Force Majeure Homeschool
by Lyn Hagin Meade
March 16, 2020 23:17
As full-time homeschoolers of 4 kids aged 8-13, nothing much has changed with the stringent measures of the present Covid-19 emergency. The kids will still do school, all six of us will still be home and the household will still run while my husband and I balance our careers with the children.
For those who have been outside the home, the good news is that the skills you employ in your work will serve you well at home – planning, routine and risk management are equally applicable at home!
I use the metaphor of a boat when I’m trying to explain to my kids how the house works. I captain, I set the direction, but it takes everyone to work with me to keep going in the same direction. It takes a long time to change direction and its pointless all rowing in different directions as we get nowhere fast.
Here are some tips for those of you facing endless days at home unexpectedly from school and work.
Lateral thinking on schoolwork
Schoolwork is not all table based; I find it works best as a lived experience when schooling at home.
School work doesn’t have to be done in 5 days a week and 5+ hours a day. Base your school day across the whole week and give yourself a box tick for each subject and see if you can fit one each in.
English is a subject that works best when read to, acted out. My kids watch plays. They mime. They use puppets to do performances. I read them poetry every day and everyone has their favourites. We have a reading time at the end of every day
For example, history doesn’t have to be reading texts – a diary of a child from that period of history, a re-enactment of a battle using Lego, Playmobil or toy soldiers. A PBS/BBC documentary is also a great way to learn more about a subject.
For science, head into the kitchen and do hands on experiments. You can make so many experiments with home ingredients inexpensively and there are tons of online resources for this. Geography is a great subject at home.
For maths, use online resources, skipping to learn tables, weigh/measure things around the house, take the clock off the wall and let the kids play with it to learn time. Counting games, like snakes and ladders or money games like Monopoly and The Game of Life are great for learning numbers.
Chess and Risk are great for planning and strategy. Card games teach valuable skills in observation and prediction. Jigsaws are fantastic for pattern matching and staying on task over time. We play sudoku and word searches. We do crosswords and riddles to practice memory and observation skills.
Competitions can be a great way to get some kids to work on their English/art/music/ sports etc. giving them a goal such as a poetry or short story competition or a new skill to bring them to the next level will get better results than badgering to practice. In our house, we regularly enter competitions just to get a focus to work. We also spend a long time working on annual competitions, such as young scientist entries.
Fill the online shopping cart or dig out those birthday presents that you put away for another time. This is your go-to kit for rainy days, for when no one has slept well, or you have all had enough of being cooped up.
We use online learning as a way of breaking up the day and as a way for the kids to be occupied without our input for part of the day so we can get our work done.
For example, a science show, tricks to teach your dog, a how to make or how to draw show are great to learn a new skill and put it into action. It allows you a precious few minutes of not being teacher.
Every child in my house has their ‘own project’. This is usually something big and aspirational that they want to learn. One is learning how to care for horses through books and online videos and preparing for a professional exam. One is learning to make video games and online music. One is learning to animate. Each must spend time every day working on their project. I check in every week and discuss the things they have learned and find out what resources they need that I can help them to get.
They are learning crucial research skills, working independently, and are following their passions, so it’s a win-win. No one is too young to put pen to paper and draw out an idea for a game, build a contraption with blocks, or even make an experiment with food dye and bubble bath. We had a long time of freezing toy horses in coloured bowls of ice and then chipping them apart on the deck – and an even longer time making volcanoes out of baking soda and vinegar.
Play, the best medicine
Leave lots of time to play, but keep in mind, many children, including the older ones, may find unstructured play time quite difficult to manage. Be patient and be prepared to get them started and participate. My kids might balk at the idea of making a fort in the living room, but if I help bring in the chairs from the kitchen, pile up the cushions with them and bring in a bowl of popcorn and the torches, the four of them might play happily for a few hours.
