TRT Podcast#8: 10 Tips for Instant Homeschoolers
Is your child’s school closed due to the pandemic?
Do you suddenly find yourself homeschooling your kids?
I have good news. You don’t need to spend all day teaching our child. Just 2-3 hours each day (maybe even less) will do it!
In this episode you will learn:
- Tips for establishing a homeschool routine
- Suggestions for structuring your day
- How to get help when things get tough
You can do this, and I’m here to help!
Listen to the full episode
Full episode transcript
You are listening to Episode Eight, 10 Tips For Instant Homeschoolers. Anna here, how are you doing? As I record this episode in March of 2020, the world is experiencing something like we've never experienced before. Here in the US, many states have closed schools for at least two weeks, some longer, some even till the end of the semester. And that's because, as you know, an extremely contagious virus is making its way around the world and our country. And to hopefully prevent many people from catching it and to give the hospitals time to welcome what may be a large influx of patients, we're staying home. So we're not only suddenly homeschooling our kids, but we may find that the things we typically rely on are no longer available, such as getting together with friends, trips to the library, attending church, or visiting the zoo or museum. In my state, it's against the law to gather in groups of 10 in most settings.
We're stuck. We are facing a true challenge in that many people who are not trained to be teachers are expected now to teach their children. And people like me who happen to be trained teachers, but choose not to homeschool for good reasons, are now unexpectedly homeschooling. For years on my blog, The Measured Mom, I've been sharing resources and free printables for teachers and parents and homeschoolers, and when I launched this podcast just last month, my plan was that the episodes would only be for educators, primarily teachers and people who choose to homeschool. But things are different now. Our country's population of teachers has instantly exploded, as many of you are now instant homeschoolers. So I'm going to switch tracks for a bit. For at least the next few weeks I seek to support you, the sudden and unexpected homeschooler.
I know that everyone's situation is different. You might be an at home parent who's used to having the kids at school and now during the day you're managing a house full of kids all day and trying to keep up with schoolwork and housework and so on. Or you may have material from your children's teachers and you're just trying to make sure that everything gets done. On the other hand, your children may be facing a school cancellation, but the school has forbidden teachers to actually send work home so your kids are having an extended spring break while you go a little crazy and worry that they're getting behind. Maybe you're trying to homeschool while also working from home. I know many people are in that situation. Or you're trying to homeschool, but you also have a one year old or a three year old and they're making it very difficult for you to teach your older kids.
I have six kids, ages four through 12. Before I had children, I was a teacher for eight years and I've been working from home for the past seven years. Now I'm an entrepreneur, which means that my time is flexible and I can choose what projects to work on. But I have had two babies in the last seven years of working from home, so I've learned a few things about making the most of the time and energy that I have. I hope that my perspective and tips are helpful to you. So with that, let's move into 10 tips that will help you navigate this challenging season. I'm going to give you tips for scheduling your homeschool, managing screen time, keeping your sanity, and a few more things. So let's dive in.
Tip number one, remember that school at home takes much less time than school in a classroom. I know that some parents are concerned, they're thinking, "My child is at school for eight hours a day. How can I possibly do that at home?" Well, you don't have to. Any seasoned homeschooler will tell you that your child can get their work done in much less time than they do at school, especially if your child is young. As a former teacher, I can certainly tell you that much of the school day is spent in transitions, things like lining up or going to lunch or having recess. Those things added up take a few hours. So once you shave off a few hours for all of that, you can shave off even more for each subject. For example, teaching a whole class of first graders reading can take 90 minutes. If you're doing this at home, it may take just 30 minutes. If your family schedule allows it and you're able to start school early, you can be done by lunchtime in most situations.
Tip number two, and this is an important one, ask yourself what needs to be in place for you to stay well? And I mean emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Your health is so important. Not only because you are important, but also because you will not be able to help your family if you are not well. Ask yourself, what do I need to keep myself healthy? Having had six kids in eight years, that was a huge blessing, but it was not easy. And so I've spent a lot of time over the last dozen years pondering what it means to keep myself healthy.
For me, I need time by myself when the day starts. If I would get up after the kids, then there would be fighting, there would already be messes, there would be chaos and that would totally get me off on the wrong foot. So I personally have to get up an hour and a half before everyone else. That makes me happy. A quiet house makes me happy. And so I use that early morning time to do work or to exercise.
