parents who did well, and those who did not, and those who did nothing.
But now we’ve all had time to plan for fall, right? Not really, because most of us believed that this virus thing would be done by now, that maybe some precautions would need to be taken, but schools would be open and things would be mostly back to normal. Yet in my county, the opposite is happening. Cases are up, and so are restrictions. Many schools are now 100% online (at least for first quarter), and homeschoolers are feeling the effects of other mandates that are in place for the general population.
This fall, a homeschooler with young children will likely have:
- Highly restricted library use, including library programs; perhaps no library at all
- No access to playgrounds and playgroups
- Lack of access to coaches and individual and team sports
- Cancelled music lessons and other individual learning opportunities
- No field trips, possibly no nature clubs
- Limited access to cultural attractions such as museums, public gardens, science centers, and theatres
- Limited access to co-op classes and Sunday school classes
This fall, a homeschooler with older children will likely have the changes above, as well as:
- Limited access to hands-on learning in technical fields
- Limited access to teachers and mentors for foreign language, science labs, the arts, and other in-person learning
- More difficulty with dual enrollment, college visits, and alternative ways of earning high school credit
- Limited opportunities for internships, job shadowing, or military preparation
- Adjustments to finding a job, keeping a job, or staying safe on the job
To make everything even more complicated, not everyone agrees on how we all should proceed. In this polarized and politicized age, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Homeschoolers are no different from anyone else in that we are all human and have different opinions on:
- Masks (you knew that would be first, right?)
- The importance of staying at home vs. freedom to be out and about
- Who is “living in fear” and who is “being realistic and sensible”
- When and how to reopen facilities
- Whose fault all of this is
- The effect 2020 will have on the economy, the election, children and teens, the elderly, families, churches, schools, and every other aspect of life as we know it
It’s going to be a rough fall. Because we’ve already lived through the spring, in some ways we’re prepared (even though I did not anticipate this kind of fall back in April or May). Homeschoolers are also prepared in the sense that we have our curricula (or know what to get) and we have at least one parent who is used to teaching at home, but it’s going to be a challenge for us all.
So what can we, as homeschoolers, do to help ourselves, our children, and others during this continuing crisis in our society?
Extend grace to those who are doing their best to keep co-ops, learning centers, and homeschool groups going for homeschoolers in your area. These people have a job that no one in their right mind would have anticipated or wanted, and many are not even getting paid for it.
Be flexible with your own kids and the uncertainties that they face this school year. Remember that they miss their friends, their other teachers or coaches, and their usual routine. Some kids will adapt to this better than others, so be prepared for delays and detours, and give your children time to adjust if they are having a hard time. Consider a day every few weeks where you do school with board games, read-alouds, outdoor time, videos, cooking and life skills, etc.—no textbooks, worksheets, or “regular” lessons at all.
Reach out to help those who are homeschooling for the first time:
- Part 1: Resist the urge to immediately tell them to buy your own favorite curricula; instead, ask questions that can help you determine what kind of teaching materials they would be comfortable with. Which may not be the ones you love, and that’s okay. If they need information on homeschool laws, direct them here. Help choosing curricula can be found here. Homeschool pages on Facebook, curriculum publishers, and support groups are receiving thousands of questions, orders, and messages right now. If you can, help these moms navigate unfamiliar waters in an unbiased but helpful way.
- Part 2: Parents whose children have been in school settings are used to their kids being “in school” for up to 8 hours a day, and often wonder if homeschool should be equally long. One very helpful piece of information and advice to give is that kindergarten should take less than one hour and that high school will take maybe 5 or 6 hours, with other grades falling into place along that spectrum. Remind them that extra time in the day is a huge advantage of homeschooling, when children can explore personal interests, read books, play outside, learn new skills, have their screen time, and yes, be bored.
Finally, take care of yourself. Sure, you made it through the spring and you’ve had a summer to adapt and adjust. But we’re all tired. We’re all ready to go back to normal, yet there is no end in sight. We miss our routines and our friends, just like our kids do. And we’re with family 24/7, which can be stressful, even for homeschoolers who are more used to that than others may be. So don’t forget to maintain friendships, pray, get outdoors often, make friendly eye contact with people over your mask, read your Bible, and (very important) assume the best of others whenever you possibly can. All of these habits will help you stay calm, prevent anger, and reduce fear—all timely ways to take care of yourself in this bizarre year of 2020.