When the weather is fine, a few magnifying glasses and a tweezers or a spade work wonders. We make marble runs across rooms or down the stairs. We have toy car races with masking tape lines on the floor. We bring the dinosaurs outside and let them roam a large natural habitat!
Have a rhythm to every day
Always have a down time. Try not to schedule every minute. See your days at home as broad brush strokes and give the day a chance to unfold with unexpected things – whether it be a skype with friends or an ice cream snack when the sun shines, or just sitting down in the middle of the floor to read stories. It’s all good and its all about making these moments of feel good connection that lead to a happier and more productive home the rest of the week.
Weekly special activities are fun times out for all the family – when you don’t have to feel in charge and on duty. It’s a tough job, being parent and teacher 24-7, so don’t feel obliged to always be ‘on duty’.
We have a movie night, a documentary night, and a board games night, every week to keep the variety there and stop us all from letting the time spool out and getting nothing done.
We have a baking day, a gardening day. We do a crafts day every month. When all else fails and I can’t do another minute of teaching, a reading day is always a constructive way to get down time.
A minimum line
Pick your battles!
What is the minimum that your tolerance will allow?
Does everyone at home have to get up and get dressed by a certain time? What about hair brushing? What about chores or bedmaking or tidying up?
Let your kids know what is the minimum that has to be done every day to keep you from losing your mind – for me, its meals eaten together, getting dressed, doing the school portion of work in the morning, chores in the evening, and no eating outside the kitchen.
Find out what really bugs you and give that your focus – let all the other little annoyances slide while you are home, for a harmonious time.
Start as you mean to continue
As with any company culture, the hardest thing to do is to change it. The same applies to your kids too. If you sleep late on the first days of your new life at home, that will be the groove you will be fighting for the rest of your time at home. This applies to who makes meals, when the TV is turned on, exercise, or whether anyone will ever get out of their PJs by 6pm (yes, we all have that fight).
Set the example, make the plans. If you have the direction and the impetus, mostly the kids will dawdle along behind.
Keep up a routine
Getting up, eating at set times, and having a few set activities of the day will give your children a routine and a rhythm that will offer security.
Make sure you tell the kids the schedule clearly and stick to it. This could be as simple as “we get up at 7, eat breakfast and get dressed and play games afterwards”. Everyone likes to know what’s coming next in their day. Set the expectations and there will be less asks for TV too early and less chance that you will give in to those requests. If the kids are very small, make pictures of the activities and put them in order on the wall as a pictorial reference to the new daily pattern.
Early to bed – keep the bedtime routine – and make sure all the chores are done before the kids’ bedtime by getting everyone to help (it’s worth all the whinging in the end, I promise). Then, when the house is finally quiet, take the time to do something you love before you fall into bed exhausted.
Challenges to motivate
We do our fun challenges for every week of the summer break. One week it’s to create a new ice cream sundae, another is to build a Lego tower or building, another is to design your own t-shirt. Following your kids interests, make fun challenges for arts and crafts, perhaps a music challenge if they play an instrument, mastering a new skill such as bow tying, or basketball hoops. In our house everyone is keen to teach the dog a new trick as a way of earning kudos – find your own wins based on everyone’s skill levels and interests.
Get used to having a messy house. It’s a law of the universe that all things spin towards chaos. Keep in mind that a number of people, especially small children sharing a space will invariably clutter up with all kinds of things you never even knew you had.
The kitchen table is our place of chaos. It’s piled with everything from an electronics set, to a tie a bow book, a set of maths war cards, a jigsaw, a Where’s Wally book and a half built Lego set (and that’s just today!).
The rule is that it all must go away before dinner, in the proper places until tomorrow.
Set an expectation that everyone, over 1, can do something to help with home upkeep – even if it is to carry a piece of clothing to their room. Make a simple chores list and ensure everyone understands where it is, what the chore involves and when it needs to be done by. Set the timer, turn on music, be prepared to help and try to keep your cool when the dust pile is walked through by everyone else.
