I am a homeschool mom of 5. I have homeschooled all 5 since kindergarten. Two are now in college, two are in high school, and one is in middle school.
As Covid-19 hits and public schools get ready to go online, my friends who are public school parents are trying to figure out what do do with their kids all day. I have had several friends ask some variation of the request to share worksheets or something, anything really, to give their kids to occupy them for the next few weeks, while also keeping their own sanity.
I mentioned this to my kids, and one of them said, “What are worksheets?” Now, that may not seem funny until I tell you this student is a junior in high school. He had no idea what “worksheets” were. In our homeschool we don’t do worksheets. His brother who is in college tried to explain it as a math assignment with no lesson beforehand, just some math problems. The junior was like, “With no overarching structure or any progression or anything? What good is THAT?!” I had several reactions to this:
1) I felt good that my kid has picked up over the years that there is thought and planning behind learning. I may not be doing all that thought and planning, but someone, often my curriculum supplier, is. Nothing is accidental. Someone is planning it, even if the plan is to have free time.
2) I felt good that my kid doesn’t know what it is to sit at a desk and do a worksheet meant to keep him quiet and busy without learning anything new.
3) It struck me how much people don’t know what homeschooling is all about, and how it’s done.
So I understand that this blog, while meant to help my public school friends as much as possible, may not be as helpful as you hoped. I don’t have printables that you can just hand your kid. I don’t have ANY worksheets to help you out. Sorry about that (probably not THAT sorry). I have some tools, though, that if you’re willing to work them, may actually put your kid in a better spot when they go back to school, whether that means giving them a chance to do something extra that “normal school” doesn’t offer, or buttressing an area of weakness.
Of course, age matters. A high schooler and an early elementary kid require very different interventions. First, I’ll ramble on about some overarching themes. Then I’ll offer a variety of resources. These are my opinions, my observations, and may not speak for all homeschoolers.
Schedule: We homeschoolers don’t do a strict schedule. We don’t try to copy public school and implement it at home. We took our kids out of school (or never put them in) for a reason, and we have no desire to just do exactly what is being done at school, but do it at home.
I don’t have a schedule for my kids except that hey have to get their work done by a certain time, but I don’t care if they do math or writing first. If they want to do the work ahead and sleep in the next day, that’s fine too.
However, with a public-schooler who is home for a just few unstructured weeks, I would implement a schedule. Homeschoolers have learned over the years how to manage themselves. They have all blown this at times and gotten caught so that they learn how to keep it moving and get their work done. Public-schoolers have bells and schedules and times. In my opinion, keeping SOME KIND of structure would be healthy. Maybe you let them sleep in. Maybe they have big breaks. Maybe they stay in their pajamas all day. But give them some structure to keep them comfortable. Kids NEED some kind of structure.
So sit down with them and agree on a schedule, a structure. At least plan a couple of days, and then come back to in and adjust after those days are done. Ask them what THEY want to do over this break. Lay out a buffet of possibilities you’d be comfortable with, and see what they choose. Some things you’re going to insist on, but give them some choice too.
Strengths and weaknesses: I would use this time in 2 different concurrent ways:
I would help them in areas they’re weak in. So, for example, if they have trouble writing with proper grammar (assuming you know proper grammar or know someone who can pitch in) give them some help with that. Maybe it IS a worksheet on the parts of speech that you find online, or a video on how to use exclamation points or a book covering what a direct object is or some other thing. Or maybe it’s an assignment to write a fantasy story (or sci-fi or western or whatever, it doesn’t matter) with their family members as characters, but then you edit it with them and work on skills they need help with. If they’re having trouble in math, work on those skills. Memorize multiplication tables (I know that’s old-fashioned, but it does help) or work on factoring algebra equations, or whatever they are had trouble with in school earlier this year or even last year.
I would also build in some positive experiences with things they’re good at. So, for example, if you have a kid who loves science and critters, go on walks and look for bugs under rocks. If you have a kid who loves to read, supply them with books, nonfiction and fiction. Unfortunately, our public library is shutting down, but maybe yours hasn’t closed their doors. Libraries are THE BACKBONE of our homeschooling. The government makes a profit from my taxes when it comes to schooling, but I get my money’s worth out of the libraries. Even with libraries closed, most have an app (ours is called Overdrive) that allows you to check out e-books. Kindle has a way to “borrow” some books from friends. Resource those book-loving friends with a kindle and “borrow” some of their books. All the old classics are public domain now and are free. Now is the time to read Frankenstein and Pride and Prejudice. If your kid loves art, get them supplies and let them paint until their heart’s content. If they’re older, have them watch tutorials on Youtube about painting. Let them use the internet to learn a new skill such as crocheting or cooking or whatever they’re interested in.
