20 tips for surviving school at home

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April 22, 2020 | News | Volume 24 Issue 9
Will Braun | Senior Writer
School at the Barkman home in Prawda, Man. (Photo courtesy of Elisa Barkman)

Many families are spending more time together at home these days, requiring greater parental involvement in schooling. While some parents can calmly slip in a Zoom meeting from an “Instagramably” tidy house while their virtuoso kids make an organic lunch without being asked after having peacefully completed the tasks their teachers “Seesawed” them that morning, for the rest of us, spending lots of time together in a COVID-19-constrained world is taxing. 

Here are some tips and consolation from experienced homeschoolers (including me):

1. Relax. Life is messy. Parenting is tough. Heaven and earth overflow with grace. Accept it. 

2. Relax. Your kids do not need to sit still and “learn” for five hours a day. They’ll be fine. My sister-in-law, Esther deGroot, who teaches Grade 3, suggests two hours a day of formal learning. Max. 

3. She also says: “If you hate what you are doing and your kid hates it too, stop.” (Sometimes I push through.)

4. Elisa Barkman, a homeschooling mother of four, says: “If every child would come out of this with a skill or two—knowing how to cook a meal, bake bread, hang the laundry, change a tire or budget under the COVID-19 economic strain—I say we could call this school break a success.” 

5. If you can break from prescribed learning, board games are fun and educational. 

6. Relax. You are a good parent. Period. I’m pretty sure of it. Even if you blow a gasket or have to fake your way through Grade 6 math.

7. Go outside. Notice stuff. Identify three bird species. Splash in puddles. Watch squirrels for 20 minutes and write down your observations. Repeat daily. Spring is great for this. Walk around and observe. Grass. Buds. Clouds. Lie on your back on the ground. 

8. Elisa says, “Teach your children what you know.”

9. Let your kids’ curiosity be the curriculum. Follow their curiosity. It is a great gift from God. Help them learn more about what they love. (You can do a lot with hockey cards.) Help them learn how to learn. 

10. Questions. If your kid asks a question like “Why doesn’t the sun smoke?” “What do polar bears drink when they’re on ice floes?” “What is plastic made of?” or “Can you dehydrate water?”—find out. If possible, consult someone other than Siri.

11. Try to gently establish a rhythm. Elisa lights a candle to start learning time. Putting the kettle on the stove means break time is near. 

12. Talk about stress. Anxiety is in the air these days. The world is weird. Kids feel it. Check in with them about it. 

13. Let your kids be bored. A wise neighbour says it is good for a kid to be bored for two hours a day; it leads to creativity. (Note: My son, having heard this, perhaps too many times, once said: “Dad, I’ve been bored for more than two hours and I haven’t come up with anything creative.” The dad chuckled, and discontinued use of the “two-hour boredom” aphorism.)

14. Esther says, “Don’t underestimate the value of tape, scissors and cardboard.” 

15. Here’s the elephant: screens. Surely, COVID-19 is a bonanza for video-game makers and YouTube. The Great Babysitter is flourishing. Set clear limits, in collaboration with your kids. Try to steer things toward learning (docs vs. movies). Make them go outside first. Analyze the ads with them. Don’t be too hard on yourself or them. 

16. The world is your classroom. There are far more than three Rs. 

17. Relax. Your kid’s future will not be in jeopardy due to a few months of more relaxed learning. Perhaps the opposite. You’d be amazed at how ridiculously little time some homeschooled kids spend “learning” and then how they do just fine in university. (Sorry, teachers.)

18. My wife says that her aim is not to raise geniuses, just decent human beings. Geniuses tend to be annoying anyway. 

19. Elisa says that if you were taken out of school by a parent, those days are likely ingrained in your memory. These days and weeks will likely be similarly embedded in your kid’s memories. So, Elisa suggests, “attempt to fill this time with some good memories, even at the loss of ‘productive’ school days. Create beautiful moments, laugh, learn to enjoy one another, and don’t feel guilty about it.”

20. Don’t be intimidated by the lofty, idealized advice of some homeschoolers. Home learning, like life, is messy. Embrace the grace in it. 

Next time, I’ll ask kids for their tips.

Related story:
Mennonites explore virtual worship

School at the Barkman home in Prawda, Man. (Photo courtesy of Elisa Barkman)

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