How To Homeschool On The Fly In The Age Of The Coronavirus

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Late last night our school district outside of Seattle became the first school district in the nation to close due to concerns about the Coronavirus. Effective immediately, and for an indefinite period of time, all schools are closed and shifting to a remote learning model “on the cloud”. Translation: ready or or not, we’re all about to homeschool!

While I 100% support our district’s decision to move to this model, I know from experience how daunting the task ahead will be for families. I used to be a classroom teacher, and I’ve homeschooled before. Teaching is my jam, but helping my own children learn at home was a totally different league.  Let’s just say there’s a very good reason why I’m not still homeschooling.

My kids were only 3- and 5-year olds the last time I attempted homeschooling, so I’m definitely a bit out of practice (And I’ve never done this with a 1st grader, a 3rd grader, and a preschooler, as I’m about to attempt.). While I am by no means a homeschooling (or “cloud schooling”) expert, I did pick up a few tips and tricks during our oh-so-fun year of “Mommy School” that I want to pass along. Just remember: we’re all in this (separately) together!

Set Expectations
Make sure the kids know that this isn’t just a never-ending weekend. These days at home will be a learning time that they will be expected to participate in the same as if they were away at school. Attendance will be taken, they will need to check in for certain online classes, and they will have assignments to complete within specific time frames. Bonus: They can do it all in their pajamas with their dog curled up underfoot.

Gather Supplies
For our particular scenario, students will need a computer, internet access, and a few  physical supplies in order to attend Coronavirus School.

Our school district has come up with a plan to move all learning “outside the four walls of the school and onto the cloud”, which basically means kids will be completing and/or submitting their school work online. Each physical class in the real world now has a virtual Google Classroom where students and teachers can interact with each other virtually. It’s actually really cool! And, since we had a bit of warning that this was coming, teachers spent the school day yesterday as a bridge day. They trained students how to use these new-to-them online tools and had time to practice using them under teacher guidance. In addition, our school district has made available computing devices and WiFi hotspots for any students that need them in order to complete their “cloud learning” at home. Really, I can’t believe how well-planned this whole thing is on such short notice and in such an unprecedented circumstance!

Each of my kids also came home yesterday with a backpack full of physical tools (textbooks, workbooks writing journals, books) to use at home. In addition to these supplies, it will probably be a good idea to have basic school supplies on hand. This is what I’m going to have available in our homeschool space (More on that in the next section!):
-Pencils
-Pencil Sharpener (At the beginning of the school year I bought this fancy sharpener and it’s been a great tool to have at home!)
-Crayons/markers/colored pencils
-White printer paper
-Lined notebook paper
-Headphones (so my kids can work on their computers simultaneously with minimal disruptions to each other).
-Computer microphone (we had to get one for my third grader because his PC doesn’t have a built-in microphone)
-Small dry erase boards with markers and erasers
-Ibuprofen (for Teacher-Mom)

Since we are yet to put any of this into practice, I’m sure this list will evolve over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, if you want to stock up you can find most of these items in the Dollar store (Or, if you don’t want to even set foot in the world of viral outbreak, just have them delivered from Amazon).

Set up Your Space
It’s important for you (Teacher-Mom or Teacher-Dad) and for the kids to have a dedicated space for school at home. This can be the kitchen table (This is a great choice because it’s central and you can spread out a lot of junk learning tools on it at once) or a home office with tables  set up for the kids. Or, really, just sitting on the floor in a hallway. For the love, do NOT set up school near a TV/XBox/Switch/Pokemon card collection that will be more enticing than the schoolwork that lies ahead!

Schedule Your Day
You need a plan some structure for your day or you will all go crazy and quite possibly end up in a mental institute (Which is probably quite clean and Coronavirus-free, actually, so that might not be a terrible back-up plan).