You might be wondering, well how do you do that if your kids are early risers? Well, I actually do have early risers. My oldest kids definitely are chomping at the bit to get out of their beds at 6:40, which is when we allow them to come out of their rooms and come downstairs for breakfast. But actually way back, early on, even when they were toddlers, we taught them that we would not bring them out of their cribs until mommy was ready. Back then it was 7:00. Now it's 6:40 because that's how early we need to get up for everyone to get out the door at 7:30. If we had fussy toddlers, we would go in their room, give them a hug and say, "Mommy will come get you when it's 7:00." And that just worked for us.
They all had to learn it, but they all learned it. And that one thing has really helped me stay sane over all these years. In the past, I've used some of that early morning time to exercise, but now that all my kids are home all day, I really need that early time to get blog work done. For example, right now I'm recording this podcast in a closet while everybody is still upstairs in their beds.
So what do I do about exercise? I spent the first few days of instant homeschooling not exercising at all and I felt very sluggish and gross. So I decided that at 6:45 when everyone's downstairs for breakfast, I'm going to go down to the basement. And my oldest kids, ages 8, 9, 11 and 12 who are used to getting their own breakfast can also get breakfast for my two youngest kids, who are 4 and 6. And no one is to come down to the basement and interrupt my exercise except in an emergency. And so this is a way that I'm figuring out a way to keep myself physically together during this interesting time.
Another thing that's really essential for keeping me sane, whether or not I'm doing this instant homeschool thing, is dividing housework. So there is no way that I could care for my family, manage this business and keep the house clean all by myself. It's just not possible. Back in the day when I started the blog and my oldest was only five, the house just didn't get that clean. Laundry piled up a lot. I basically never dusted and that was hard. It was a sacrifice I made because we did want a big family and we were blessed with that, but now that we have more flexibility with older kids, we're able to have them pitch in quite a bit.
So every morning, school day or not school day, one of my big kids is assigned to empty the dishwasher so that when people are done eating breakfast, it's very easy for me to slide things in there. One of my big kids is responsible for starting a load of laundry and later in the day putting it in the dryer. Also, every Friday we all pitch in to clean the house. The kids are scrubbing toilets, washing bathroom counters. The little kids are tidying up. Some of the kids are dusting. Meanwhile I'm mopping floors, we're all working together to get the house clean. Do they like doing this? No. Does it keep me sane and teach them some useful life skills in the process? Yes.
Something else that's important and necessary for me is maintaining my relationship with my Savior. And I've found that I need to have a routine to make this happen consistently. So after I finish my breakfast, I pull out my write the word journal, which is from a shop called Cultivate, and I'll link to that in the show notes, and I copy a few Bible verses in the journal and that helps me focus on what's important for the day and get started on the right foot.
Something else I need, is dedicated work time. Remember I've been working from home for seven years and that didn't happen by telling myself that when I have a few seconds I'll sit down at the computer. I've got to have time that I can count on every day. And for me, this is right after lunch. It used to be because I had toddlers who were sleeping during that time. Now nobody naps. But right after lunch the kids know they have about 45 minutes to an hour that they're expected to entertain themselves. And then at that time, all of them are allowed to move into the basement and watch a DVD for about an hour and a half or so. And this gives me some dedicated work time. Is it quiet? No. Is it super productive? I wish. But unfortunately I'm really tired in the afternoon. That's when I tend to get sleepy and I'm not super productive, but this is the season we're in and I make the most of the time that I have.
I know this step is getting long, so bear with me here but I do need to do a lot of things to keep myself well. And another one of those is managing my eating. I definitely am a person that likes to eat for emotion's sake. So I may be eating because I'm happy or eating because I'm sad or eating because I'm bored and if I don't give myself any structure, I will quickly gain 20 pounds and I speak from experience here. So one thing I'm really working on right now is recording everything I eat in the Lose It app. And that's something free you can find online and put on your phone. And that just helps me stay in touch with myself and what I'm eating and keep myself accountable.
