Fraise: Coronavirus Has Turned Families Into Unwitting Homeschoolers. Some Suggestions for How They Can Treat It Like an Opportunity
I lead a co-learning community called Workspace Education in Bethel, Connecticut — a bastion for families who have opted out of school and work creatively to solve their children’s educational needs together. Now, with the majority of schools across the country shutting down, millions of families are becoming homeschoolers, just like the families we work with.
Those of us who are already taking education into our own hands know two things: First, almost all the teaching materials you could ever need are available in a low-cost or free format online or in the library. Second, almost 2 million families have been homeschooling or unschooling for years. Many of us are willing to help you find what you need for your children and are just a click away.
But discovering the right content and activities for your children may be the easy part. There are emotional hurdles as well. Our experience supporting unconventional learners in a remodeled New England barn has taught us a few lessons that might help families through this transition.
1 Don’t panic; this is possible!
Most parents who remove their children from school under normal circumstances are anxious at first. Even seasoned homeschoolers have bouts of anxiety about their choices. Often, they feel like they are in free fall without the structure that school provides. Fears like “Will my children still get into college?” and “Am I doing the right thing?” creep in even when the children are so much happier. These are all normal feelings that parents have when they leave their school system. Parents and children alike are not used to taking total responsibility for the learning process.
2 It will take time to adjust.
Everyone making a transition is going to have an adjustment period. Our rule of thumb is that it takes one month for every year a child has been in school to “deschool.” Children are going from a strict environment to one that is more relaxed. The key to this transition is to listen to your children and understand what they need so your family goals can be accomplished. It might require an initial investment of time to teach your children how to guide their own learning, create their own projects or do their own research. Teaching them how to find the resources they need could pay dividends in the long run — even when they return to school.
3 Think about how everyone will manage time.
Defining some work habits to practice at home could help maintain everyone’s sanity. For example, some experienced homeschoolers require their children to make appointments with them to sit down and review work. This can help parents protect their work schedules and help children understand that everyone’s needs have to be met and that they need to contribute to the smooth running of the household.
4 Remember that every child is different.
Some children like workbooks. Some don’t mind online programs or educational games. Many children will rebel and get bored quickly if they are alone and not moving. Some will eagerly take control of their own learning, while others will require more explicit directions and what seems like constant attention. Be realistic about your children and understand that we are all wired differently and that everyone’s needs will be different. You will have to experiment to see what works best.
5 Try to make the most of this opportunity.
This might just be a great chance to reconnect with your kids. Most families arrive at Workspace wanting their children to find and develop a passion or interest. Many children haven’t had time to explore different things they might like to try. Most people have many things they like to do, but not much time to do them. This is an opportunity for self-discovery. Help your children find things, people, activities and creative apps that could help them discover new interests.
So what might that exploration look like, and where do you start? Take the case of 10-year-old Claire, an average student who loves animals and writing stories. She can no longer go to her local school and is now at home, missing her friends and getting bored. She has three months of fifth grade left. Finding resources to complete fifth-grade content requires a quick online search.
Looking at what content is left to cover for the year, you can ask yourself: How can you efficiently take care of the academics while leaving time for fun? What content could Claire learn easily on her own, and what might she need help with? What could be done with a workbook, and what would require you to be more creative? What are things your children could do together — with or without your help? Could Claire’s older brother help her get a jump-start on algebra?
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If your school has not given you any guidelines, you have a window of opportunity to custom-craft exactly what would make Claire light up. Maybe she could start a novel about animals? Maybe she could start a little company making dog treats or coats for animals in a shelter? Or learn Canva to create posters and make a pitch to relatives for donations to help her buy materials? If she were in charge of her curriculum, what would it look like? Make sure Claire is driving this conversation.
As you begin to answer these questions for yourself and your family, you can tap into the online homeschooling community to find resources and materials for almost any interest. There are homeschooling Facebook groups and other apps that bring together homeschooling communities all over the world, organized both by region and by philosophy.
One of the larger ones is Secular, Eclectic and Academic Homeschoolers, whose members choose from the best curricula and resources available to support their children’s learning. Members post information about what they need for their particular learner’s needs and get dozens of responses and suggestions from other homeschoolers.
Education is fundamentally a human endeavor. People love being together, and social distancing is going to be hard — especially for our children. Reach out to your friends and relatives in the same situation and create a Slack channel or virtual meeting group so you can stay in contact and share your lives. However you choose to handle the pandemic and your children’s learning, the best results come from listening to your kids and working out a plan for your family that takes care of everyone’s real needs.
Take your time, find a support network that aligns with your family’s needs, and think of this as an opportunity to be with your children and help them take ownership of their own learning.
Catherine Fraise is founder of Workspace Education.Submit a Letter to the Editor