As you make your “School Day on The Cloud” schedule, think about what will work best for your family, and don’t be afraid to adjust as you go. Set a time in your day when schoolwork will get done–maybe this is first thing in the morning when everyone is fresh, or maybe it’s in the evening after Mom and Dad get home from work. Agree on an amount of work and/or an amount of time that you will dedicate to schoolwork during the first chunk of work time, then take a break (this is when you kick your kids outside for 30 minutes to roll around in the mud puddles). If your kid usually eats snack at school, eat a snack at the same time. Try to have lunch at the same time every day…again, consistency is key. Plan a block of time for independent or shared reading somewhere in there, then schedule a second chunk of work time later in the day (if you can muster it) and call it a day.

A typical homeschool day usually lasts only 2-4 hours, compared to 6.5 in a regular school day. YOU DO NOT NEED TO DO 6 HOURS OF SCHOOL “ON THE CLOUD” (Sorry to my childrens’ teachers who are probably reading this, but I’m just telling it how it is in the real world!). Just do what you need to do, and don’t burn yourselves out.

I’m using a checklist with my kids so they know what needs to be accomplished each day and can move at their own pace. Here is the checklist I’ve made for my kids to follow:
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What About Younger Siblings?
Great question! I have a preschooler who will be joining us on this grand learning adventure, so I will also be curious to see how this aspect all plays out in practice. Some tactics I’ve tried before to help minimize the distraction of a younger sibling with marginal success:
-Having simple activities prepped and available that the younger sibling can work on independently while I assist the older sibling(s). Think: coloring pages, simple puzzles, Play-Doh, building with blocks, Duplos, or an iPad with noise cancelling headphones (#kiddingnotkidding).
-Do “school time” during the younger sibling’s nap time
-Childcare swap with a neighbor or trusted friend so you can take turns playing with younger siblings and helping your school-aged kids complete their schoolwork.
-Hire a teenage babysitter (They’re all out of school right now, too!) to come entertain one or more children while you help your school-aged child.
-(Weather permitting) move school outside–younger siblings can play outside while you sit in the grass or at a picnic table to do schoolwork with your child
-Let your school-aged child work independently while you care for the younger sibling.
-Involve the younger sibling in the learning. Have your school-aged child read to them or teach them a concept they’re learning about (Teaching is the best tool for testing comprehension!).
-Turn on Frozen 2 in another room and walk away.

Use Bribery Liberally
Please don’t judge me, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do, and bribes work wonders. Maybe the kids earn screen time for finishing assignments. Or a trip to the drive-thru for ice cream after they’ve chosen to read rather than squabble with their siblings for __ minutes. We’re only trying to make it through a few weeks here, so no long-term habits are going to have time to fully grab root–I say bribe away!

Plan Enrichment
School is all well and good, but we all need a break from the rigor every now and then. Consider both academic and non-academic enrichment you can offer your children while they’re at home to help keep everyone’s minds and bodies moving. And since we’re trying to maintain social distancing, here are some ideas you can implement from the comfort of your own home.

Academic Enrichment Ideas:
-Learning games such as Uno, Cribbage, Chess, Scrabble, and Bananarams
-Do a puzzle
-Read! You can even ask Alexa to tell you a story and “she” will comply
-Play academic games on a website like Starfallor ABCMouse (subscription required)
-Write a letter to someone–they would probably love to hear how you’re doing in Ground Zero of the Coronavirus Apocalypse!
Do a science experiment 

Non-Academic Enrichment Ideas:
-Get moving with an app like Go Noodle! or Cosmic Kids Yoga
-Bake (Math, Literacy, and Science all wrapped up in one!)
-Arts and crafts (You can literally just pull stuff out of your recycling bin and tell your kids to get creative with it!)
-Make homemade Play-Doh or Slime
-Create a song in Chrome Music Lab

Give Yourself Grace and Space
School-at-home can be stressful. There is a different dynamic when the environment and the people involved in school change, and this is a process that can take a very long time to feel comfortable. Give yourself (And your kids! And the teachers!) grace–this is a big learning curve!

