With school districts all over the country releasing their preliminary plans for school this fall, I’m hearing so many parents trying to determine whether or not their kids are going back full-time. The requirement between states and districts varies greatly, with some requiring masks and others, not so much.
Parents are trying to manage feelings about their kids’ safety (and the still many unknowns about how the coronavirus), along with trying to figure out how to work, and pull off distance learning, again. While the school systems have had more time to think and plan for how this could work better than they did last spring, distance learning is less than an ideal situation for many families.
To make things even more difficult, USA Today poll recently reported that 1 in 5 teachers said they won’t go back into the classroom, even if schools open back up in the fall, though with 30% of parents saying they are very likely to homeschool in the fall, even if school opens back up, it might not be as challenging as we think.
To be clear: there is homeschooling, and then there is COVID-19 schooling, and they are very different. What parents went through this spring is not normal homeschooling, but what you choose to do with your kids’ schooling at home this fall definitely could be. So, as a homeschool mom, I wanted to share some factors for you to think about as you try to decide what education for your kids will look like in the fall.
Also, be sure to check out Liz and Kirsten’s podcast discussion about whether you’re really up for the homeschooling task, thanks to Kristen’s years of experience as a homeschooling mom. It’s eye-opening.
This post last updated July 23, 2020
Photo by CDC on Unsplash
Get informed on your school’s policies for returning to the classrooms first.
You’re going to make the best decision for your own kids if you know what the school board has planned for your child’s school in the fall. And if there is no plan, that might be a red flag for you.
Some schools are talking about partial days, in which you attend either morning or afternoon. Some are alternating days. Some will require masks. Some won’t. Some will give the option to learn from home or come into the classroom. Some are having synchronistic online classes or periods (as in a real lesson in real time) while others will not.
Knowing what your school’s plan is will help you to make an informed decision for your family.
Consider your child’s age, personality, and educational acumen
There’s a difference between homeschooling because you’re passionate about it, versus doing it to keep your child safe during a pandemic. That said, you can still thrive in the second scenario.
Obviously, teaching early elementary subjects like handwriting and basic math will be easier than a foreign language or advanced math to a high schooler. Then again, when teaching young kids you’ll need to know to keep an eye out for any learning disabilities so you can get early intervention; that’s something a classroom teacher would be prepared to look for.
That said, if you have an advanced child, homeschooling gives you the flexibility to advance their curriculum to challenge them more. If you have a child who requires an IEP, it will require more work from you or more resources from you, in the form of a private tutor or therapist.
Your kid’s personality is a huge factor too: if they’re a self-starter who can be trusted to take a list of assignments and complete them on their own, then your life will be much easier. If they’re going to fight you every step of the way, that’s something to be honest with yourself about too.
How much time will it take?
In my state, the requirement is that homeschooled children must get 180 days per calendar year, each with at least 4 hours of academic instruction. That might involve math workbooks or history lessons; it might be a walk down to the river to write or draw in a nature journal; it might be an engrossing documentary on TV.
For elementary-aged kids, you’re likely going to have less “book” time and more “exploring” and “curiosity” time. Middle and high school kids will have more time reading, studying, or even participating in online courses.
While I haven’t homeschooled for high school yet, I’ve actually had many parents tell me that it’s less hands-on for parents because so much is student-led or through online courses.
Just remember: if you have multiple kids, those four hours can easily get stretched out to longer hands-on work for you.
Will I have to quit my job?
It is possible to work from home and also homeschool your kids. But let me also tell you: it’s hard.
Have honest discussions right now with your partner or support team of grandparents, babysitters, and other caregivers to make plans for how you will all divide the workload.
Also have a talk with your boss, if you work, about the hours you will be expected to be working.
The beauty of homeschooling is that you can do it when you want to. If you have a full-time job you’re able to do from home, ask your boss if they’re okay with you starting earlier in the morning, and maybe you can let your kids sleep in. Or, start the morning right at 8:00 with your kids, and finish by 12:00 for your workday to start.
