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. 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.
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, where you attend either morning or afternoon. Some will require masks. Some won’t. Some will give the option to learn from home or come into the classroom. 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 with at least 4 hours of academic instruction. That might be 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 age 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 the parent because so much is student-led or through online courses.
Just remember: if you have multiple kids, that 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, etc. to make plans for how you will all divide the workload. And have a talk with your boss about what hours they expect you 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 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 the 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 great 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. Middle and high school students can satisfy history, economics, science, and reading (through 9th grade) credits. 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 great 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 great option. Search by “semester” courses to find classes that will satisfy a high school credit.
Finally, if your child has finished 10th grade then you can enroll them in dual-enrollment courses many different colleges, where they can take a course online and receive college credit as well as high school credit for it. It’s a great way to go ahead and get some college hours under your belt!
Consider your child’s social life
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 the coronavirus. Will going to school where kids may not be wearing masks regularly cause them to have an anxious melt down?
Thinking through the amount of social engagement your child gets 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 even be a factor right now.
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, and the local children’s theater company is a great outlet for creative kids.
I’ve found that the freedom our homeschool schedule gives us—and the lack of extra homework to do into the late night hours—gives my kids more time for social engagement than they had before.
The benefit of continuing with your school
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 options for learning.
- Your child’s routine will go “back to normal” for the most part, and they’ll continue their familiar rhythms of life, which have been so interrupted lately.
- They won’t miss out on the school aspect of the 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 their field teaching your kids, rather than you learning alongside your child.
- If they’ll give you the option to do partial days from home or continue to distance learn, you can feel better about the COVID-19 risks.
- You will worry less about whether you’ve chosen the right curriculum, are they learning enough, are you doing a good enough job, and all the other stresses that homeschool moms worry over.
- In homeschooling, it often takes at least a quarter to really figure out what you’re doing, and you start to really see the benefit in the second year or so.
The benefit of choosing to homeschool next year
There are also tons of benefits to deciding to homeschool next year:
- You’re educating on your own terms, not trying to figure out how to work through another teacher’s lessons with your kids from home.
- You get to study and do school on your on schedule—if night time or weekends work better for you, then you can do school then!
- Your child won’t be at school around kids with potential to pass the virus. (And an anxious child won’t have to face their fears every single school day.)
- There are many online options or prepared curriculum that take the pressure off parents to be experts in the harder subjects that older kids are studying.
- You can get one great year in with your kid, really focusing on their interests, which could help you as you plan for the future—whether it’s college, a trade school, or another path altogether.
- Your child will have their teacher’s full attention and move at their own pace, rather than the “wasted time” that can come with large classroom settings at any age.
At the end of the day, you have to follow your gut, and make the decision that’s right for your family, knowing that for many families who have working parents who must go back to their office, this might not be an option for them.
But if it is – ask yourself the hard questions. 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: is there a tutor you could hire for four hours a day, or a micro-school you could create with a few parents you trust to maintain social distancing protocols so that you can split the cost?
We talk a lot about how kids are so resilient and they’ll bounce back from this, 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, we know you’re doing to do a great job supporting your kids through this crazy experience.