I know a lot of parents have jumped right into homeschooling their kids (or, schooling-from-home might be more accurate) so that they won’t get too far behind in their studies. But with news that Virginia has canceled school for the rest of the academic year due to COVID-19, and lots of other districts coast-to-coast alluding to the same, there’s a real possibility that this won’t be a short-term situation.
As a longtime homeschooling mom myself, I know how hard it is. For lots of parents, even a few days of homeschooling may have already become a daily battle of wills resulting in tears and slammed doors. If that sounds familiar, you may want to pivot and try a different approach.
It’s called deschooling.
Deschooling is an adjustment period for new homeschoolers that marks the time between formal school and your new routine at home. Consider it a semi-structured break; not an excuse to do nothing, but a chance to give kids time to adjust to what could be a few months at home.
With all the stress around daily breaking news alerts, the forced isolation for kids away from their friends and extended family members, and the necessity of many parents to balance at-home work and teaching, deschooling is a truly important step that can help you. A lot.
5 deschooling tips for new homeschool families
to help keep you all sane as possible
1. Let things go
If following a rigid schedule is working for your family, go for it! But if you have started one then spent more time fighting about it than following it, let me channel my inner Elsa and tell you to let it go.
Give your kids time to settle into this “new normal” — and give yourself time, too.
Without a formal schedule, you might find that your kids read for hours on one day, but not again until days after that. They may ignore their math worksheets entirely and play with LEGO bricks or craft supplies instead. They may spend three hours in the kitchen baking and decorating a cake instead of doing a science assignment you printed out for them. They may sleep until 9 AM. They may try TikTok dance challenges.
During this period of adjustment, their brains will not turn to mush, I promise.
2. Accept that we are learning all the time
Though we are used to thinking of school as “learning time” and home as “down time,” as a longtime homeschooling parent, I came to embrace the idea that anything can be a learning experience.
Do things differently than kids would normally do in school, and get creative! Like bake a cake and decorate it with candy to look like the parts of a cell (above). Grow vegetables indoors or outdoors, or start an easy herb garden. Let the kids learn how to sew, try new recipes, make art, do science experiments in the kitchen, read comic books — -or even create their own comics.
I love Raising Life Long Learners’ tips for deschooling which include such quarantine-friendly ideas as reading books, watching educational documentaries, creating in Minecraft, learning an instrument. (Psst…they can now learn guitar, bass, or ukulele free for the next 90 days!)
Now is the time to pull out those craft kits your kids never had time to use, try some new yoga or barre videos, encourage the ids to make a photo diary or journal of their days at home, let them cook in the kitchen.
Think of it this way: Deschooling is a great time for kids to figure out what they really like to do when school, sports, and other lessons don’t take up all of their day. And it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn more about what sparks your kids’ interests and passions.
3. Phone a friend
Working parents, unite! Now, with so many parents in the same stay-at-home position, you are bound to find another fellow mom or dad you can team up to take turns helping to entertain the kids. Even if it’s only for an hour of the day.
Have a friend who decorates cakes? Maybe she can teach your kids how to make roses out of frosting via Skype or Zoom or FaceTime. A bilingual aunt can lead a sing-along in her native language. Or the theater-buff classroom parent could send out a script, log everyone onto Zoom, and assign roles so the kids can act out a play.
Get creative and offer up something you can do. Even if it’s just video storytime at 4 PM when everyone seems to be running out of steam.
4. Get creative with social interaction
Speaking of Zoom calls and FaceTime lessons…
This is such a very difficult time for kids who are used to seeing friends every day — and that includes all my homeschooling friends who rarely spend entire days at home alone! Find ways to maintain safe social interaction with friends by relaxing rules about screen time, which can provide essential time for them to see friends.
Let them create a vast Minecraft world with their buddies; play group video games with the headphones on; FaceTime, text, or Zoom their friends just to say hi and be silly.
They can even start their own private TikTok account and challenge friends to dance-offs. (In fact, make sure you check out the hilarious Cool Mom Pick #coolmomtiktok challenge that Liz and Kristen and their daughters have been passing back and forth to each other!)
5. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else
If there is one thing I learned in my 12+ years as a homeschooling parent, it’s that it does you absolutely no good to compare your family to others.
Your school may be providing lots of home-learning structure, or very little. If you’re in that latter group, you may find there are days your kids spend their day in front of a screen eating nothing but chips — and that will turn out to be the day you log into Facebook to see how perfectly a friend has taught her child to count to 20 in Mandarin. All before eating a healthy, organic lunch, then moving onto advanced kitchen science experiments.
Don’t beat yourself up over that. Believe me, every family has their challenges — even experienced homeschoolers — and it does you no good to try to keep up with anyone else.
And, if no one has said this bit of advice to you, let me be the first: Even if you have no formal at-home lessons for the next few weeks or months, your child will be okay. Pinky swear. You will see plenty of victories over the long term, if not day to day.
Veteran homeschooling parents know that educating your kids at home isn’t a competitive sport, it’s a lifestyle. And every one of you new school-at-home families is currently adjusting to a new lifestyle, and trying to do it very quickly too.
Be kind to yourself. The kids are alright.
Top image: Jyotirmoy Gupta on Unsplash