Everyone needs some alone time too
Even in a small space, everyone needs their time alone and a time to shut the world out (including you). It would be better for everyone if that wasn’t the bathroom, so make it a priority to identify places everyone can go to be alone.
Keep in mind that kids like to be private and like to play alone. They don’t need you all the time in the school years, so give them and you some space to just be and to daydream, draw, sing to themselves or talk to their toys.
Consider one on one time for the kids too. When we are both home with the kids, one parent spends 30 minutes with a one child doing what they love every day (i.e. one kid Monday, one kid Tuesday, swap parent) so that the connection of doing special things isn’t lost.
It’s time for family
Being in the same house all the time doesn’t mean that there is quality family time.
Make it a priority to sit down and eat meals together and discuss the day. We stay sitting after dinner to have a cup of herbal tea and invariably one or two kids hang out with us and talk about their day or just to talk about the world. This easy style banter is a pleasure for all of us and is a welcome respite from the job of being parent/teacher.
We also formally schedule family time that’s fun – whether it be a family movie, games, exercise, Sunday dinner, reading a book together every week. It’s the things we share, those shared memories that make us feel closer and help keep the peace.
Strategies, Project Plan
Working with a blank canvas can be paralysing (as can be an overloaded diary). Aim for a middle ground – Before you start making a homeschool plan, take an evening and leaf through the kids’ schoolbooks and copies, or ask your kids what they are working on in each subject.
Plan to work from that point or to deepen their knowledge of what they have recently learnt. For example, if they have been working on joined handwriting, get them to write some simple postcards to your family and friends. If they are learning about ancient Egyptians find a documentary on YouTube, if they are learning geometry, get them to measure some real-life angles.
Plan that over the course of a week, each subject and topic will be worked on. Some days, you may have only one ‘school subject’, but you may have read a book, made a jigsaw, played a counting board game, written a letter, weighed and measured a cake, done a science project and learnt to sweep the floor – these are all useful skills that contribute to the overall picture of education and academic achievement.
Some days of course, nothing will get done. Salvage those days by reading a book or watching a documentary with the kids – it’s all learning!
When the kids go back to school, the improvement in reading and comprehension, ability to plan and work independently, lateral skills, consolidation of learnt skills and playing cooperatively will give the children a great foundation for the next steps of their academic career.
Time for friends
Just because the kids can’t meet up, don’t forget to stay in touch. We made dates with relatives and friends to meet up on skype. The kids meet their friends on Minecraft or Roblox private games.
We are keeping a list of things we want to plan with friends when this is all over – it’s on the fridge so we can add to it when we see it.
If you have more than one child in your house, prioritise games that they can play together. I often ask the older ones to ‘help’ the younger ones – whether it is tracing on the light board or learning to do a chore, or gaining a skill (our girls have been learning to jump hurdles together), when they spend time together on a shared interest, it leads to more harmony and empathy in the house.
As I mentioned already, it’s important to have one-on-one time with each child, the sort you had if you were bringing them to extracurricular or the little moments during the week. When you are all home, it can be easier to schedule this. Pick a favourite interest for your child and get involved – even if it is just 30 minutes a week of that special time. Build a marble run, draw a picture, watch a movie, cuddle up and read a story or make shapes out of the clouds. It’s just about being special and your child feeling like number 1.
As with all jobs, parenting and home schooling is partially about risk mitigation.
Treats, reward charts (even if you thought they had grown out of them), pocket money for chores, prizes are all great motivators.
Keep a box of craft projects, new books, sticker books, fact books, Lego sets, new colours, make and do books, hobby kits, and science kits to pull out when you cannot take another minute of squabbling or hearing the words ‘I’m bored’. If you start doing the activity, the curiosity in the child usually overwhelms the bored part!
Take away at least half the toys from the house and put them away. Rotate the toys in a few weeks’ time when boredom is setting in and there will be something new to do.