Also, give yourself physical space to decompress. If things in the living room-schoolroom start to get rowdy or out of control or just feel off, take a break.  Maybe this means taking your kids outside for a walk around the neighborhood or banishing everyone to their bedrooms for “silent reading” so you can take a shower and eat the chocolate you have hidden in the laundry room. After everyone catches their breath, come back together and begin again–I promise, you’ll all feel better!

And if all else fails, just remember: This, too, shall pass.

Stay healthy out there, friends!

10 Confessions of a Homeschool Mom

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This year we embarked on one of our most monumental adventures to date: homeschool. Many aspects of our daily life have changed, and almost every area of our family life has been impacted in one way or another by this decision. It’s been a huge adjustment for our family–and by family, I mean ME. Because ME had to give up solo runs while the boys were at preschool. Because ME had to re-learn how to take kids to the grocery store. Because ME had to spend time on the weekends planning for the week ahead. Because ME had to change.

Homeschooling these last few months has been a learning curve and a glimpse into a new world for me. I’d always wondered a bit about those crazy women who decided to educate their own kids–how on EARTH did they do it? And WHY on earth would they do it? Now that I’m (proudly) one of those crazy homeschool moms, I have a few observations to share with you. While these observations stem from my own very limited experience, I know many other homeschool moms who would agree with me on these points.

I now present to you: 10 confessions of a homeschool mom

1. Every family homeschools for a different reason
The reasons why a family chooses to homeschool are as varied as the families themselves. Some families homeschool for academic reasons, some for religious reasons, some for flexibility in their schedule, and some for behavioral/social reasons. Our decision to homeschool this year was based upon a bit of each of these.

I wanted David (who started this school year as an almost-5 year old) to have one more year in a less-structured, less-academic learning environment. David is a very active boy and I wanted him to have freedom to move and learn by doing–and have lots of time each day for play and exploration. I wanted him to have a Christ-centered education and to study the Bible. I wanted to be able to take random vacations and take time off school when we had visitors in town. I wanted the ability to adjust his school schedule to meet our family’s needs (Jon’s job requires lots of late nights, so starting the traditional school day at 8:00 every morning would require an early bedtime, and thus missed opportunities to spend time with Dad every day).

2. You do not have to be a teacher to teach
I have a background in teaching and spent my pre-motherhood years teaching in both public and private schools. While this may seem like an advantage for homeschooling, it’s actually been a bit of a detriment. I’ve spent most of the last few months un-learning many of the methods and approaches I used to employ in the classroom. Homeschool is a different kind of school, and it requires a different approach. As it turns out, love and commitment to your child’s learning is the most important “credential” for a homeschool teacher. This sums it up pretty well:

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3. Homeschool days are short and sweet
In a traditional school there is a lot of busy work and transition time–that’s just what happens when you have to pace 20 children throughout the day. At home, however, you can just do what you need to do for your kids and be done with it. We usually spend about 1.5-3 hours per day “doing school”. That’s it. This frees up lots of time to pursue other interests each day, which I love.

4. Homeschool can be both highly social AND incredibly isolating
…and most days it is both. Between homeschool co-ops, field trips, park days, church activities, clubs, and sports many homeschoolers spend the majority of their time “socializing” with the outside world. On the other hand, much of your time as a homeschooler is still spent at home “doing school” with the same people you eat, sleep, and breathe with the rest of your life. There are times where I feel like I just need some downtime at home to get a break from all the activities…and there are other times where I feel an undeniable urge to get out of the house and be with people (People who are not my kids. Specifically, grown ups.).

5. Homeschoolers know they are different
While homeschooling is the fastest-growing form of education in America, it is still not the most common choice. When I tell people that we’re homeschooling I get a lot of mixed reactions. Many people are supportive of our choice, but others are confused by it or disapprove altogether. When we are out in public during “school time” I am often thankful that my kids are still young enough to not get too many quizzical stares or questions from bystanders wondering what they’re doing out of a classroom–and I wonder what it’s like for homeschooling moms with older kids or teens who are out and about during the day. We know that we are different, and we kind of like it that way!