For me personally, most of my “free time” is spent on work. That said, my kids are home all day, so they pitch in with household duties more than kids who are away all day are be able to.
Where do I even start with curriculum and lesson plans?
This is the part that can be overwhelming, because there are so many options—do we do ancient history? maybe we should try anatomy this year? do I need spelling and vocabulary books?
If your plan is to return to school after this year, just teach the subjects that your school will be teaching for your child’s upcoming grade. Write to your school—or check their website—and ask what subjects and curriculum your child would be using next year. That way they’re right on track to re-enter the following year.
Your school should be able to provide the names of the actual textbooks used, and you can find them inexpensively through curriculum selling groups on Facebook or the used bookstores in your town. In some states, the school system may provide curriculum to families who homeschool through their school district.
Note: This is probably the best plan for middle and high school students. For elementary age kids, you can find a boxed curriculum that will cover everything they need with one handy teacher’s lesson book to walk you through it day by day. It’s basically foolproof. Of course, you can also piece together your own plan for kids of any age. This crash course in homeschooling by homeschool mom JJ Francis is a smart resource to help you get started.
You can also enroll your kids in a complete online public school program in your state, separate from the school you’re zoned for. This option gives you the peace of mind that they’re getting the same education the kids in the classrooms are getting, but from the safety of home—and for free! K12.com is tuition-free public education that’s 100% online, but spots can be limited and you may be required to be at your computer during specific times of the day, limiting flexibility. A quick search with your state and “online public school” will bring up a bunch of options for you to peruse.
If you want to put together your own curriculum, start by checking out the courses at Khan Academy, which is completely free and a favorite around here, whether homeschoolers or not. Middle and high school students can satisfy credits for history, economics, science, and reading (through 9th grade). They even offer AP courses! And their math courses start with “early math” for preschoolers all the way to Calculus and Statistics. If the idea of teaching math is overwhelming to you, then this is a worthwhile plan.
Another option I stand by, although, there is a fee associated, are the real-time, teacher-led courses through Outschool. If you want the flexibility of determining your own schedule, but need help with subjects you aren’t comfortable teaching, like foreign language credits or writing English papers, then this is a solid option. Search by “semester” courses to find classes that will satisfy a high school credit.
Finally, if your child has finished 10th grade, you can enroll them in dual-enrollment courses through many colleges, enabling a student to take a course online and receive college credit, as well as high school credit for it. It’s a great way to help them go ahead and get some college hours under their belts!
Consider your child’s social life
Knowing your child, aside from their learning style is a very important factor.
Is your child a natural introvert who really, really needs to be pushed into social situations? Many parents feel like being in a traditional school setting is the best way to do this. Or, is your child naturally outgoing, and it will make you crazy to deal with their lack of social engagement if you do school from home?
Alternately: consider your child’s anxiety over Covid-19. Will going to school with kids whose families don’t wear masks regularly cause them anxiety about their wellbeing? Are the benefits of seeing kids in person at least a few days a week an important part of your child’s mental health? Do you have a child who’s desperately missing their peer group from school, or are they okay with neighborhood friends?
Thinking through the amount of social engagement your child gets and needs is a big part of the decision to homeschool — but rest assured that there are tons of ways for your child to interact with friends as a homeschooler. Of course, if your motivation for homeschooling is to avoid the social contact that school brings, then this might not be a factor you’re considering right now, especially as hot spots flare up in new parts of the country.
That said, in my own personal experience I can say that my kids’ best friends now are the friends they made at school before we decided to homeschool. They still FaceTime each other, get together in person, play video games online together…you know, all the normal teen stuff. In fact, we even found a school in town that allows homeschooled kids to play on their athletics teams. Or if you have creative kids, a local children’s theater company can be a terrific outlet.
I’ve found that the freedom of our homeschool schedule — and the lack of extra homework into the late night hours — gives my kids more time for social engagement than they had before.
