Dear mama whose child’s school just closed,
When you learned that your young child’s school would be closed it probably felt like a daunting proclamation. Closing schools has many far-reaching implications—it affects a parent’s ability to work, it affects the lives and salaries of the people who work at the school and it strongly affects the children who rely on school meals for at least one consistent meal a day.
For many parents, though, closed schools mean you now find yourself in the position of ‘homeschooler’ (or even just needing to keep your child occupied throughout the day). Which can feel intimidating, especially if it’s not anything you ever wanted to do previously.
The good news is that you are already so much more equipped than you think.
I started homeschooling my 4-year-old (then 3-year-old) last September. I made this choice purely out of my privilege to do so—I work from home, and it was what I had planned to do for several years before my daughter was ready for preschool. Little did I know that this chance decision would leave me strangely equipped for these strange times.
When we first began, I felt a lot of trepidation. Sure, there were certain subjects and topics I felt more than proficient on, but did I know how to teach them? And what about the subjects I felt less confident about, like math? (Or *shudder* fractions?)
But the thing is, when you start homeschooling, you get to learn with your child. You both get to grow in confidence—and you don’t even need a high schooler’s understanding of fractions to start teaching basic math skills. (Promise!) You quickly realize that anything can be a lesson because there’s so much more for your child to learn.
To the mama just beginning her homeschool journey—for whatever reason—I am not a homeschool expert. I haven’t even finished our first year! But, like so many aspects of motherhood, you can and will learn a lot in a short amount of time.
Here are five lessons I’ve learned in the last few months that I hope will help you tackle home education with confidence (because you’ve got this, mama!).
1. It’s so much simpler than you think to educate a young child.
I will readily acknowledge that parents of teenagers and older kids will have more on their plates here. (Though, even for you mamas, there are so many online resources, and hopefully your schools are making use of the myriad telecommunications platforms available.)
But to the mama of an elementary or younger child, I urge you not to overthink this. So much of preschool and kindergarten is play. Read lots of books, do puzzles, take walks, color—every single one of these activities engages different parts of the brain and creates a foundation for bigger, more challenging skills down the line. And, odds are, both you and your child will naturally know what to do with your time even without an official syllabus.
2. Turn simple activities into “lessons.”
I learned this trick from my best friend, who is arguably one of the most natural homeschooling moms I’ve ever seen. The idea is to take a simple activity and blow it out into a lesson by asking questions and making connections. Sounds simple? That’s because it is.
Here’s an example: As you read through your child’s favorite book, pause on each page and create an activity or thought-provoking moment. “How many birds do you see in this picture?” “Is the dog on top of the car or underneath?” “Why do you think the boy is looking at the boat?” “What do you think will happen when she gets there?” “Let’s look up this city on my phone. Did you know…” “This reminds me of what we learned about the water system…”
With a single book, you can engage abstract thinking, encourage math skills, broaden vocabulary, touch on science and art and tie in current events. (Not bad for your 700th reading of Go, Dog! Go!)
3. Don’t underestimate the value of practical skills.
Children like to be involved in what you’re doing throughout the day, and even the most mundane activity can help develop motor skills and teach foundational skills that connect to what they learn in school.
Let them help sort laundry, help make and measure recipes or dust and tidy around the living room. Fill a little squirt bottle with a water-vinegar solution and let them clean windows and the fronts of cabinets. (My daughter will do just about anything that involves a squirt bottle!) You’ll be keeping both their bodies and their minds active, and sometimes that’s all you need to get through the afternoon.
4. Think in themes.
The idea of creating a curriculum is daunting—after all, people get Master’s degrees in this kind of thing! But it’s actually simpler than you think to create your own lesson plan. Start by thinking around a theme that your child is already interested in. (Like farms, the ocean, trucks, trains, snow, the beach, etc.)
Then, get creative. Look for educational YouTube videos for kids on the topic, pull out any books you already own, download free coloring sheets online around the theme, practice acting it out or dancing to music that relates, draw the letters that spell out the theme—literally anything can be a lesson when you’re thinking creatively.
5. Remember, not every lesson will be a homerun.
I literally repeat this mantra to myself at least once a week. But just like every other aspect of parenting, it’s important to remember that you won’t get everything right. Or maybe you will get it right, but your child won’t be ready for it. Or won’t be interested in it that day. Or maybe you’ll both just have an off day. Truly, though, this is the beauty of homeschool.
Instead of trying to force yourself to stick to an ideal lesson plan or curriculum, remember that you and your child get to set the tone. Not feeling the math lesson? Do a mini “workout” and count hops and jumping jacks instead. Your little one zones out of the fun science video you found? Put them in the bathtub and let them practice pouring water into different cups (hello, foundation to physics and engineering!).
And if you’re both just exhausted or overwhelmed, skip whatever you had planned and go for a walk, play a game on your phone or watch a movie. (Seriously, it’s tough times out there—be gentle with yourselves.) Tomorrow is another day, and you can always try again later.
Above all else, keep it simple. Your child is still so new to the world, virtually every experience means learning something new. So don’t worry if something “doesn’t feel like school.” Don’t worry about worksheets and lectures and performance—focus on exposure and keeping learning fun.
You can teach math by cooking together or by grouping together objects and then dividing them into groups. You can teach language arts by reading and occasionally identifying letters and their sounds around you. You can teach science by digging in the garden or showing them how to make a rainbow with water from the hose.
The truth is, you’ve spent their entire lives teaching them. So don’t psych yourself out thinking that learning has to change just because they’re technically “school age.”
Trust your instincts, and trust your child. It’s all going to be okay. Because you’ve got this, mama!
A fellow newbie homeschool mama