So, you are here. In a place, you never chose for yourself. At best it may seem like a position caused by a series of unfortunate events-homeschooling because of mandatory quarantine. Could it be, however, that this is not a series of unfortunate events, but rather an opportunity to create some of the best memories in your child’s life? I would like to think so. We know that nothing happens without the situation being sifted through the Father’s hand. Let’s start with a paradigm shift. You do not have to homeschool your children during this time. You get to homeschool your children during this time. Think about this as a gift, an opportunity to spend more time with the ones you love the most in your life.
Because you did not plan on this complete change in the way your family’s life looks or a complete change in everyone’s schedule, you may be floundering to figure out how to pull off educating your children at home, and by extension, cleaning the house that is getting messier than it ever has, needing to cook more food than you ever have, and potentially still needing to work from home. At this point, you may be completely frazzled or just trying to survive. I would like to encourage you that you are on the cusp of a great opportunity. The only thing is whether or not you can capitalize on this time.
At the beginning of any new portion of life’s journey, we as believers should stop and pray about where we are going. I know that it seems like you do not have much time to do such a thing, but I promise you that you do. This does not need to be a season of prayer and fasting, although it can be. Quite frankly, the probability is pretty high that you do not have that kind of time. This is a “Lord, I need you now!” situation. I encourage you to set aside 15 minutes and pray that the Lord will be with you as you make these plans and create memories with your children. That’s it. You are just starting; you are in the fire. Let’s move on.
You want to begin with the end in mind. What do you want this time to look like? There are probably things you have to get done, but what do you want to do during this time to capitalize on this opportunity? Have you always wanted to have family devotional first thing in the morning? Well, this is your time. Have you always wanted to go on walks with your children but couldn’t find the time? Well, this is your time. Have you ever wanted to teach your child how to make Grandmama’s granola? Well, this is your time. Think small, consistent fun times. These are what they will remember. Whatever it is, write it down, post it, then work it into the schedule. Use it as a constant reminder. Here is the key, though: start small. Pick things that will only take 20-30 minutes. Only work one or two of these extra things into your day, until you feel more comfortable with your schedule. Otherwise, it will become a huge burden to get it all done. You do not need more burdens.
Now that you have a general sense of what you would like to do, let’s look at what you have to do. Begin by creating a schedule. I cannot stress this enough for you and your child. You are both used to a firm schedule at work and school. You both leave the house at a certain time, you both must arrive at work at a certain time, you both have a relatively firm order of events at work and school. Think about your child’s day. They know what to expect from the teacher, they know what comes next in their day, they know what they need to do to be successful at their tasks. Let those things be your guide as you create the schedule. Think in blocks, though. Do not hold yourself to a firm at 9:00 we do this, at 10:00 we do that. Think of it as a block of time: from 9-9:30 we get this done. I suggest that you start your workday first, about an hour before you must help homeschool your child. For me, that is about 8 AM. I call this, “Getting the house running.” You may need to answer emails, make phone calls, start the washing machine, figure out what is for breakfast. Whatever it is, you will feel better about your day if you already have some things accomplished. Start with a firm definition of what you expect as far as a start time for your child’s day and what they should do before they start working (dressed, breakfast, teeth brushed, etc.). Have them help to get the house running too. They could unload the dishwasher, open the curtains, and feed the animals while you cook breakfast. Maybe they can make breakfast while you answer emails. This is the time for everyone to pull together and help, so no one person is bearing all the weight of this current situation.
The next step in your schedule is to help your child(ren) with any work that they cannot understand. Before you even begin, though, you must embrace the timer. I cannot overemphasize this enough: The timer is your friend. This wonderful invention will help to turn your endless cycle of To-Dos into blocks of efficient time used. Remember, your child is used to working in small blocks of time. For young ones, I suggest each block of time be about 20 minutes. For older children, the blocks of time could be extended to 45 minutes. Once the work is done in that block of time, she can fill the rest of that time doing things she enjoys. If it is a hard subject, you could use multiple smaller chunks of time to accomplish this task. The key is to know that there is an end. What is not done is put off for tomorrow. However, if your child is dawdling, help him understand that if he consistently doesn’t finish his work on time, during the appropriate block of time, then he will have to finish it during his free-time block of time.
