We are deep into a tunnel…a long tunnel with a very distant light! As we embrace the new school year, most of us find ourselves in a world of “distance learning,” akin to “homeschooling” without the full control of the curriculum. We now have to make family decisions about who will take care of the kid(s) and how will we make this happen. Some of us cannot afford childcare, others of us think our kids are older and can handle it, and still, many of us balance responsible reliance on our “village” of neighbors, family members, and friends, to help us attend to the needs of our kids while we work to put food on the table. Let’s call it for what it is…a total cluster.
Well, our family of five have done this before. In fact, pre-COVID, we traveled for a whole 54 weeks and homeschooled our 1st, 3rd, and 7th graders. We are not *even close to* perfect and we struggled quite a bit, but we offer a few tips (based on our practice/experience), that we ourselves will rely on though this next school year.
1. Define Education for Your Child in this Opportunity
Our children are each beautifully unique AND each has the right to reach their full potential. We need to set high expectations because they deserve it, but we want to take stock of what is important to them. Take a moment to be intentional about what success looks like for you and your child. Is it academic advancement, love of learning, wellbeing…or some combination of all three? This clarity will help guide you to focus when it all feels overwhelming. Be sure to ask your child, if at least 6 years or older, what 1-3 goals does s/he want to work towards during the year? Whether it’s riding a bike, making a friend, or being “good at <insert subject>, knowing your child’s desired goals will help you understand his/her motivations for engagement in “school” when the going gets tough.
2. Create a Schedule that Reflects your Values
For many of us, the school’s “distance learning” schedule has yet to be understood. Likely, our kids K-12 will carry a mixed schedule of set virtual class time, office hours, and assignments. If it is anything like the schedule we experienced last school year, we can expect that there will be unstructured time during the day.
When we homeschooled for the year of travel, we learned that the kids were generally picking up concepts much more quickly because we were doing one-on-one teaching and we were pleased to learn that most studies support a 2-hour academic dosage for continued learning and progression through K-6 grade levels. We also relied on the basic benchmark for expected periods of focus, which is calculated by multiplying the child’s age by 5 mins.
Now, here is the rub: many of us will enter this new schooling era while the adults in the home are still working. Absent continuous use of electronic devices, kids ages 5 and younger often need a dedicated adult to help them navigate their day and basic needs. School-aged children between the ages of 6-15 years can operate with different levels of independence, but need a loose structure to help them stay on task and progress through their day.
We put these thoughts and concepts together with our family values and created a suggested schedule (more like a checklist) for our kids to self-regulate while both me and my partner worked from home. They could be at choice about how they arranged their schedules, so long as they eventually got it all done. Of course, the kids couldn’t get to be on electronics until the rest of their responsibilities were met nor before 3pm.
Here is our tool for you to copy and make your own: Template Schedule and Ideas
3. Offer Limited Choices to Encourage Voice
Making choices and decisions is a natural part of life and the more practice our children have, the easier time they will have with easing into independence…or so that is the thought! Our family chose to build limited choices into the daily schedule to create space for the kids to activate their voice and ownership over their day. For example, from a limited list of ideas, our kids decide what chores to do, the type of creative activity, what snack to eat, and when to do which activity. But all of this only works if you take the time to get organized in advance.
Regardless of how much you and your child want to lean into the school’s plan of “distance learning” or apply your own homeschooling rigor, the more organized you are, the more independence and seamlessness you can expect as you begin a loosely structured routine. Designate areas, drawers, and/or cabinets for their ease in finding the right supplies for their activities, worksheets, or snacks. It is easier to prompt and/or redirect than it is to have to go and “find” something for them to do on the fly!