The benefits of continuing with your school’s modified distance learning program
As I see it, there are benefits to sticking with your school over the next school year, especially for older kids, and especially if the school is willing to offer various options for learning that make you comfortable.
- Your child’s routine will go “back to normal” at least in some ways, and they’ll continue some of those familiar rhythms of life that have been interrupted so abruptly this year
- They won’t miss out on the school aspect of social engagement that many older kids crave.
- The curriculum and lesson plans will be taken care of, and it will require minimal planning work from you.
- You will have teachers who are experts in the field teaching your kids — even beyond pure academic knowledge — rather than you learning how to teach, alongside your child.
- If your school gives you the option for distance learning or a blend with in-school learning, as many school are doing now that could be a good way to ease back into a regular in-school curriculum when it’s safe again. (Update: This hybrid plan is becoming the standard for most school districts, including NYC and LA County, though some schools may start entirely with distance learning then evolve to a parent’s choice as restrictions are lifted.)
- You will be supporting your local schools, which offers significant benefit to the community, particularly in terms of public school families and equity in education.
- You will worry less about whether you’ve chosen the right curriculum, whether kids are learning enough, whether you are doing a good enough job — basically all the stresses that homeschool parents worry over.
- In homeschooling, it often takes at least a full quarter to really figure out what you’re doing, and you don’t generally see the benefit until the second year or so.
- The mental health aspects of socialization and some independence for kids in classroom settings, even if modified, may outweigh all other concerns.
- For parents who continue to work full or part-time, or are essential workers in any way, a school program makes it a lot easier (obviously) and takes the pressure of your need to “do it all” — a burden that overwhelmingly falls on mothers.
- You can remain the parent, not the teacher, which is a hugely important consideration.
The benefit of choosing to homeschool next year
There are also tons of benefits to deciding to homeschool this school year.
- You’ll be educating on your own terms, not trying to figure out how to work through another teacher’s lessons with your kids from home, particularly if you have younger kids who need more guidance.
- You get to create school and study time on your on schedule — if nights or weekends work better for you, you can homeschool then.
- Your child will have mitigated health risks by staying at home, depending on the current state of your county or district, though that changes by the day. (Plus, an anxious child won’t have to confront or manage health fears every single school day.)
- You may be giving a family without the choice a needed space in a smaller classroom
- There are many online options or prepared curriculums that take the pressure off parents to be experts in harder subjects that older kids are studying.
- Your child will have their teacher’s full attention (ideally!) and be able to move at their own pace, rather than the extra time spent on multiple students in large classroom settings, at any age.
- You can get one great year in with your kid, really getting to know them and focusing on their interests, which can also help you as you plan for the future —whether it’s college, a trade school, or another path.
Whatever you choose, what matters most is that you follow your gut, and make the decision that’s right for your family — if this even is a decision you’re able to make in the first place.
We also need to remember that for many families with work-out-of-the-home parents, homeschooling might not be an option for them at all. In fact, if you do have the ability to homeschool, it could open up the space that other families in your community need to have more socially-distanced, smaller classrooms in the fall.
It’s important to ask yourself the hard questions, as Kristen and Liz reminded us all here.
Does the idea of homeschooling your kids fill you with dread? Then you might not be the one to do it.
Does the idea of sending them to school fill you with more dread? Then maybe consider alternates even to you homeschooling: perhaps there a tutor you could hire for four hours a day, or a micro-school you could create with a few parents whom you trust to maintain social distancing protocols so that you can split the cost and time.
We talk a lot about the resilience of kids, and how the vast majority will bounce back from these big disruptions and changes no matter what you choose. But you know what? We parents are pretty damn resilient too.
All of this is really, really hard, but whatever decision you make for next year, just by putting this much thought into it, we know you’re a good, caring parent. Don’t forget that. You’re going to do a great job in supporting your kids through this crazy experience, no matter your path, and we’re here to keep supporting you too.