For my son’s hardest subjects, I break it up into at least two segments. For instance, we read through the information together, learning new concepts, watch a funny video that takes about 5 minutes, then work on the exercises together. If your child understands the concept, then that is when you leave them to complete the exercises by themselves. You could then help another child or do some work that you need to accomplish (maybe put those clothes in the dryer). The key here is to have one person occupied with work they can do by themselves, while you are working with another child on a concept, they need your help with, or possibly while you get some work done.
Once everyone has put in a few hours of focused work, I encourage you to take time to work in one of the items you wanted to accomplish with your child. Do this earlier in the day. Do not save it until everyone has finished their schoolwork. Everyone will be exhausted by that time. This is a priority for you. The schedule should reflect that.
This tip is what I call a sanity saver: Have a separate lunchtime. I have always taken an hour, yes, a whole hour, to do something by myself. Sometimes I get to eat and watch TV. Sometimes I just scarf down some food and get 50 minutes of work done. Whatever it is, take some time away from your child. Of course, they need monitoring, but time to play with their sibling (with consequences if they argue), or quiet time in their room, or time to play outside, or even TV time is okay. We all need some room to breathe. Learning to be by ourselves is a healthy skill everyone needs to practice and learn.
After lunch, work in at least two more blocks of focused work time, with a block for everyone to get together in the middle of those two blocks. In the 15 years I have been homeschooling, the best memories I have are of field trips, which are currently not an option for you (sorry!), and reading books together as a family. Let this be a scheduled block too, so your child knows how long they are to listen. Of course, that will be different for every age group.
So now it is the middle of the afternoon and most of the children’s tasks are done. At this point, they want to watch TV or have screen time until their brains run out of their ears. Although this is ever so convenient for you, the guilt of it all is a bit overwhelming. Besides, you need some focused time to get your work done. Here are a few suggestions for screen time: require them to only watch educational shows on TV (documentaries, how-it’s-made shows, engineering marvels, cooking shows; if they must be on their phones, they should be reviewing terms and definitions (Quizlet), or playing math games. Of course, all of this would be for a block of time. At a time you set, they could transition to what they would like to do.
About 6, start the evening block routine. This would probably include baths, supper, family game time, family read-aloud books, and then bed. Even if your older kids do not want to go to bed yet, they could have time to themselves in their room. You can use this time to connect with your spouse, plan the next day out, fold that laundry you’ve been working on all day, catch up on work, or just do something you want to do. It is important to balance things by working in some time for you. No one benefits if you make yourself crazy.
I have one more sanity saver. Make a weekly menu, and buy all the groceries at one time. I know that it will seem like a colossal amount of time and energy to create and execute, but I give you my word, it will be worth it in the end. Imagine not having to think about what to eat for an entire week. You do not have to wonder if you have what you need to make it. When your child wants to know what is to eat, he can just go to the menu. Recently, I added a new line item to my menu. It is who is responsible for making the meal. My children are older, so I put them in charge. My 13-year-old son can make everything for tacos, grilled cheese and chili (OK, so I may cook a little more on the weekend, so he can just warm some things up.), spaghetti and salad, and sandwiches. There are several advantages to this. Not the least of which is that while he is making supper, and being productive, I am getting some work done.
Remember, this is a unique time in your family’s life. How do you want to remember it? Of course, everyone needs to have clear boundaries (think block schedule) about what one does with her time, but there should be some wiggle room in your block schedule. Take time to enjoy spending time with and creating memories with the most important people in your life. These are memories they will have way after you are gone. Make the most of it.