Because of Covid-19, millions of parents are now taking on the challenge of homeschooling their children. Most kids need a certain amount of structure and routine to thrive. Knowing where to begin and how to create a successful homeschool is overwhelming for many parents. There are several crucial steps you'll need to take to get your children on a successful school schedule from home.
Work Through a Transition Period
Starting to homeschool, even if done in the best way possible, is a drastic change for most parents and their children. Slowly easing into a new routine is the best strategy. This might include starting slowly with casual learning activities such as putting together puzzles, reading, or taking nature walks. The following are several incremental steps to take when beginning the homeschool process.
- Hold Back on Most Purchases - It's tempting to want to buy a lot of materials before starting. People may see this as a sign of good preparation and organization. Materials are sometimes expensive and you won't know exactly what you need until you've got a few weeks under your belt.
- Review Daily Progress - It's important to have a schedule right from the beginning. It's also important to realize you won't know how much time activities will take until you're actually doing them. At the end of each day write down what you accomplished, what you didn't, and how long everything took. Make adjustments from there.
- Listen to Your Kids - Adults need to make the major decisions when it comes to learning from home. It's important, however, to receive input from your students. Let them choose between taking a nature walk or doing an art project. Make sure to engage in lots of fun activities that are entertaining and educational during the transition phase.
Create a Learning Space
While your entire house and yard is your classroom, you still need a specific area for structured learning. You may want to use a den, a spare bedroom, or organize a place in your basement. If possible, it's preferable to have a space where you can close the door and have quiet and privacy. The basics will include a table, chairs, and wall space. You'll also want shelves and different sizes of containers for storing materials. Instead of purchasing expensive containers use laundry baskets, empty coffee cans, and glass jars to store everything from books and math manipulatives to pencils and rulers.
Just as a home is more comfortable when you design it yourself, the same will apply to a learning space for children. There are several ways to incorporate educational activities into creating a learning space. Kids can work on a geometry lesson that includes designing different shapes such as rectangles, circles, etc. Turn the geometry lesson into an art project by coloring and cutting the various shapes. Children of all ages can use these to decorate their learning area.
While it's important to create a space that includes all the right things, it should also eliminate distractions. Make sure televisions, cell phones, and other electronic devices are out of sight and out of reach. Only include those that you'll specifically use for learning purposes. Finally, make sure to give your learning area a thorough cleaning.
Organize a Curriculum
This is the most overwhelming aspect of homeschooling for many parents. There are literally hundreds of programs and methods to choose from. Most parents will likely have a lot of guidance regarding curriculum from their child's school. If you're responsible for much of your child's curriculum, you'll want to understand a few of the basic homeschooling methods to choose from before deciding on a curriculum.
- Classical - A classical education includes an emphasis on reading, especially classical literature. It includes three general parts. The younger years focus on learning facts and building a foundation for further learning. Older children learn material in a way that focuses on logic, critical thinking skills, and effective communication.
- Unit Study - This method of learning involves creating lessons for several subjects around one central theme. For example, if studying the planets is a primary theme, students might write an essay about their favorite planet, study the history of space travel, and put together a small telescope to view the night sky. This would cover reading, writing, history, and science all under one theme.
- Charlotte Mason - This method focuses on books written in story form rather than textbooks. There is an emphasis on learning everything from history to spelling and great literature. There is also a lot of time spent on nature and exploring the outdoors.
- Unschooling - Unschooling is a bit controversial, but may work for some families. Instead of designing any type of curriculum, education focuses on a child's interests. It often means learning without any lessons, textbooks, or even a schedule.
- Montessori - Maria Montessori put together a learning method that has children working together at different ages. There are a lot of work centers and hands-on activities.
- School at Home - This method basically follows the structure and curriculum of traditional classroom schools. This might include virtual or online studies. This is probably what most parents will engage in if they're following the guidelines put out by the schools their children were recently attending.
- Eclectic - This is an individualized style of learning that basically mixes a variety of methods. This might include using a classical approach to teach reading, Montessori for math, and then incorporating a few unit studies. This is about finding the right mix of methods and resources to fit your children's specific educational needs.
Put Together a Schedule
You'll need a daily schedule, a weekly schedule, and a schedule that lists long-term goals you want to meet. Plan your day out in chunks. Hourly is usual best. Do you want to start at 7 am or wait until later in the day? Will you homeschool four days each week or spread it out over six days? Decide what will work best for your family and create a schedule with days of the week and the hours from start to finish. Today.com gives several great tips for parents who are homeschooling, including ideas for easing into a schedule.
In a traditional school setting, language arts includes reading, writing, spelling, and grammar. These subjects usually take up the biggest part of a school day. Try to include many of these, especially reading, on a daily basis. Mathematics is also a subject that most schools include in a daily schedule. Social studies, science, and extracurricular subjects such as art or music, are in the schedule usually one to three times each week.
After a schedule is in place, it's important to know this is just a general guideline. Flexibility is crucial when homeschooling. It's important to leave a 30 minute margin in each day's schedule. If you're done on time, take part in a "fun" activity such as a special art project, a math game, or give the kids free reading time. Often, however, your schedule won't always go according to plan and you'll need the extra time.
One of the biggest pitfalls of educating children at home is isolation. Networking is a crucial aspect of homeschool success. Even the most seasoned educators don't do it alone. Professional educators are constantly collaborating with one another. There are several ways to network with teaching professionals as well as other homeschool parents.
- Online Resources - There are several online homeschool resources that parents can plug into. Homeschool.com provides plenty of resources for everything from curriculum ideas to free items. Learning Lift Off features 20 websites that can help parents teaching from home.
- Connect with Your Child's School - If your child's teacher is providing lessons and partial online instruction, don't hesitate to ask questions when necessary. Even if the teacher is only providing limited involvement, most schools are happy to help parents during this difficult time.
- Form Your Own Group - Try to connect with other parents from your child's former class. There are likely 20 to 30 other parents trying to teach the same types of things to their children while at home. Form a group that can get together over Skype or Zoom. Even emailing or texting back and forth with questions and ideas will help.
Teaching children from home, even for those with experience in the field of education, is a difficult endeavor. However, children are natural learners and their ability to adapt to a home learning environment may surprise you. Remember to take things one step at a time and to remain flexible and open to changes.