Adventures in homeschooling

It was bound to happen eventually. After one closure for cleaning, and a few half days for teachers to figure out remote work plans, Pennsylvania’s governor ordered our county’s schools to be shut down for two weeks to halt the potential spread of the coronavirus. All recreational and public spaces and non-essential businesses (anything but grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations) have been closed too.

Eventually we are supposed to receive virtual work plans. But for the moment, I’m proceeding with the assumption that we need to homeschool the kids for the next few weeks.

Homeschooling has actually been a long-term interest of mine (fun fact: my public policy senior thesis at Princeton was on homeschooling policy). It’s not something I’ve personally wanted to do but I’m fascinated by people who do — particularly those who also work for pay.

Anyway, today after we learned the news I pulled together a “Homeschool binder” for the kids. Each child has a check list for the day of things they need to do. We’re going to specify that these should happen in the morning, and then the afternoon can be more for free play (including at least an hour outside). Each school-aged child will need to do an hour of independent reading. He or she will do 30 minutes of math practice (either problems they find through some of the math software they already use or learning subjects via online resources such as Khan Academy). Each day will feature one other subject for 30 minutes, with an orientation toward research. So 30 minutes of science research (tomorrow’s subject) means they’ll need to read about a topic of their choice and write down a few things they learned for me (which will double as writing practice). Those studying a language will do a few minutes of a language app. Those who play instruments will practice those.

The pre-schooler will get a few additional stories read to him. He will also do a few minutes of writing practice and math practice. He has specified that he wants to learn his times tables. I guess…why not? I also plan to bring out the Bedtime Math books and have him do the first two problems in each section.

The baby will no doubt learn all kinds of things.

I am trying to have a good attitude about all this — my goal is that when my children look back on this time they’ll think it was an adventure. I’m trying to think of ways we can have little adventures even if we’re basically not leaving the house. Picnic breakfasts anyone? Also, the big kids have volunteered to teach lessons to the preschooler, so that could be fun too.

Photo: Nope, he’s not really homeschooling, but I thought we could all use more pictures of cute babies right now. 

27 thoughts on “Adventures in homeschooling

  1. Well, He IS cute! Brings a smile to my face. In the Netherlands our schools are not yet closed, but i think they will soon.. Good luvk with the schooling adventure!

  2. I can strongly recommend ‘Suzy’s World’ science videos on youtube. Such fun and could inspire your children to conduct some kitchen experiments of their own. Love Bedtime Math books.

  3. I think I will be creating a home school schedule this weekend. Today our school is opened, but our high school is conducting a practice remote schooling session today and our superintendent is meeting with governor’s office to discuss closure. Our music school is starting Facetime private lessons today (we’ll see how that goes). I have been reading KJ Dell’Antionia’s essay on being quarantined with kids in China and taking heart that at least we are in the relative comfort of our own homes. As a physician, I am taking heart that I have reliable childcare (including an au pair who has no where to go), because I have to physically go to work everyday.

    I would love to hear what adventures you come up with at home–please share them!

    1. @Barb – turns out the instructions are pretty simple. You … attach four legs to the table 🙂 It’s just really heavy!

  4. Our schools/daycares aren’t closed down here in Minnesota yet, but we are a couple of weeks behind the rest of the country in terms of new cases so it’s bound to come. I’m WFH indefinitely starting today. Yesterday my company asked all high risk employees to WFH – I’m high risk due to my RA. But today they asked all employees who can WFH to do so starting Monday for about a month. I am sure my husband will be joining me at home soon, too. I do hope daycare can safely stay open, though, as it will be really tough to get much done with a 2yo around. Luckily my colleagues don’t have young kids so they could probably take conference calls if I can’t do them from home. I could close myself in the office but can see the 2yo banging on the door and yelling ‘mama’ over and over… He’s quite the mamas boy!

    Sounds like you’ve got a good system set up for your kiddos. I love that the 4yo wants to learn his time tables! Yay math!! 🙂 I’m a math major so that makes me smile. 🙂 The baby is growing and changing so much – love that big grin!!

    1. @Lisa- definitely yay math! And yes, working from home with a 2-year-old is hard. I hope you and your husband will be able to trade off non-nap hours so you can both get most of a work day.

  5. I’d love to see your “home school binder checklist” Laura, if you are open to sharing! My kids are off for the next 5 weeks, so I am thinking that implementing some sort of structure or schedule will help give us all comfort. I love that your system sounds like it puts the onus on them, rather than you, to adhere to the plan. I’m currently drawing up an “I’m not bored board” full of ideas to keep them busy.

