Wisdom from a Homeschool Parent

Many Dayton parents have taken on a job that we never thought we would have: that of a homeschool parent.

With schools closed indefinitely, parents are scrambling to help their students with e-learning assignments and scouring the internet for ways to keep their kids learning — all while working from home and doing the various other things that parents do on a day-to-day basis. To be thrust into the role of a homeschooler can be a little (OK, a lot) overwhelming. Questions like “How do I schedule my child’s days?” and “Am I doing enough?” run through our head constantly.

To get some advice and words of encouragement, we reached out to Carla Wilson, a Cincinnati mom who homeschooled her three children for several years before her family decided to try out public school. Now, with schools closed, she’s back to homeschooling like the rest of us, for the time being.

Let’s start off with some words of encouragement. I think there are a lot of parents right now who are struggling — they were thrust into this position that they were not prepared for. What do you have to say to them?

You can do this. Your children already think you are amazing. Be kind to yourself and your babies. They do not need perfection, they just need you. This is a very challenging time, but it is also an opportunity to get to know your little people before they grow up, move out and save the world.

Homeschooling seems overwhelming to a lot of parents. What are your tips for making the best of it during this time?

As many parents know, the challenge isn’t just educating our children at home — it’s figuring out this new system of working from home with our children begging for snacks every 10 minutes.  However, we recognize our children are experiencing a loss right now. As parents, we want to be sympathetic to their needs while recognizing the depth of our own social losses.

My best advice is to play. Just play with your kids. It is so good for you and your kids, and may be the best way to start figuring out how you and your children are going to be new officemates. Play dolls, dress up or sit down and play Minecraft with them. It gives you insight into what they like, what they are interested in, and how they navigate the world.

I have always used art as my starting point for all instruction, mostly because my kids are crafty and they love making things and giving them away as gifts. Little hands can squish play dough and scribble while you read aloud to older kids. We combined history lessons with LEGO, math with bead jewelry and music with everything. Playing with my kids is really the least stressful way for me teach them.

I keep reading that parents should not try to recreate the school experience at home, because we — and our kids — will just become frustrated. What do you think about that?

I guess it depends on what kind of classroom design they are used to being in. Our kids have certain expectations when they are in certain environments, for sure. A traditional classroom with desks and bulletin boards implies this room is for school work.

We try to blend learning environment with coziness in our home. There are organized school supplies next to baskets of assignment folders, bulletin boards hanging in the dining room, and bookcases crammed full of colorful content. We also have piles of blankets on every chair and pillows tossed into cozy corners for reading spaces, if anyone is so inclined. I keep baskets of magnifying glasses and identification books on the coffee table for curious hands. Art supplies are everywhere.

If we are able to provide an enriching environment for our kids, I think it helps them discover learning on their own. That being said, I have been known to set out various dried leaves on a table when I know I will be covering tree identification and ecosystem diversity. So, a little nudging can be fun, too.

Many parents are trying to adjust to a new normal right now, and trying to establish a routine for their kids. What does a typical homeschool day look like for your family? 

Like most families right now, nothing is “typical.” We haven’t homeschooled our kids full-time for the past three years. We are facing the same challenges many families are facing. We are lucky because this isn’t our first time at the rodeo.

Here is a rough idea of how things go around our house:

The adults are up before the kids. This gives us a moment of quiet to think, plan or just sip coffee without anyone needing anything from us. We ask the kids to get up, get dressed and eat breakfast on their own. We let them sleep. However, we do have a loose understanding that school activities start around 9 a.m.

For us, we found it best to mimic a normal school day for our youngest, since he is the most unfamiliar with homeschooling. We don’t have alarms going off telling us to switch to the next subject. This is a lesson we learned the hard way. Our kids don’t snap from one subject to the other just because a bell rang. Some parents may have success with this method, but timers are a big fail in our house. There are so many educational philosophies and so many varying needs for each child, so every family is going to have a different approach to this. We have learned what helps our kids thrive, what prompts them to ask questions, and also what works best when we need them to work independently.

Our third grader requires the most attention. We sometimes sit together in a room away from the other kids, and sometimes we can all sit at the kitchen table and do our work. It just depends on everyone’s mood and the intensity of the work.

Our sixth grader regularly needs help, but would prefer to do it all by herself. I try to offer help before we are headed into a meltdown, but sometimes we cry. All of us. We just cry. And then we start again and we get through it.

We’re all searching the internet right now for educational resources for our children. What are some that you have personally found very helpful?

I like using YouTube for all my kids:

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