What It’s Like to Learn from the Living Room: An Interview with a Homeschooling Mom

With schools closed and many in isolation, several parents now must assume the role of academic teacher – from phonics to fractions, geography to geology, it’s getting real! Move over common core because our kids are about to find out how to do arithmetic by carrying the one!

While this is sudden (and it’s certainly a challenge to juggle our day jobs with our child’s schoolwork), a subset of the population is already well-versed in learning from the living room: homeschoolers! Experts in efficiency, production, and keeping their children focused on the Iron Age instead of Iron Man, these parents have it down.

So, we asked a homeschooling mom (and mother of four) to give us some tips on how to teach without resigning from the job after thirty minutes.

Here is what she had to say:

Do you find a schedule more helpful or flexibility?

I find a schedule more helpful for my family. What I do is I schedule a time for each child to work with me one-on-one – I work one-on-one with my younger kids who need help learning to read and doing math so we go through the lessons for those subjects.

During one-on-one time with my older kids (who work more independently), they can ask questions on work they don’t understand or areas where they need guidance. While I’m working with each kid, everyone else has independent work that they can work on.

If the little guys get done, they can play. That’s not to say that it’s all Mary Poppins and such – if I’m working with someone, inevitably two others will get into a fight or need help getting something or finding something (life with kids!). But I have a schedule and hope for the best each day! And often, I need to adjust the schedule because things change. I’m flexible in that regard.

Do your kids fight with each other or distract each other during class?

Yes, they do fight with each other. BUT the fighting is greatly minimized when everyone is busy. If I don’t have something scheduled for them to do, the fighting and annoying each other increases. When everyone is scheduled, for me, this limits distractions and everyone knows exactly what they are supposed to be doing. I will say my youngest loves to listen in on everyone else’s time. So, he picks up quite a few things. As long as he’s not being disruptive, he can stay. Otherwise, I tell him to beat it. : )

What is the hardest part of homeschooling?

I think homeschooling difficulties depend on the season. For me right now, the hardest part is juggling different grades in respect to lessons. I’ve got four different kiddos in four different grades with four different things going on. It can be tough to keep up. Was that what was difficult for me six years ago? Nope! At that time, I had a toddler and baby underfoot while I was teaching my older children. I always reevaluate and ask myself important questions like: Did this curriculum work? If not, what will? How can I switch up my time to be most effective with my kids? Do I need to add or subtract anything in our schooling or extracurricular activities?

Sometimes we overbook ourselves and our schoolwork takes a hit. And – other times – the schoolwork is so rigorous we don’t have time for fun extracurricular activities. So, it’s always good to reevaluate where you are. My homeschooling is always evolving and for the better. My oldest daughter sometimes complains that she did not get all the fun school that her younger brothers get now. I tell her, “If I had not changed a single iota as a teacher in 10 years, if I hadn’t changed one single thing, how stagnant would I be as a teacher and a mother?” I’m still growing and changing and learning and I hope I always do.

What advice do you have for other parents?

The advice I have for other parents is to know that you can do it. While many parents think they can’t homeschool their kids because of this or that, I believe that the best teacher for their kid is the parent. No one knows your kid better than you and no one wants the best for your kid like you do. You have a vested interest in your child that no school will ever have in them. There are so many resources that are available to assist you – take advantage of that. Even if you keep homeschooling after this virus has passed, homeschooled kids are not the weird kids they have the bad reputation of being. I heard once that your kids will be as weird as you are, whether they are homeschooled or not. There is truth in that.

The other piece of advice I have is that a curriculum is only as good as what you can get accomplished from it. You can have the most expensive, amazing, organized curriculum out there, but if you don’t get to it because it doesn’t work within the constructs of your family, it isn’t a great curriculum option for you. You must go with what you can realistically accomplish in your home with your children.

Is there a time of day when your kids are better at staying on task?

We are much more focused and on task in the morning hours. I think that is true across the board in any learning environment whether it’s public or private or homeschooling. Not too early but certainly not at the end of the day either.

With so many parents working from home, they’re having to juggle their own jobs with their kid’s schoolwork. Do you have any advice for those with limited time each morning to focus on their child’s academics?

I’d probably assign reading every day (or listen to an audiobook). You can always strip everything down to the basics of reading, writing, and math (and you can always be creative with those three subjects and keep it simple). I don’t think this is the time for parents to be overwhelmed and stressed out about filling in education….especially because they weren’t planning for any of this. So, just get through it day to day.

How important is technology (computers, iPads)?

Technology certainly has a place in education. I’ve used it myself with different aspects of my childrens’ education. For example, I’ve used Reading Eggs as a supplement to my phonics program. But I didn’t use it to replace my phonics program. I’ve used online typing programs. I’ve accessed educational videos on YouTube and Discovery Streaming Education.

But I can’t replace my role as teacher with a computer. A computer can’t have a deep moral discussion with a teenager about Hester Prynne’s actions in The Scarlet Letter. Or recognize that the seven-year-old who struggles with reading, who’s rubbing his eyes and squirming and frustrated and is done with the lesson for the day, has done the very best he could.

I read a great article by Martin Cothran entitled The Judgment of Thamus and in it he states, “When used carelessly, educational technology doesn’t give us encouragement to develop our minds—it doesn’t provide us with encouragement to remember, with encouragement to know, or with encouragement to think. Instead, it provides us with encouragement not to have to memorize, not to have to know, not to have to think. It is not there to facilitate what we already do—it promises to do it for us.” It’s tempting to want technology to learn for us and for our children. But frankly, it can’t.

So, there you have it: MacBooks and iPads might be sidekicks, but it’s the parents – whether you can spend hours helping your kids or minutes in between conference calls – who are the superheroes.

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