Finally, after a whole day with the kids, I really need some time to myself to clear my head. I am very much an introvert. I really do best when I have a lot of time on my own. Well, that kind of time is hard to come by these days. So when my husband comes home from work around 4:15 I go outside and I take a walk for 30 minutes to an hour all by myself. And I've bought lots of things to keep me warm so I can go out even on the coldest winter days. On those walks, I listen to a podcast or I listen to a book on Audible. So as you can see, I do need quite a few things in place to keep myself together. Maybe you don't need quite as many things, but you need to ask yourself, what do I need to have in place to keep myself together mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, so that things move forward in a positive manner?
Tip number three, keep as many of your regular routines as you can. It's important that we not treat instant homeschooling as a vacation. Have your kids get up at the normal time or close to it, the time they'd normally get up for school. And have them go to bed at their normal time, the time they would go to bed on a school night. If they have instruments that they practice, like piano or violin, keep that up. If you already have daily jobs for them, have them keep doing them.
Tip number four is to keep your homeschool materials organized because they will quickly take over your house. If you are doing a lot of the teaching yourself, then I would suggest that the night before you print whatever you need and put it in folders for each child. If you are doing what we are, which is working off of the material the school sends, here's how I handle it. Most of my children's teachers send an email every morning, so I print those right away when they come in so that I can read them and, if necessary, my children can read them. And then I have a manila folder for each of my children that's working with printed work, and those are my three youngest kids. So they have a folder with their name on it that says 'work done' and then they have one with their name on it that says 'work not done'. And that way when they finish a worksheet they can put it right in that done folder and I'm ready to return it to school or do whatever I need to do with it. We do all of our schoolwork in the dining room and the kitchen and this way I can just walk between the rooms and help as needed. I don't want to be going up to bedrooms to help kids. I need everything to be in one place. So far that's working for us. So in the dining room are my three oldest kids who have their Chromebooks and are able to do a lot of the work on their own and in the kitchen are my younger kids who need a lot more support from me.
At the end of our school morning, because we're usually done in the morning, everyone has to take all of their materials and put them in a pile in their designated space in the dining room. So the three little kids are using a bench, the two oldest kids are using a small table by the window and this way the next day they know exactly where to get their materials and we don't have a big mess of papers for the rest of the day.
If you're wondering how we get done in the morning, usually by 11:00, that's tip number five, which is to start your homeschool day as soon as possible. Now I realize that everyone's schedule is different, but if it is possible for you, go ahead and start as soon as you can. I'm done showering and eating by about 8:15 and that's when I begin homeschooling my youngest kids. My older kids usually start on their own by 7:30 because they're doing most of their work online, so they just log into Google Classroom and they find out all the things that their teachers have assigned for the day. They like online learning, and they're self starters. I don't have to do a lot to get them going. Not the case with my younger two learners who are working from home. They need me to tell them exactly what to do next and to give them breaks as needed.
Tip number six, don't try to follow a strict schedule. So here's a quote from a homeschooler who follows my newsletter and she wrote me this. This is from Jessica. She's experienced at homeschooling and she had this to say, "If you are a naturally scheduled person, know you're going to have to learn to be more flexible. And if you're a naturally go with the flow person, not focused on a clock ever, know that you're probably going to have to learn to be more scheduled and routined for your kids. Homeschooling stretches you in ways you never expected, just like the classroom."
So like me, Jessica is a former teacher and so she knows that you don't always know how things are going to go. There were many, many days as a classroom teacher that I was planning on something and I had to decide not to do it because one subject took too long or I knew it required a special amount of patience that I did not have that day. The same thing with homeschooling. Here's a quote from Emily, another homeschooling reader, "You'll make yourself crazy if you create one schedule and expect everyone to follow it. Meaning 9:00 to 10:00 AM writing, 10:00 to 11:00 AM math, 11:00 to 12:00 lunch and recess and so on. Imagine three kids, different ages, different levels, needing your attention for writing, all in the same hour or for math problems. That would be whack-a-mole for sure."
So if you're not supposed to have a rigid schedule, what do you do instead? My advice is to have a set time and expectation, a routine for when everyone starts their schoolwork and then stagger those difficult subjects. So let me explain what I mean by that. Here's how it looks at our house. My older two kids, like I said, they are a fifth and seventh grader. They're very good students. They like to do online learning. They're very independent, so they need very little help from me. What I have to do is manage my next three kids. My fourth grader is a good student, but does struggle to comprehend some things so he needs extra time from me, as most students do. At the beginning of the day, I find it's the best time for us to tackle his science. It is his least favorite subject and frankly mine as well. And so I need my brain to be fresh and my patience to be high as we figure out that content together.
