For Parents / Mar 24, 2020

I’ve Been Homeschooling Five Children For The Last Decade: Here’s What Homeschooling Really Looks Like

Remote Learning At Home Classtag Parents 700x463 (1)

Hi! Welcome — please come in. Sorry, I don’t have on any makeup, and yes, I’m in my workout clothes. I usually snag a quick run in the neighborhood if the opportunity presents itself during the day.

Push the piano bench out of the way and never mind the bald eagle live cam on the TV. Excuse my 14-year-old son sprawled out on the living room floor doing his history, and if you would, give my 10-year daughter doing long division at the kitchen table a word of encouragement. Long division is the worst.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Cayce, and I’ve homeschooled my kids for ten years. I have six children, ages nine to sixteen. My oldest attends public school, and the other five have been homeschooled their entire lives. 

I don’t usually have guests over during the middle of the school day, but desperate times call for desperate measures: I’m willing to pull back the curtain to ease your fears about what school at home really looks like. Maybe it’s my tiny role in fighting this devastating pandemic. 

Push the books and toys off the sofa cushion, and have a seat. I’ve got some things I think will help you in the coming weeks and months. 

And who knows? You may just find, amid the slower-paced chaos, a handful of priceless moments with your kids that will simply take your breath away.

Take a deep breath — you’ve done this before.

First, know this. I’ve been teaching my kids at home for ten years, and everything is going to be okay. I promise. Your child will continue to learn under your care. Especially when you consider, you’ve done this before. Remember? 

Remember those early months and years of teaching and teaching and teaching some more? 

You taught your sweet one to sleep through the night (well, hopefully), to play peek-a-boo, and to eat finger foods. You taught him his ABCs, his shapes, his numbers, and you’ve already passed the crowning final exam of all toddler parents — potty training. 

On days when school is in session, you’re still teaching. You give advice about keeping track of books and belongings, getting along with difficult classmates, and handling disappointment when she’s cut from the team. Your everyday conversations about how the world works teach lessons about family values, ever-changing current events, and principles you want to instill in your child. 

And this week, and the next, and the next will be no different. You will keep teaching as you go — as you make dinner, as you read a thousand books, as you tuck him in at night, and yes, now, as you slip in a little addition and subtraction practice.

Mom or Dad, you are and always have been, a homeschool parent regardless of where your child attends formal school. The moment your child was born, you became his best teacher — for life.

So when you’re tempted to fret the days ahead, look back. Look back at all you’ve already taught, and be assured your child will learn and thrive during these days — whether the schools are open or not. 

Consider deschooling the first week. 

It might be helpful for the first week or two — deschooling. It’s what veteran homeschoolers call the adjustment period a child (and parent) goes through when transitioning from a traditional school setting to learning at home. 

One of the biggest mistakes new homeschoolers make is attempting to recreate the school classroom at home. They dedicate an entire room for school, complete with wooden desks, cubbies from Ikea, a whiteboard on the wall, and a teacher’s desk. Literally translated to remove from school, deschooling is a time to loosen the grip on traditional classroom methods and routines and redefine the how, when, and where of learning. 

Do you know what deschooling looks like? It looks like a few mugs of hot chocolate, a handful of soft blankets, and a copy of Charlotte’s Web or Old Yeller. Start there. Pile on the couch and read aloud to your kids. Want them to beg to read the next day? Stop reading at a really exciting part, close the book, and declare no more reading this book until tomorrow. Just watch — they’ll be back.

In my ten years of homeschooling, my most cherished memories and still my favorite part of our school day is reading aloud together. Since we usually read books like The Hobbit or The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson, earlier this year, I determined to choose something I would enjoy, and something I know my boys would never read on their own.  

Enter Little Women. We just finished it, and while my three teenage boys groaned, rolled their eyes, and grumbled through the first few chapters, in the end, they loved it. Each one mentioned in passing (never within earshot of the others) how much he liked the “girly” novel. 

Reading aloud with your kids is one of the most effective ways to build literacy, enlarge vocabulary, and establish family memories. If there’s one thing I’d recommend to parents who find themselves suddenly tasked with teaching at home, it’s to pick an amazing chapter book, snuggle on the couch, and read. 

Throw out the 7-hour school day. 

It’s critical, friend, for your own expectations and sanity to remember that learning at home will be a lot more efficient than it was at school. 

