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A home educator’s tips for home schooling: First, don’t call it that

First slide

Nearly 30 years ago, when I first began “home schooling,” I adamantly rejected the term. Now, when it seems the whole country is adjusting to school-aged children at home for academics, I encourage you to join me in rejecting the term if for no other reason than the rejection will save your sanity. Even if half a dozen children suddenly are sitting at your kitchen table awaiting their daily dose of lessons, you don’t have to home-school. You just have to keep doing what you’ve always done, with a slightly different emphasis on certain intentions.

There is grace enough for this strange new normal. Parents, you have always been the primary educators of your children. The church teaches us that. Further, the domestic church is uniquely equipped to be an excellent place to learn and grow together in holiness and wisdom (and even in intellect). Your children will learn all day, every day if you provide the right environment and go about your daily round with intention. 

Kids won’t know the reality, but they will know your response. Elizabeth Foss

Give yourself some time and space to adjust. You’re planning for longer than a snow day or two. If you struggle to work as if this is a normal “school day,” you are going to blow up in a cloud of mutual frustration quickly. Have a longer vision. 

First, take a hard look at your learning atmosphere — also known as your home. Experts in home education know that atmosphere is foundational. Make your house work for you. The first thing you learn together is how to clear the clutter and bring life-giving elements of order and beauty to the forefront. The next thing you learn is good old-fashioned housekeeping skills. Then, assess your pantry and your fridge. Make a meal plan. Get ink for your printer. Order some pencils. Knowing that the underpinnings of environmental management are considered, you’ll be more available to your children. Free up that mental space; you’ll need it. 

As you settle into an academic rhythm, be assured that veterans expect the first few days of home education to be rocky ones. We’re all working out the kinks together at home. Give yourself that window and grant grace as you all adjust. You need to establish a rhythm. You shouldn’t establish routine. 

Routine means you have hard, fast expectations that you will all do certain things for a set duration at a certain time every day. It’s rigid and unyielding and ends with crying and the gnashing of teeth — yours and maybe someone else’s. Rhythm is the intentional setting of the course of your days. What comes first? Then next? When will you come together? When will you rest? How can you provide for robust physical activity and breathing deeply outdoors? How soon should you begin preparing dinner to stave off the soul who tends to be “hangry?” Take a moment or two — or even a day —  to think hard about these things. Put pen to paper with a plan. Set an intentional rhythm and then expect that you will alter it as life plays out. No two days will ever look the same. Pray for the grace to respond to whatever comes your way with patience and charity. My very favorite prayer, countless times a day, is “Lord make haste to help me.” Rest assured that he will. 

Look carefully at what has been entrusted to you by the schools. We’re finding in most cases that most of it can be accomplished in very little time. Plan on taking that time and truly being fully available to your children when they’re working. They may or may not need your help, but in the beginning, especially, it’s important you establish both your support and your authority when it comes to academics. Your children need to know they can come to you for help, and that you expect their best efforts and you intend to inspect what you expect. 

In the absence of clear expectations from the school — or perhaps in addition to them — set some minimum daily requirements. Practice math every day because those skills are quickly lost if the muscle isn’t flexed daily. Read aloud to your children every day and expect that they will spend some time alone with books as well. Children who can read should always have a book going. Children who can’t need several sessions of books read to them throughout the day. Create a family book challenge and model a reading habit for them. Require some kind of writing every day. Let them send letters. Encourage them to keep journals. Inspire them with stories of other children in difficult times. (Anne Frank, Esther Hautzig are examples.) Help your children to be aware that they are living through a time of historical significance and help them to take time to ponder, to pray and to preserve a legacy. 

There is a place for screens, both for academics and for leisure. I urge you to make screen time intentional for everybody. You will need some time to yourself. If you’re working from home, you might need quite a lot of it. Reserve your children’s screen usage only for that intentional time; that way the screen becomes a useful management tool. As an aside, I’ve been working from home for three decades. This past week has been one of the most challenging I’ve ever navigated. It won’t always be this way; we’re all on a learning curve. 

Institute daily quiet time. Little ones nap. Bigger ones can do whatever they choose as long as it is quiet and independent. If your family has a way to incorporate screens safely into that time, do it. A basket of books, a jigsaw puzzle, Legos and a collection of stuffed animals on a bed work well, also. You all need some time and space apart. Cultivating a habit of quiet is invaluable for the rest of their lives. 

Your children are unlikely to remember endless charts of curves we desperately want to flatten. They won’t know the frustration of empty store shelves. They won’t spend sleepless nights wondering about economic impact. They will remember that time you were all at home together for far longer than anyone imagined. They’ll remember lying on their backs in the backyard and stargazing. They’ll remember the giant jigsaw puzzle. They’ll remember learning to change the oil or iron a shirt. Kids won’t know the reality, but they will know your response. There are resources out there to help you teach algebra if necessary, and there are lots of us working to make you are aware of those resources. The math will be just fine. Sure, pray for knowledge. But pray even more for wisdom and charity. Pray for the grace and strength to cultivate peace and joy together at home.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Northern Virginia.

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For more reading, go to elizabethfoss.com/.

 

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020