So that is usually the first thing that he and I do while I give my second grader and kindergartner some easy activities to do. My second grader may be doing a phonics worksheet or a spelling workbook. Those are easy for him. My kindergartner may be doing something coloring related, something she doesn't need me for. And then when I'm done with that harder science activity with my fourth grader, he switches to something that's easy for him, like English, and I go do something more challenging with my second grader. Yesterday that was filling out a reading response sheet based on a chapter book he's reading. Or I do something with my kindergartner that requires my attention. Since my children attend a Christian school, we have Word of God to do and that requires me to sit down with them and have a devotion or read the Bible story. So as you can see, I structure things based on who needs my help the most.
Tip number seven is to insert breaks as needed. And these breaks may be because your child needs them or because you need them. After doing a few worksheets, I often send my second grader off to play because he's starting to get tired and that may be about 20 minutes of work and he needs a break. You know what? That's totally fine because that gives me five minutes to make sure my fourth grader's on track and has any questions answered for anything he's working on. My kindergartner also enjoys frequent breaks to go off and play and she's ready to go back to work when I call her.
I do not, repeat, do not, try to do two hours, frankly not even 45 minutes usually, of nonstop work with my younger kids. Their taking that break is good for them and it's also good for their little brother because we have a four year old at home who's not getting as much of Mommy's attention. He's used to having just me with him in the mornings when my kindergartner goes to half day kindergarten, and now he's sharing that time with everyone. I don't really think he's suffering though because he has so many more kids to play with him. So often my second grader will take a break and go play Candy Land or UNO Attack or some other game my four year old loves and that's awesome because it gives them more time together and it also breaks up their school day.
As I said earlier, my older kids are self starters. They really like doing online learning so I actually have to insist on breaks for them. So everyone has to stop working around 9:30 to have a snack and then right before lunch, even if they have a little bit of work left, everyone has to go outside for 30 minutes to get some fresh air and to give me a little bit of a quiet house. When you're thinking about breaks, I would encourage you to make them be screen free if possible. The exception would be if it's a day where it's too cold or nasty to go outside and your kids just need some exercise. There's a really fun website called gonoodle.com. They have a lot of brain break things, like silly songs you can dance to. My kids are often singing the songs from GoNoodle because their teachers use it with them at school. So check that out if you're looking for fun brain break ideas for your kids.
Let's go on to tip number eight. Remember that you are not alone in this. And I'm especially talking about when your child is struggling with something. You do not have to figure everything out. My seventh grader, for example, came to me recently with a hard math problem. The last time I did seventh grade math was about 30 years ago when I was in seventh grade. Frankly, I didn't remember how to do it. Now because I have a husband who is very gifted at those things, he just comes home from work and helps her. But if you don't have that situation and you don't have a spouse who can help with something that's extra hard for you, there are places you can go.
First of all, go to your child's teacher. Trust me, they do not like the school closings any more than you do and they want to help. So hopefully you have an email address for your child's teacher. Some teachers even encourage you to call or text, so do that. They are not going on vacation during these school closings. They are at home just like you and they are ready and probably waiting for you to get in touch with them. So reach out and get some help.
There are also some really great online videos that are designed for children to teach them concepts that you may not be able to teach them or simply to supplement what you're teaching. So I'm going to give you two websites, which I'll link to in the show notes. One of them is called BrainPOP. And the cool thing about BrainPOP is they're offering free access for as long as the schools are closed. So go to brainpop.com and way up on the top you should see something that says click here to request free access. Go to that. That site is extremely well organized so that you can quickly find a video that will help teach a particular concept. Another website you can go to is free all the time I believe and that's called Kahn Academy. I think it's K-A-H-N. I'll link to that in the show notes as well. And Kahn Academy also has a lot of videos for teaching concepts. It's quite full and harder to find things, but it is another resource for you.