Now some ideas for different ages:
Younger kids: puzzles, coloring, matching games (these are only limited by your own creativity; LOTS of things can become matching games), life-skills lessons like cleaning and cooking and organizing. Have them create and put on a puppet show. You don’t have puppets? Socks work fine, or plastic spoons with faces drawn on them. Use the back of the couch as the puppet screen. Let them build you a treasure hunt leading you around the house. Build them one first if they don’t know how. Let them build a “fort” with blankets and chairs and furniture. See what they can create or imagine out of a large cardboard box. Take them outside. Let them have free time to run and skip and climb trees and explore. Keep it varied. Their attention spans are short. Spend time with them learning about your faith and beliefs. Let them have some choices. Not ALL the choices, but some. This may be time for a Brain Pop subscription (free or otherwise) or other educational sites, but please, please, please don’t just set them in front of a computer all day, no matter how educational the activity. These kids need to move and create and imagine.
Tweens: much the same, just on an older level and probably without the matching games. Here the life-skills lessons become things that actually come in handy, like learning how to handle laundry and preparing lunch. Find out what they’re interested in, if you don’t already know. If THEY don’t know, explore and think about what some of those things might be. Use books and more books, both fiction and non-fiction. Writing and more writing (but keep it fun). Coding games on the computer (the ones using Scratch are easy and good). Arts and crafts are still fun at this age. If they don’t like to read, read them your favorite book from your tweens, but make sure to use voices, expressions, etc. Spend time with them learning about your faith and beliefs. On Youtube (carefully monitored) they can learn sign language, how to cook simple recipes that they can then eat, how to play instruments, and all kinds of things. If they like competition, make up games. And board games can be very educational and fun.
Teens: This is a great age to let them explore their interests. Let them wander down rabbit trails as long as the rabbit trails are positive. Ted talks, coding activities, science or history documentaries, books, writing fun things (see how books and writing work for any level?), building projects… wherever their interests lie, feed those. There is a subscription service called The Great Courses Plus that I cannot recommend enough, and they have a free trial you can use. This company goes around to universities and asks the students what profs are the best. Then they hire those profs to do recordings of their classes. They have really grown over the years, so now they have classes on just about everything from cooking to astronomy, math to history. Some profs are better than others, of course. The music ones by Robert Greenberg and the Egyptian history ones by Bob Brier are very good, if you need a place to start. Look at the reviews. Some are like watching paint dry, but there are really great ones too. Lynda is another subscription site that has a free trial period. It has classes on all things computing. Have them learn Photoshop or iMovie or something else “fun.” At this age, I don’t mind having them spend more time on electronics as long as they are learning something or creating something (which IS learning something). Spend time with them learning about your faith and beliefs (yes, I just copied and pasted this one to all 3 age groups because it applies to us all). Have them research an area of interest and then write about it or do a 5 minute presentation (live or recorded) to you about it. Many museums have put virtual tours online. What better time is there to wander around The British Museum and view their amazing collections from Rome and Persia. Also, have the kids get moving, whether it’s doing some aerobics or walking around the block if it’s safe, and maybe even doing those things with you. Gyms are not recommended right now, so we have to get creative for ourselves too. A camera scavenger hunt you make of the neighborhood (bring me a picture of the entrance sign to the neighborhood and the mailbox from this house 2 blocks over) is guaranteed to make them roll their eyes, but it can get them out of the house and moving.
Homeschooling takes planning. It takes a lot of work. But the rewards are also very… rewarding, so it’s worth it. Use your strengths and the strengths of those in your household. If you have a musician in the family, have them teach the kid some basic rhythm and theory and songs on some instrument, even if it’s a kazoo or an upside-down pot. If you have a seamstress or carpenter or cook in the house, have them teach some skills and the proper safety precautions right along with them.
So sit down together and make a plan of attack. Set some overarching goals (learn how we learn best, explore new areas, spend time together, etc.), and also set some specific goals (finally get those math facts down cold, explore 3 new topics, learn skills in _____). Give the kids SOME say, but not ALL the decisions. Schedule, at least loosely. Try new things. Enjoy the time together. Be flexible. Make memories, explore interests, and spend some time with those kiddos.
Eventually this time will end, and either they’ll supply you with online learning, and then your problems will be solved, or at least you’ll have a new set of problems. Or maybe an old set of problems. Anyway, it won’t be YOU that is trying to keep your kid positively busy. After that you’ll go back to rushing the kids from soccer practice to music lessons, so make this time count.