~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Welcome to the Homeschooling World!

March 14, 2020
Like it or not, many families have just become homeschoolers, at least for a little while. Our family has been homeschooling for several years, leading some friends to ask for suggestions and resources. Homeschooling can be a challenge, but it is also filled with many delights. I have a few thoughts to get you started!

First, right from the very start, give up on trying to recreate school at home. You will save yourself and your kids much drama and disappointment if you start out knowing that your kids aren't going to learn what and how they learn at school. If you try too hard to lead school as your kids know it, you will all end up miserable. This isn't necessarily better or worse. You can find a way to make sure your kids keep learning, and you have a chance to let them learn in new ways and venues. Why not look upon this as an adventure instead of a curse?

Second, know that this adventure will also be a challenge. As I often tell my kids, just about anyone you live with in close quarters all day and all night will make you crazy. Togetherness is wonderful... until it's not. So be gentle with yourself and your kids when tempers flare. Create as many gaps of quiet and solitude as possible - for everyone - but don't be surprised by outbursts of angst and overwhelm. We are in uncharted waters here, so go easy on everyone in the house.

Third, lower your expectations. I start out every year, every week and every day with an ambitious plan for how we are all going to spend our days productively, thinking deeply and diving in wholeheartedly to our studies. We almost never live up to these expectations. All of us are happier when I remember that no day goes as I had hope and planned, and that we rarely make it all the way through my pie-in-the-sky "lesson plans" for the day. It's okay. Reframe your plans into possibilities, and be prepared to let them go. The kids are still learning, one way or another. It's what kids do!

And finally, let your kids lead the way and have a little fun. This is a chance to abandon math by the book and writing by the five-paragraph essay. This is your chance to let your kids learn what they actually want to learn. This is a chance to explore new ways of broadening our skills and understanding. What do your kids talk about at the dinner table? What do they love to do? What are they doing right this very minute? This is your big hint, this is your way in, this is your chance to harness that interest and let it run wild. Good things will come of it, and even if in the moment you aren't sure they are learning, have faith. They are. Trust me on this.

Homeschoolers are really good at recognizing that learning is everywhere - in the kitchen, in the backyard, up a tree and down a stream. Cooking is learning. Painting is learning. Beating on cans is learning. Photography is learning. Done right, even bickering with siblings can be learning, too. (Think of what great negotiators we are developing as we let them argue it out!) Think outside the box when it comes to nurturing your children's educational wellbeing. This sabbatical from traditional school may unleash a new passion in your child, and it might even reignite their love of learning itself.


Homeschoolers have lots of help in the way of resources and creative ideas. Here are a few of my favorites to get you started:

KhanAcademy.com. It's not flashy and it's not even necessarily fun. But if you are bound and determined that your kids stay on top of math in the traditional way, just go there. Start at your child's grade level, and Sal Khan and his wizards will take it from there. You can also study ancient history, learn grammar, take up coding, and study for the SATs.

Bravewriter.com. This is my very favorite writing resource for kids. I love it because it focuses on expression itself, on the joy of sharing your stories with the world. This site also offers lots of ways to encourage love of reading. Don't miss Poetry Tea Time, when you bring together afternoon sweets and a few good poems. Julie Bogart, the genius behind the site, has made lots of resources free for the time being. Enjoy!

PBS.org. I am sure it is possible to learn almost everything you need to know about the world via PBS. If you donate to your local PBS station, you will gain streaming access to many of the shows, both old and new. No matter what you're studying, PBS will have a show that touches upon it. And yes, trust me, even watching This Old House counts as learning. My 12-year-old can now fix anything in our home!

Online courses and MOOCs. Set your kid loose on one of the many online learning sites and see if they can find a course they'd love. We subscribe to Great Courses Plus. Scratch is a great site for younger kids to learn to code. Open Culture has a huge list of websites, courses and other resources for kids.

Homeschool curricula. If you really want to get serious, you can purchase the same sort of home-based curricula that homeschoolers use. Our family loves the offerings of Oak Meadow.  We also enjoy Beautiful Feet Books, which teaches history through literature. My kids loved Geography Through Literature, sketching their maps of the United States as I read to them.

Journaling. One day historians will look back at the pandemic of 2020 wondering how we all managed. Let your kids write the first draft of history by starting a journal now and recording a little snippet - a thought, a picture, a memory - every single day.

Service. Mr. Rogers reminded us all that in times of difficulty, we should look for the helpers. In the next few weeks I'm sure there will be many programs out there that help kids get involved from home. Already I've seen kids offering to do yard work and families dropping off groceries for the elderly. Everyone feels better when they help out someone else. Maybe your family has a good idea that you could put into play.

And finally, don't forget the old standbys... Leave the art supplies out on the kitchen table, and add new supplies often. Pull the old board games out of the drawer. Build lots of forts. (The kids will promise that they will put the pillows back just where they found them. Don't be surprised when they don't.) Read to and with your kids every day, even if you think they are too old for read-alouds. When your voice wearies, try an audio book instead. Puzzles are a great way to be together while keeping hands busy. And snacks! Don't forget the snacks! Everything goes better with a chocolate-chip cookie in hand.

I've saved the best for last: Go outside. Spring may be our saving grace. Nature is one of our greatest teachers and will do all the heavy lifting for us. Haul out the jump ropes and frisbees and driveway chalk and lawn chairs. Go on walks. Climb trees. Race each other to the far tree and back. Create your first-ever backyard Olympics. Do cartwheels. Start a Nature Journal. Dig in the garden. Throw a ball. When all else is lost, just open the door and toss the kids outside.

Or, better yet, go outside with them. Spread out a blanket, lie down together, and gaze up at the blue, blue sky. Exhale, pull your kid close, and remember that you are here, now, receiving all the light the world has to give.

Who knows? When all of this is over, you might look back on this enforced homeschooling adventure with some amount of tenderness and fondness. Your house will be a mess, your hair will be gray, and your sanity will have been challenged, but you will have lots of memories of how you and your kids somehow managed to endure a difficult time, together - all for one, and one for all!