Keep a space which can stay ‘messy’ for art projects, playdoh etc. Keep a space, if you can, where games or jigsaws can stay up for more than a day.
Sibling rivalry can be a problem as can disagreements when sharing small spaces. At a time when the world is changing and there is a lot of fear, tempers can flare. Keep this in mind and understand that kids can feel your pressure. Keep your tension down as much as you can.
It doesn’t always go to plan
My kids, on reading this blog, laughingly, told me to include the fact that it doesn’t always go to plan! There are plenty of days, when this is just aspirational, so going with the flow, getting back on track tomorrow is the way to keep continuity and keep succeeding.
If you are working from home
If two parents are working from home, try a tag team approach – a few hours of work, swap, a few hours of parenting, swap – we also try to both work a few hours in the afternoon simultaneously, while the kids entertain themselves. It took a while to establish, but we got the work times in tune and the kids know that this is the time they must find something else to do or play quietly in the room with us. We take conference calls and interviews/podcasts when everyone else is as far away as possible (yes, sometimes even in the car).
We have found what works best for us is time working together rather than time working apart. We tend to do less hours, but more concentrated bursts of time. We have an embargo on work after 6pm unless there is a deadline. With strict time limits, we tend to work quicker and more decisively, and our work rarely spills into the night. When two parents are working and parenting at home, there isn’t any down time, so doing equal amounts and stopping work to take over is an act of essential kindness to each other.
Resorting to TV is not always the best option when we work – kids are often not as engaged in a movie as they are in a book or special toy.
We also use documentaries, the time after a walk or exercise, or the time after lunch, as a good opportunity to fit work in, when the kids have had enough time with us and are ready for less-supervised play.
A healthy dose of parent time
Parents need a break, especially when you are home all day.
We have a mid-morning coffee to break up work and schooling. That half hour is precious. And yes, the kids are milling around, but that’s the time we don’t focus on doing, just on being and relaxing and chatting. It’s good to talk to another adult in the school day!
Do a workout in the morning, take yourself (and the dog) for a walk if you can. Read a book, do your favourite craft, chat on the phone – make sure you do something every day that makes you happy.
We have a ‘no kids’ policy once a week. Our kids are old enough to put themselves to bed once a week! We watch a movie and have dinner just for us after the kids are off in their rooms either reading or asleep. we give them a special junk food dinner (e.g. chips and pizza) to sweeten the deal!
When it all feels like it is falling apart
Working, bringing up kids and teaching them at home is a way of life. All the aspects of life eventually become part of a seamless existence of living and learning together. Some days work like a dream. It’s full on working and parenting, but it’s just the nature of life with little ones.
Other days, I’m ready to abandon the whole thing!
Like everything in life, there are pluses and minuses. I know all the little quirks of my kids. I know their interests and their favourite parts of books. I worry about what they find hard to learn and I’m always there to cheerlead when they master a new skill.
Spending time at home means they can seek me out when they need help and other days, I will barely have a single request. Being at home has given them autonomy and home skills – no one in my house will ever ask for a snack, they make their own – or even make dinner if I’m running late with writing. They know how to work together and compromise. They know what needs to be done and when. They have learned how to work and live as a cohesive, functioning community of six.
Over the years, schooling and homeschooling, I discovered that when the kids find their balance together at home, disagreements between the children are small and infrequent compared to the battles they waged during the school years.
Staying home with the kids and caring for the house and family is probably one of the most challenging and exhausting jobs you will ever do. If you are still working at your job while you juggle this, from my experience, it means you will work quicker and more diligently in your life and probably fall into bed exhausted each night.
Above all, enjoy this time at home. I hope you find a new joy in sitting still and observing the wonderful little characters you have been charged with caring for.
Lyn Hagin Meade
Editor, HMHmmmmm Magazine
Copyright © 2020 Lyn Hagin Meade, All Rights Reserved.