Translation = it’s not gonna take that long.

Since you won’t be managing 25+ students, but only one or two, interruptions for bathroom breaks, classroom transitions, and discipline issues (fingers crossed) shouldn’t derail the time you set apart for learning.   

Think along the lines of 1.5 to 2 hours of learning for middle schoolers, 45 minutes to 1.5 hours for upper elementary, and 30 minutes to 1 hour for younger elementary. And even these ranges should be broken up into shorter bursts of focused learning depending on your child’s needs. 

Take as many “wiggle breaks” as necessary, and give your kids time to adjust to the new routine.

Focus on math and reading — the rest is the icing on the cake. 

You, of course, want to work through what your child’s teacher has planned to keep consistency and provide a bit of structure — but don’t get overwhelmed. See what your child’s teacher is recommending as a starting point for learning, not a list that must be mastered.  

On days when you’re running on fumes, and you need to simplify, focus on a pinch of math and a dash of reading. Leave the rest to library books, educational websites, cooking in the kitchen, and nature walks in your neighborhood.

You have a ton already, but here are my fav resources. 

I’m so encouraged by the dozens of companies making their educational resources available to parents for free. No doubt you’ve come across these lists from a friend or on your FB feed. 

Over the years, I’ve seen lots of resources come and go. Some, however, I’ve returned to again and again for help in educating my kids. Here are a few of my favorites:

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons: I know when we decided to give homeschooling a try, teaching my kids to read felt like an ever-growing monster looming over my head. With my youngest now nine, I can finally say I have six readers — and it’s all because of this $15 book. 

While there are hundreds, if not thousands, of resources and opinions out there on how to teach a child to read, this is what worked for my six kids. 

Let me preface this by saying three of my kids went straight through the book, lesson 1-100, without missing a beat. The other three? It was more like Teach Your Child to Read in 3,000 Easy Lessons since we repeated lessons so many times. 

The best thing you can do for your child is to go at her pace. Pushing to the point of frustration, especially when learning a skill like reading, is never fruitful. Go back twenty or even forty lessons, get some quick wins under her belt, and build confidence. The goal, in the end, is for your child to love reading. That won’t happen if she doesn’t feel successful.

Explore Live Cams: From bald eagles to bears, seals, kittens, and elephants, your kids can learn beside their favorite animals with live cams from Explore.org. We’ve loved over the years watching sharks glide across the screen or a mama bald eagle care for her eaglets.

Mystery Science: My elementary kids have used Mystery Science for two years now as their full science curriculum. Mystery Doug does a fantastic job combining hands-on experiments with engaging, high-quality videos. He’s made it even easier for parents during this time by offering free science lessons for kids at home. Please check it out – it’s so well done (and I don’t say that lightly).

Read-Aloud Revival: Looking for books to read other than Charlotte’s Web and Old Yeller? Check out Read-Aloud Revival. Sarah MacKenzie has pulled together an amazing resource for parents by combing through the fluff and twaddle to offer kids and families solid, uplifting, and powerful books they can enjoy together. Her book lists and recommendations are my go-to for read-aloud ideas.

CNN10: Your middle- and high- schoolers might be used to watching CNN10, a news show for teens broadcast daily in many schools. Help them stay connected to the news and the world around them as episodes continue through the school closures.

ClassTag Resources: ClassTag put together a helpful directory of over 600+ resources, sorted by format, grade and topic – check it out and get creative – the majority of these tools are completely free!

We’re in it together.

Friend, thanks for coming by for a visit — you’re welcome anytime.

Remember, you’re not alone in this. 

Your other veteran homeschooling friends and I are here whether you need a book suggestion, a resource recommendation, or just need to vent. We all need to blow off some steam from time-to-time, trust me.

During this unprecedented time, your child does need your help with math, reading, science, and social studies. But your teaching, your example, and your presence will be needed far beyond these few short weeks. From your child’s first breath to your very last, you have been and will always be his most trusted, dedicated, and qualified teacher — coronavirus or no coronavirus.

Cayce Finley is a freelance writer in upstate South Carolina. She’s also a momma to six kids ages nine to sixteen. When she’s not writing, you can find her in the kitchen, doubling every recipe for her always-hungry family. Questions about freelancing or homeschooling? Reach out at cayce.finley@gmail.com

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