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12 Homeschooling Tips For Beginners And Working Parents

Originally Published: Buzzfeed.com – September 10th, 2020

Whether your child’s school is completely shut down due to COVID-19, or you don’t want to risk physically sending them to school, you might be homeschooling for the first time.

Homeschooling can already feel like a huge endeavor, but doing it during a pandemic can present new obstacles.

At the same time, homeschooling rates have just doubled — and you’re far from the only one trying to figure out what to do right now. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some useful beginner tips, tricks, and advice on all things homeschooling.

1. First things first: Make sure you brush up on homeschooling laws in your state.

A lot of anxiety can (rightfully!) stem from simply not having enough information. For instance, depending on which state you live in, how you homeschool your child (and how you give your school notice) will vary.

For a broad overview of what to expect, the Coalition for Responsible Home Education is a great starter resource. If you have the means, they offer an eight-week $300 intro course that covers legal requirements, goal-setting, and other questions for first-time homeschooling households.

2. Join a local homeschooling group and form a community with parents in the same boat as you are.

There are a lot of great online resources and forums for homeschooling, but sometimes you just need to chat with someone in your town or school district who faces the exact struggles you do. You can find a local support group or search “homeschool” on Facebook to find nearby communities to exchange tips, arrange (safe) group activities, or just vent when you need to.

3. Recognize the unique challenges (and surprising benefits) of online learning for your child.

For example, if your kid already struggles in school, online learning — especially if it’s structured in a very similar way — may present just as many (if not more) challenges. For example, if they can’t focus as easily in 40-minute lectures, doing it virtually can also lead to screen burnout and more overall distractions.

At the same time, not having noisy classmates or have back-to-back classes might improve their learning, especially if you restructure their day with more breaks or a greater variety of activities.

4. Know that you won’t be able to do it all, and be honest about your priorities.

It’s natural to worry about overseeing your child’s education, working full-time, and keeping the house clean all at once. That’s why it’s so important to stay realistic about what you can — and honestly can’t — do. Writing a list of things that are crucial to you (and things you can see yourself being a little more lax on) can help.

For instance, if you’re a stickler for having balanced, home-cooked meals and a spotless home all the time, you might have to do a little more takeout than you’d like, or live with a less-than-immaculate living room. At the very least, cut yourself some slack as the school year starts.

But also: Forgive yourself if there are days where you just can’t facilitate your child’s learning. Your kid won’t drastically fall behind just because you were busy with a work assignment for part of the week.

5. Decide on a curriculum that suits your child’s needs, but don’t go overboard with finding the “perfect” one, either.

On one hand, being able to choose between a curriculum that embraces creativity or focuses on STEM can be really exciting. On the other, the sheer amount of options can quickly become overwhelming, especially when you go into private school or higher-tuition learning.

If you’re completely new to homeschooling, it can be good to start simple. K12, for example, offers free online public schools that follow traditional public school year. Or you can try Time4Learning, a subscription-based curriculum that’s a little more flexible.

6. Use e-learning services to your advantage.

Thanks to technology, there are so many accessible and genuinely fun ways to help your child learn, whether through current events, music videos, specialized magazines, or language-learning apps.

If your child is in high school, there are also great free lectures and college-level courses available through sites like edX, Coursera, or Khan Academy. (Find the sample day above here.) And if you haven’t already, set up an e-library account for access to free books.

7. That being said, don’t go on a downloading-every-syllabus-and-resource frenzy.

Just like with finding the right curriculum, it’s easy to pack your child’s day with extra online classes and activities, especially since the school day becomes much more fluid when you’re at home. If you feel yourself or your child start to stress out, take a moment to reassess the things that add more anxiety than anything else.

Again, it’s totally ok to reconfigure as you go, so don’t be afraid to switch something out (or nix it completely) if something is just not working.

8. Create a clean, designated space (or spaces) for learning.

There are a lot of great ideas for homeschool rooms online, but you absolutely don’t need to hold yourself to Insta-perfect standards. If you don’t have a full room, find a quiet corner for a desk and an ergonomic chair. Keep books and supplies labeled and organized as best you can, and make sure your WiFi connection is strong.

The most important thing is having an uncluttered, comfortable space for your child to have the best chance at staying focused and motivated — the rest is a nice bonus, but not necessary at all.

9. Abandon the idea of a traditional school day, including the hours.

If you think of needing to keep your kid in school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., things can get stressful. Which is why for many, shorter hours make sense.

According to some parents who’ve homeschooled for a while, one of the most empowering parts of homeschooling is that you don’t need to do it for six hours. In fact, some say 2-4 hours of structured learning a day is all your kid really needs, and truly focusing for that chunk of time might even be a more efficient way for them to learn.

In short? One of the main benefits to homeschooling is choosing your hours. Take full advantage of that.

10. Along those lines, remember to work in screen-less breaks to reduce burnout.

As you probably know yourself, Zoom burnout is real, and it exists just as much (or more) for online learning. That’s why brain breaks are crucial. If you can, go for a walk together, move around, mix in chores, take a full lunch, or have some screen-less activity to dilute all the time spent in front of a computer.

It’s also good to be mindful of your child’s attention span in structuring coursework as well, working smaller breaks or changes in activities as well.

11. Embrace what your child loves to do — and perhaps never gets as much of a chance to explore in school.

Maybe your child is drawn to cooking, but their school doesn’t have a class for it. Or maybe they’re creative, but feel like the art class in school isn’t long enough for them to fully get into a project.

This can be a great way to let them explore something they love more than they usually could, whether it’s playing an instrument or learning to code, and they can learn a lot in the process!

12. Accept that none of this will be how you expected, and that’s ok.

Children are far more resilient than we give them credit for, and learning isn’t limited to traditional classrooms. It might take a while to nail down a routine that works, but that’s completely normal and to be expected.

More importantly, this is a starkly new venture for so many parents, under incredibly difficult circumstances. Being patient and kind towards yourself only helps you extend the same amount of empathy towards your kid.

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