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Hope from a home-schooling parent

First slide

All of a sudden, I’ve found myself home-schooling my three children while working from home.  Fortunately, this is not my first time. In fact, this year was my children’s first year attending school; I’ve home-schooled for five. I’d like to share a few ideas to help with this transition.

There are different ways to home-school; you can choose what works best for you. For some, everything throughout the day is an occasion for education. For others, it is truly school at home.  For many, it is catch as catch can — on a wing and a prayer. I suspect that given the abrupt change in our schedules, most of us will start this way. Don’t worry. We are not doomed to total exhaustion and bouncing from one child’s need to another. There is hope.

Many schools are providing lessons for parents, or at least homework assignments. This removes the burden of deciding what you need to teach.  That said, you have now become your child’s teacher: a video and a link to a game does not really provide an educational experience for your child. The school will provide what needs to be taught, but how you do this is truly up to you. This is a challenge; but think of your favorite teacher from your childhood. (I now realize Mrs. Smith was a saint.) You probably learned best from teachers that cared about you. You already have this advantage; you love your children. Trust me — you can do this.

Last week, I was frantically passing screens to each child, while barking instructions like “click here” and “do this quiz.” We share our technology, which has been taxing on my nerves, as well as our Wi-Fi. Children cannot learn when we are shouting orders at them to hurry up. They may get the assignments done, but they have learned nothing. And the meltdowns are not worth it (theirs, or mine).

This week, I recalled what I learned from my years of homeschooling — teach from rest. I need a solid eight hours of sleep each night. I also have to relinquish my control over every little thing; I had to learn this first with groceries (now many things I have taken for granted are truly luxuries). This also means I cannot just wing it. I have to review what they are learning in advance, even if it is simply a checklist of “to-do’s.” This allows my brain to rest so I can focus on my children and what I am teaching them (instead of handing them a page, while planning the next activity).

I took a few quiet moments (OK, I was locked in the bathroom with a candy bar and a glass of wine), to ask myself what I want our home schooling to look like. What is most important for my children to know? How much one-on-one time can I give, and how much independence do they need to have? There are only 24 hours in a day; sometimes you have to put first things first. That said, there are four R’s to a good Education: Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic and Religion.  In my humble opinion, it is only possible to do this if we put religion first.

Now, we all start the day with religion. We pray, we express our intentions and needs, and we surrender it all to God. Somehow, it gives us strength, a unified vision and more compassion for one another. Putting God first makes everything else fall in line.

We also adjusted our schedule for our family. Our school provides three hours of online education (9 a.m.-noon); it is really three hours of school multiplied by three children. And, I have to catch a few hours of work when others are working. So, this takes organization.

Each child now has a binder with tabs for every subject. All work is printed first thing in the morning (ideally with a cup of coffee before my children find me). These pages can be done independently. Two subjects must be done before any interruptions to work may occur (e.g., snack, break, etc.). I always assign the most difficult subject first because their minds are fresh and they are rested. I created a cupboard at child-level where they can help themselves to snacks — no more asking in the middle of a lesson.  As work is completed, I initial it, photograph it (to upload to the online classroom), and my children put it in their binders. I also have a whiteboard, with every assignment on it. They love wiping off their work. A clean board is a great reward.

Next, I check the schedule for videoconferences and plan online engagement (e.g. quizzes, forums, videos, etc.) and assign screen time accordingly. I ensure computer safety and oversee, sometimes from a distance, all internet usage. I also limit screen time. For example, a video game is not a reward, a board game is. Finally, I plan breaks, preferably outside. Everyone needs some fresh air and exercise.

Home schooling teaches you the gift of multitasking. For example, making breakfast becomes health class (food groups). Baking doubles as math (measurements and conversions). Social studies lead to discussions on morality. Older children can read to younger children (or a stuffed animal). Spelling can be tested orally while driving. Ah, the world of CDs and DVDs is amazing. Need a break? Turn on an educational video (e.g. history DVD for the kids to watch) or just have a dance party. Play is also important. LEGOs teach math and science. STE(A)M projects are fun. Art projects become displays on my fridge and windows. Everything, though, must be done in the context of our faith. How do we treat one another? Do we do our best for God? Do we encourage each other? Is God in our midst?

A home school is more than just a classroom — it is a lived experience. We provide the context for this education we provide. Every subject can be informed by the faith. For example, literature is an opportunity to discuss characters and their virtues and vices; science explores God’s created world and ultimately seeks our place in it. Holidays still need to be celebrated; we celebrate the resurrection as well as the Easter Bunny.

Our faith can be celebrated in small ways throughout the day: grace before meals, an Angelus at noon, a chaplet of Divine Mercy at 3 p.m., a decade of the Rosary at the end of the day, Stations of the Cross on Friday (these can be made in art class), prayers before tests. Our faith is lived all day: wiping tears, celebrating small victories, forgiving one another, honoring each other and God.

I admit, my house looks like a tornado hit it. My dining room is now the dining/school/library/laundry/work/play/science lab/display room. But, given that there are only 24 hours in a day, my children are now helping more at home with chores. If my time has to be redirected to them, they have to help me find the time; it’s a team effort. Running laundry, sweeping floors, making beds, doing dishes, all can be done (though imperfectly) with some help. But, again, that’s part of the education of life.

This is truly an opportunity to not only spend more time with your children, but quality time with them. How do you want to form them; who do you want them to be? What will they learn from you? I realize this has been thrust upon us; it is a precious gift, a diamond in the rough. I’ll ponder that as I go fold parallelograms out of towels for geometry class.

Lienhard is the director of the Catholic Education Center and special consultant for catechetics for the Diocese of Arlington.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020