Tip number nine, use screens wisely. If there was ever a time that we could appreciate technology and the intrusion that it's made into our lives, it's now, right? I'm really thankful that my kids' teachers can email me. I'm glad my big kids can sit and log into Google Classroom and find the things they need and do their work without a lot of help from me. But it isn't healthy for our kids to spend all day on screens, even if they're learning. I don't know about you, but my kids get irritable when they're getting too much screen time. And whenever they have a fit, because I tell them screen time is done that's a big clue they're spending too much time on screens. So set guidelines around them.
At our house, the big kids really are using their Chromebooks pretty much all morning long, but the rule is the Chromebook is only for schoolwork. So in the afternoon, if they want to go on Amazon to look up something to spend their birthday money on, or they want to do their 15 minutes of screen time where they're allowed to watch parent approved YouTube videos, they may not do it on their Chromebook. The Chromebook is just for school. I have not added screen time to my children's lives, as in their bonus screen time. During the regular school year, they each get 15 minutes from Monday to Thursday total. All right. So one of those days they can spend 15 minutes watching YouTube or something. And then on the weekend they're each given 20 minutes. That's it.
Now keep in mind they have a lot of siblings and they watch each other's times, so it's really a lot more than 15 or 20 minutes, but I'm not adding to that during this special time because we're still having school. Right? This is not a vacation. And also it's not good for them or me frankly to have all that screen time, extra screen time, going on. All that said though, our kids are getting more screen time than normal because of our unique situation. And hopefully on Monday my husband and I are going to get a couple of Kindles in the mail, the kind that kids can use that don't have all the distractions of games and internet access so that we can let them read. My oldest especially, a 12 year old, is very much a bookworm and she is suffering because the libraries are closed and she's out of books. And even though typically I'd rather they read paper books, we're in a unique time and I do want them to be able to read books that they enjoy.
Let's go on to our last tip for today. Thanks for sticking with me. Tip number 10, look for the positive. And I want to be clear here, that is not something I do naturally. I admit I am typically a glass half empty kind of person. It's been that way my whole life. Some of my kids have inherited that from me. I've had to work at seeing the positive and I am not always good at it. And I know that for many, many people, possibly you, even if no one in your family is sick, this is a very bleak situation. You may be out of work. You may struggle with your mental health when you're in the house all the time with your kids. You may be parenting young children and desperately want to get out of the house, but have nowhere to go.
So please know, I don't want to minimize the very real challenges you may be facing. However, I have noticed a few positive things in the last week. I have to admit it actually felt really good to go to our family calendar and use a pen and draw line after line to mark things out for the rest of this month. Like you, our family is very busy and even though I try not to over schedule our kids, the fact that we have six of them means there are a lot of things going on. It's good for all of us, especially here in America where we tend to keep ourselves very busy, to take a few weeks or more to slow down and focus on the people right in our homes.
I also have to say that I appreciate the hour that I get back for not driving my children to and from school. So I drive them to school, come back, go pick up my kindergartner in the middle of the day, come back, pick up all the kids at the end of the day and come back. I appreciate that hour. It actually gives me more time to play games with my little kids and my big kids. It gives me more time to give focused attention to my big kids because I'm not rushing out the door to take a walk half an hour after they get home from school. During this time of forced togetherness, we get to spend more time together. That means more family meals, more family game and movie nights, more conversation.
So yes, things are hard, but I hope that these 10 tips will help you create a positive experience for your family as we face an uncertain future. I'd like to give you one more resource. If you're a Christian family, as mine is, I recommend checking out Discipleship Parenting, a weekly podcast for Christian parents who are raising the next generation to know their Savior. The hosts, a husband and wife team will help you stay focused on what matters most, especially during this challenging time.
Next week, I'll be back with more tips for the instant homeschooler because I know you have a lot more questions. Many of you emailed me saying, "What do I do when I'm working full time and I have little kids at home? How do I teach my students long distance while homeschooling my kids?" And so on. So I'll be here next week with more tips for you. For now, go ahead and head to the show notes to get all the links I mentioned in this episode. To go there, go to themeasuredmom.com/episode8. I'll talk to you soon.
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Resources mentioned in this episode
- Lose It! app
- Write the Word journals from Cultivate
- Kahn Academy
- Discipleship Parenting podcast
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