Educator, Administrator, Writer, Mom to 4, Guest Contributor to the Maileg Blog
Part 1 of ?? Depends how long this all lasts!
Two weeks ago, we spent most of our time away from home. We went to school and then to soccer, theater, basketball, robotics, and school again. We left when it was dark out in the morning, and when we got home in the evening it was dark again. We fell into bed exhausted with homework piled on our beds. Suddenly, here we are, at home. Our lives have changed without warning.
With two teachers, three teens, and a college student, my family is in the throes of the transition from school to school-at-home. Like everyone else, I am worried. We juggle our responsibilities with the latest news about the virus. Last week was Spring Break. We had nowhere to go. Should we shower and dress or lounge in our pajamas? Take naps during the day and read all night? We rattle around the house without purpose. This week, we will be working and schooling at home together.
No one feels prepared.
When I connect with other parents whose children are younger than mine, they are even more worried than I. How, they ask, can this possibly work?
I want to reassure my colleagues and friends but as parents, they must find their own way. I am excited for them. I am also a little bit wistful. Working from home while homeschooling was absolutely the most wonderful time of my life. There were moments when I felt completely out of my depth and moments when the joy took hold and slipped, like a pair of rose-colored glasses, over my eyes. The joy can transform the chaos (there will be chaos) and the mess into a beautiful and creative life. Be patient with yourself, your children, your spouse, your colleagues. We aren’t sure how to do this, but it can be done and it can be amazing.
When my children were small, I worked from home. Year after year, I figured out how to manage parenting and working at home in one iteration or another, from the time my eldest daughter was born until we finally all went to school 16 years later. When I remember those days, I see myself at the computer, my back to the dazzling creative work of childhood. My children, in the living room, stage yet another adaptation of Shakespeare. The face paint is out: red, for the fake blood. The furniture has been rearranged again, and sheets and props are strewn across the room. The children are half-dressed, in pajamas, their hair wild. They make costumes. Later in the day, I will be treated to a performance. For now, I write lessons, send emails, make plans. (When I need to make an important call, I sit in the car.)
These are my fondest memories. But this memory represents just one stage in my evolution as a work-from-home homeschooler. My approach changed just as much as my children did during those years. I tried, failed, and eventually found what worked best for us. Each parent must do this, but these simple principles will help you find your way. Every idea here is a variation on the most important one: let go. Just let go.
1. Let go of the idea that home should be like school. Let it be different.
2. The environment sets the tone. Where will your children work and play? And what will they have access to there?
3. Put away the timer. Relax the schedule. Find a rhythm instead.
4. Allow your children to be independent. Tackle the rest of the list, your ideas about school, the rhythm of the day, and the physical environment, with independence in mind. Children want independence, and you need independent children. It is the most important thing they can learn, and it sets you free to work.
I tried, years ago, to turn my home into a school but my children taught me to set them free. They learned best when they got lost in the stories, the games, and the projects. They rode the waves of imagination and creativity that are unique to childhood. The house was, indisputably, a mess, but on most days, my work was done and so was theirs.
Suddenly, we are at home again. We are older. We are different. There is a pandemic, and no one knows what might happen. The grocery store is, inexplicably, out of garlic. These are uncertain times. I am pondering the situation and making changes. First, I added six baby chickens to the household to cheer up my suddenly lonely teens. We started a new 1,000 piece puzzle. We need more privacy, so yesterday I pulled out the sewing machine to make curtains. We are cleaning out corners and rearranging furniture. Classes start this week, so there will be new problems to solve.
I don’t know yet how we will do this, but I do know that we can do this. We can all do this. Like a newborn, who enters suddenly and disrupts everything, this change inspires anxiety and delight. Cry when you must, but allow yourself joy amidst the struggle. Years from now we will wistfully remember the sweetness and stress of working together, at home.
In the coming weeks, we will be diving deeper into the principles shared above. Please ask questions in the comments or suggest specific topics you would like us to consider. Thanks for reading!
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You’ve set up a great learning environment. Your child has a quiet-ish place to work, notebooks, paper, pencil.
You see the teacher’s face on the screen, and the faces of attentive classmates. But your child won’t sit still and pay attention. What is a parent to do?
The children are like currents in a stream; they will flow and eddy and swirl in different directions stirring up a bit of chaos as they go. Routines will bring the currents together.
Where should you start? Here are some things to keep in mind while you find your way.
At school, the schedule is set, and there is one single schedule for the class. The whole group of students flows together and that momentum carries them. But at home, there are too many distractions.
Giving your children ownership of the schedule will help them to buy into it.