6. You are not in this alone
One of the things I was most concerned about when we decided to homeschool this year was that I would be all alone trying to figure this whole homeschool thing out. Not the case. Not at all. There are vast support networks for homeschool families and seemingly limitless resources. I have found a great community of homeschool families that have walked alongside me and encouraged me this year. I have felt many things during my first year of homeschooling, but solo has not been one of them.

7. Some of the greatest benefits of homeschooling have nothing to do with school
As I mentioned earlier, we had many different reasons for homeschooling this year. What I didn’t anticipate, however, were some of the positive by-products of our decision. For instance, this year I have seen my boys’ sibling relationship grow closer as they have been learning and collaborating together. Our family has been more relaxed without rushed mornings or curricular commitments. We play together every day. We spend lots of time outside. We can wear super-hero costumes or our pajamas all day (Let’s be honest–I’m 8-months pregnant and I hardly ever wear not-pajamas any more. It’s a win-win.).

8. Homeschool moms need a break, too
There is no shame in driving to the gym just so you can take advantage of the free childcare. Catching up on Facebook while you mosey along a treadmill is totally legit, right?

9. Homeschool is not for everyone
Just because I have made the decision to homeschool, I do not look down on other people for making different education choices. There are huge advantages to other forms of education, and I truly believe that each family needs to do what is right for them and their kids. I never thought I would homeschool because I didn’t think it would ever be the right choice for us, yet here we are. Each child and each parent and each season in a family’s life is unique. Just as traditional school was not the right approach for us this year, homeschool may not be the right approach for your family this year (or ever!). I’m cool with that.

10. Sometimes homeschool moms want to quit
Being with your own kids 24/7–and trying to get them to learn something every day–is exhausting. There is endless work, there are defiant children (who sometimes just don’t want to learn), there are sibling spats to work through, there are household chores that still need to be done…and it’s enough to make us want to give up. Every single homeschool mom I know has days when she wants to quit. But you know what? Those days are balanced out by a thousand other days where we feel accomplished and proud and awed by the whole experience. And that’s really the whole reason we’re doing this in the first place.

My first year as a homeschool mom has been a crazy, incredible journey and I’m so thankful to be on it with my kids. It’s been a growing experience for all of us, in the best way possible. I don’t know how long we’ll be on this journey together, so I’m trying to embrace it for what it is and enjoy the time we have here–however long that will be!

And now that you know all of my secrets, give me a hug next time you see me–or at least a firm reprimand to get out of my pajamas before noon.

 

Ready For (Home)School!

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Can you believe it? Summer is OVER, and hi-ho-hi-ho it’s back to school we go. Back-to-school is always a special time of year, but this year is totally unique for us as it will be our inaugural year of homeschool. The butterflies are stirring.

Even though I’ve formally been out of the classroom for the last five years, I still suffer from Teacher Complex A. I can’t walk by the school supply aisle in a store without stopping to ogle the newest offerings, and I have a strong affinity for paper cutters and laminators. I speak in my Teacher Voice when I mean business–even with other grown adults. I’ve been known to opt out of traditional home décor in favor of colorful die-cut shapes so we can practice our letters and counting skills. You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the teacher out of me.

You can imagine how giddy I’ve been these last couple of weeks, then, as I’ve eagerly set up my own classroom at home (and by classroom, I mean I have completely taken over the entire house). This was no small feat considering we just moved into this house a 12 days ago, but where there’s a will there’s a way, amirght?

We’re officially starting school next Tuesday after Labor Day, although we’ve already started tinkering around with some of the school stuff because the boys saw it and were curious and I’m not about to miss the opportunity to capitalize on their eagerness. Since this will be our first year of homeschool, I know that I’ll be making tweaks and adjustments as the year goes on. For now, though, here is the set up for the 2015-2016 school year at Peterson Learning Academy:

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This year we will be using a curriculum (and I use that term lightly) called Five In A Row (FIAR). After reviewing the first volume of FIAR, however, I decided that Before Five In A Row (BFIAR) would be a better fit for us this year since most of the FIAR lessons are geared toward early readers and writers and we’re just not quite there yet.