    1. @Amy – I just posted it over at Instagram, @lvanderkam if you want to take a look! The basic format for the 3 older kids is an hour of reading, 30 minutes of math practice, then 30 minutes of research on a topic (alternating through science and history and maybe a few others), which they then have to write me a paragraph about (for writing practice). Plus music practice for the two with instruments and some time on Duolingo for the one studying Spanish.

  6. Thanks Laura, those are very useful suggestions to keep structure in those days to come. I am not familiar with the Bedtime Math books, but will definitely look into it!

    1. @Caroline – the Bedtime Math books are really fun! You read a cute little story set-up and then there are multiple levels of problems related to the set-up, so kids who are counting on their fingers can have a problem for them, up to about mid-elementary school. (So the range of kids who’d have stories read to them).

  7. Our state parks are not yet closed … and had thought they would not – as I planned to go to the park in my RV and enjoy some nature. We shall see …

  8. Our schools will be closed at least through Apil 24th. The schools are still figuring it out. In the meantime we’ve slotted the mornings for schoolwork, assigned lunch making to the kids on two days (WFH parents have meetings) and have reading and exercise in the afternoon. Sounded simple enough to me, but a lot of push back from the teenager in the house. We expect more info from the schools on Monday.

  9. Sounds like a good plan for some structure with flexibility! We are a family where both of us work from home, and our kids (both in high school) attend an online charter school. So all these closures don’t affect our day-to-day that much. I’d love to see an article about parents who work and homeschool. I know there are others of us out there, but most homeschooling articles and groups, etc. are geared to moms who don’t work.

  10. I have only done one day of homeschooling so far and I hated it. The website the kids use for school kept crashing. It was super boring. Also, I struggled to explain elementary school subjects, which is depressing. I am an M.D. My 6-year-old told me he is pretty sure his teacher is smarter than I am.

  11. It is wonderful that you and a MINORITY of other working parents are privileged enough to have the flexibility and resources to home school your children. But what about the vast majority of the shift workers, middle class and working poor who do not? The parents who DO rely on the schools to provide structure, nutrition and yes, serve as a safe daycare so they can work? The single parents or patents without family? The parents who both work hourly jobs and are just getting by? The parents that have already just barely “optimized” their schedules so they can survive? There are many people just barely making their schedules work and “children going to school” is considered critical support. How about trying to put yourself in the shoes of a family with 2 working parents who cannot afford daycare, do shift work, have hour or multiple hour long drives to work or already are working multiple jobs? I hate to break it to you, but the vast majority of people DO NOT have the resources to suddenly have their children at home let alone expected to be home schooled. Sadly this means many students, who already are disadvantaged will be suffering more and falling behind.
    Maybe it would be more constructive and beneficial to blog about the inequities this will reinforce and PROVIDE real world solutions rather than about how a group of privileged 1% parents can “find time” to now add home schooling to their day? Or better, you can use you platform to reveal how our social and economic structure here in the U.S. is again failing the growing number of people who are not in the proverbial 1%.

    1. Dave, while I agree 100% about the difficulties vast numbers of families are / will face, including massive inequality through to societal breakdowns, you didn’t mention the massive uptick in domestic violence combined with inability to access external support many families will also encounter. Or the uptick in gun sales. Or…
      The problems are almost too many to list. However, you are on the wrong blog.
      1) it’s not Laura’s job to solve those problems. The US government needs to step up and do something about that (speaking as a citizen of another country watching the train wreck in the US in disbelief and horror – not the pandemic but your government responses)
      2) Laura’s audience IS that minority of mothers who, as mostly professional career women, do have these options and want to make the best of it, while keeping hold of their career. It’s what they come here to read about.
      3) you might as well complain a gourmet recipe website shouldn’t publish a recipe for truffled lobster because they didn’t deal with feeding the homeless.

      ‘What about’ is not useful in public discourse. If you want to post asking Laura’s readers to contact their representative about these issues, donate to a charity or almost anything constructive you might actually achieve more than venting your spleen.
      As a long term reader, I’m attached to Laura and she doesn’t deserve attacks.
      I hope any response you post will include the constructive action you personally have taken to address the issues you mentioned. Personally, and owning my white, educated and wealthy privilege, I have undertaken to keep a young family in which all parents are health workers supplied with whatever items they might have difficulty getting, because of the strain they already face in the frontline of a pandemic, while parenting young children and unable to rely on their usual support of grandparents due to the risks. They do not need to be running around looking for toilet paper. Life will be tough enough. The concept was called ‘adopt a health worker’ in my area.

  12. Laura – I seem to remember someone (blog? one of your books?) talking about working AND homeschooling? Do you remember where this was — it would be helpful as I’m trying to work out how to work AND take care of/school my kids. Thanks!

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