With the closing of schools during the coronavirus pandemic, many parents have found themselves suddenly overseeing their children’s education. As several headlines proclaimed: “We Are All Homeschoolers Now.” Knowing my wife and I are experienced homeschooling parents, many friends have reached out with panicked pleas on how to organize a school day. The following are our suggestions for surviving — and thriving.
1. Start the day with a prayer. Human psychology needs a starting signal, for someone to say, “On your marks, get set, go!” And human frailty needs God’s help to make up for our deficiencies. You address both when you get everyone together at a set time to start the day with a prayer. We also include the Pledge of Allegiance and a reading about the saint of the day. Then, it’s off to the races.
Bonus tip: The more consistent the routine from day to day, the better.
2. Control the chaos. The biggest enemy of your homeschool is distraction; your greatest ally is tranquility. It is essential that you act decisively early on to keep some peace. Turn off TV or music. Have phone conversations out of earshot from your kids. Separate the chatty one from the others. If you have a toddler, contain him somewhere, somehow, the best you can. Audio books at lunchtime are key for us, calming and focusing everyone and introducing good reading.
Bonus tip: If possible, get every member of your household outside for some part of the day.
3. Help your children schedule their own time. Just because you tell them what they should be doing doesn’t mean they will do it. Give them clear directions when to start, what to study, when to stop, and when to move on. Teach them the tricks of the trade — “planning backwards” to see what is due when and making a checklist of steps.
Bonus tip: Our two greatest homeschool purchases were a large white board and a giant wall calendar, so everyone sees the plan.
4. Enlist mealtime helpers. When parents have so many other duties, the cooking, clearing and cleaning need to be shared by everyone. This may take more time at first as you train your workers, but it will absolutely pay off going forward.
Bonus tip: Once you have your children trained, use these times to grade or check assignments, or you might be up all night.
5. Build bonds between siblings. One unfortunate aspect of schools is that siblings rarely mix. But the sibling relationship is powerful and critical. Research shows that, like most animal species, humans learn as much or more from their siblings as they do from their parents or peers. Find ways to forge sibling friendship, and it will pay intellectual and emotional dividends for a lifetime.
Bonus tip: Take older siblings into your confidence and ask them to help.
6. Expect to fail. That’s OK. You may have seen the internet memes illustrating how, since the coronavirus school closures, people’s perception of homeschooling parents has changed from pious recluses to action heroes. But both pictures are wrong. We are moms and dads who have learned the bad news and the good news about home schooling. The bad news: It’s difficult, almost impossible, to homeschool. The good news: If you make a good faith effort and stay on task, kids get educated anyway.
Bonus tip: It’s not unusual for a child to forget today everything learned yesterday. Don’t be surprised, and don’t get mad. Pause, pray, smile, and start all over again.
As we emerge from our social distancing, perhaps these tips on maintaining a prayerful, tranquil home may come in handy for other family situations as well.
TOM HOOPES is vice president of college relations at Benedictine College and a member of Sacred Heart Council 723 in Atchison, Kan.
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