Each week we will read a different classic children’s book (think Going On A Bear Hunt and The Runaway Bunny) every day for a full week (five days in a school week = five in a row). The curriculum/guide suggests learning activities across all subject areas that go along with the themes of the story. This is called a unit study approach, and I really like this idea for my multi-age preschool (see how fancy we are here at the Peterson Learning Academy?). FIAR allows me to adapt ideas to meet the interests and needs of both boys while keeping the focus on hands-on activities (I have a strong aversion to worksheets and rote seat work for kids of this age, but we can get more into that later…).

I will also be supplementing a the BFIAR guide a bit as I find necessary. For Bible I plan on using the FIAR Bible Study Supplement, The Jesus Storybook Bible, and Five Minute Devotions for ChildrenFor handwriting practice (for David only) we’ll use the Get Set For School My First School Book by Handwriting Without TearsI made my own planning notebook because that’s just how I’ve always done it and it works and I like it.

As far as the classroom goes, we have several spaces to choose from. I’m sure as the year goes on I will see how each space works best and we’ll move around all day as it suits us. This is our learning corner where we will do calendar/circle time and work on projects at the boys’ small table.
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I also set up some bookshelves and storage on the opposite wall so I can keep books and supplies at the ready.IMG_6113

The drawers next to the bookshelves contain supplies (crayons, markers, scissors, glue, tape) and manipulatives (teacher speak for Stuff We Use…letter and number magnets, big foam dice, ice cube trays for sorting activities, blocks, felt board pieces, puppets, pointers…all kinds of goodies).IMG_6115

The living room just happens to be in the center of our learning space, so we’ll use the couch and fireplace for story time and cuddle breaks.IMG_6121

Our dining room table will be another great workspace since we can clear it off and have plenty of room to lay out projects.IMG_6123

The kitchen will play a big role in our learning adventures this year. I plan on doing at least one cooking project each week that goes along with our story, so I wanted to make sure the kitchen was accessible for the boys. I dedicated several lower drawers to the supplies they’ll be using most often in our cooking: measuring cups and spoons, baking dishes, bowls, and cutting boards.IMG_6126

Perhaps what I’m most excited about, as far as the actual learning space is concerned, is the fact that we will have nearly unlimited access to the Outdoor Classroom (thank you, California sunshine!). One of our decks will host our outdoor learning stations: a sensory table (designed and built by Jon, our resident playtime architect and Principal Daddy), the “Play Doh Table”, and a big tub of plastic toys and Play Doh tools (plus a comfy chair for Teacher Mommy).IMG_6130

Our new house is in an awesome location for outdoor explorations. We live in a mountain canyon with a creek in our back yard–what else could two little boys ask for? We will spend plenty of time out in nature exploring and using our senses as we learn about the world around us.IMG_5921

Right up the street from us is a large lake with trails and beaches. Yet another exciting venue to explore in our outdoor classroom.IMG_5971

Since reading books will be a big part of our year, we will also be spending plenty of time at our local library enjoying books together.IMG_5925

I’ve joined a local homeschool co-op that a fellow homeschooling friend of mine is a part of, and we’ll be having weekly park days and field trips throughout the year. Not only will the park days and field trips be fun for us, but they will also give me and the boys an opportunity to connect with our peers. In addition to the co-op, we’ll also be attending MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers) or CBS (Community Bible Study) each Wednesday morning, and AWANA on Sunday evenings. We’ll have quite the varied schedule, but I’m sure we’ll never get bored!IMG_3285

I can’t wait to see what this year has in store for us as we embark on this new homeschool adventure together–wish us luck!

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