The recent announcement by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that Michigan’s K-12 schools will be closed for the rest of the school year due to the coronavirus pandemic has positioned homeschooling as a stark reality for families.
In fact, school districts across the country are considering similar moves as students rely more on instruction at home.
These “situational homeschoolers” now find themselves in an unexpected dilemma and, according to Wayne State University Ph.D. candidate in sociology Erin Baker, it would not be surprising to find that they feel overwhelmed and underprepared.
Baker has been conducting research on homeschooling parents and has unearthed some tips and encouraging information.
“In my current research involving extensive interviews with parents, I’ve found that they have, with their years of experience and research, a lot to offer those who have been thrust into the world of homeschooling,” Baker said. “While there is a difference between ‘situational homeschooling’ or ‘crisis schooling’ and the homeschooling that they are practicing, much of their advice still applies.”
Baker offers the following tips for the new cadre of parents who now find themselves in the role of teachers in their home and family.
Give yourself a lot of grace
Homeschooling parents acknowledge that there are days when homeschooling is hard, especially in the beginning. Some children are resistant to learning at home, and it can be hard to see your child struggle. They recommend that parents who are new to homeschooling be “patient and gentle” with themselves and take breaks when needed. As one respondent said, “Give yourself grace and know that there are days that it will just not go well and that that's OK. … The ‘just-scrap-it-we’re-watching-Frozen-it's-done-today' days.”
Support is key
Many parents attribute their success to the support they’ve found through other homeschooling communities. While getting together in person is not advised during the call for social distancing, there are many online groups that have recently opened their virtual doors to the new wave of situational homeschoolers.
One interviewee said: “That's one of things I like about the co-op … there's other moms. So, during lunchtime, we can say, ‘I had a horrible day. How do you do this or how do you do that?’ And a lot of things have come about just talking to people and in forming a community, because I don't think you can homeschool on your own without some type of support network.”
Do not try to replicate public schools
Many parents consider this a “rookie mistake.” It seems to be the expectation that is created when a parent tries to recreate the classroom at home that causes most trouble. For instance, the expectation that a child sit at a desk and work for most of the day is often unrealistic. The average amount of time spent doing schoolwork was 3.5 hours a day.
These parents advocate taking breaks as needed and creating a relaxed, less stressful schooling schedule. This advice usually came from experience, as many of them had tried to create a classroom environment at home in the beginning. As time went on, they found that this created more stress for them and their children, so they moved to a more relaxed way of schooling. That’s the beauty of homeschooling —not doing school at home.
Find what works for your family
The most offered advice is to make homeschooling fit your family instead of making your family fit homeschooling. In other words, use the rhythm of your family to inform your homeschooling routine. These homeschooling veterans recommend discovering your children’s learning style, observing when and where your family works best.
- Do your children work best in the morning or in the afternoon after a short walk?
- Change their schedule to make sure they are doing schoolwork during their most productive times to relieve stress and resistance.
- Are most of your meetings in the morning? Maybe let your children watch television in the morning and do their schoolwork later, when you are more available to answer questions.
- Maybe your children do best with small breaks, work better in the living room or on the back porch. Change the setting to support their learning.
A final tip, offered by a respondent: “It takes a while to get the hang of it. Just figure out what works for you.”