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Schooling at Home During Covid-19

March 31, 2020

By Melanie McCulley, MS, BCC, HHP

Support Services Program Manager at To Life! and former homeschooling mom

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When the school year began last fall, no one imagined that much of the country’s youth would be receiving their education in their own homes by spring, and often alongside parents doing their fulltime jobs remotely as well. This is an unprecedented time and parents of school-age children are particularly feeling the strain. If you have also been newly diagnosed with breast cancer, or are going through surgery or treatment, please make your health a priority. Speak with your children’s teachers and enlist their assistance and the help of your spouse or partner, if you have one. Develop a plan and a routine that will work for you. Many teachers are at home with their own children while also trying to keep up with the classes they teach. Districts understand one size does not fit all and that different families will have different challenges and needs. A level of flexibility is important and that includes cutting yourself some slack and not adding self-imposed pressure.

I homeschooled my daughter from Kindergarten to college and five of those years were as a single parent working remotely, including when I had my own lumpectomy and health issues. I genuinely understand many of the challenges being experienced by parents currently. I am no more capable than any of you and if I can do it, you can do it. There are, however, considerations to keep in mind.

There is a difference between choosing to homeschool in normal circumstances and being thrust into schooling at home due to a pandemic and all that entails. There is also a difference between homeschooling and school children temporarily completing their lessons at home.  This distinction is important so parents don’t feel your child’s academic success depends on you doing this “just right.” Your children are still enrolled in school with teachers and districts responsible for their education. Your child can hopefully still reach out to their teachers for assistance and with questions. You are doing your part to support the education process, but what’s most important is that you and your children are safe. The rest of it will work itself out. Your child’s future success does not hinge on these next few weeks or months.  Even if you stumble all the way through their schooling at home (and you won’t), you and your children will learn something valuable and it will be okay.  As Winston Churchill said, “perfection is the enemy of progress.” These are extraordinary times and “good enough” is still good and maintaining perspective, balance (and a sense of humor) will go a long way for you and your family.

Neither homeschooling or doing school lessons at home, is intended to replicate an actual day at school and burn out is likely, for you and your children, if you try. Be realistic about what is manageable with all of your other responsibilities. If you are still working full time and/or have multiple children, and are feeling overwhelmed, ask for guidance from your children’s teachers or your school district. There may be modifications to make schooling at home a more productive, manageable and positive experience for you and your children. 

If you have an older student, they are used to being more autonomous with their education and may welcome your confidence in them. It’s fine to check in to ask how they are doing, how you can support them and to confirm assignments are completed, but they should be able to accomplish their lessons independently or by communicating with their teachers. Even younger students can complete some school work relatively independently if they understand the assignment and you are there for questions and support. Enlist your children’s help. Let them know, in an age-appropriate and information-appropriate way, that everyone is in this together, that we are doing all of this for everyone’s well-being and you appreciate their help and cooperation as your family learns to navigate this new normal together. This help extends beyond school lessons with everyone doing their part to help with laundry, meals, clean up, and other chores as age and skill permit.

There are different approaches to learning at home and, depending on remote instruction that may occur at scheduled times, you can experiment to find out what works best for your situation and family. You may find it helpful to have focused learning time all together, if you have more than one child, or to stagger time, such as assisting one child while a younger child naps, works on an art project, or plays quietly. Also, if you have a spouse or partner, in the home, communicate consistently and openly. Develop a plan and share the education and household responsibilities, including carving out individual time for each of you to accomplish work tasks, if working remotely, and to recharge.  Just as each child has their own learning style, parents have their own style of interacting with their children. Your partner may do things different than you, but that doesn’t make one way right or wrong, and you may be surprised to see how diverse styles and approaches can benefit children and their learning.

It's important to also remember children have their own thoughts, questions, apprehensions and stress around COVID-19 and the resulting changes in their lives, families, and activities. Whether they are old enough to fully comprehend, or just know everything changed quickly, these are challenging circumstances at any age let alone childhood. It may be difficult for them to concentrate and stay on task under these conditions. They may act out or exhibit some academic or behavioral regression during this time. Children are no different than adults. They miss their lives, daily structure, friends, sports and clubs, extended family, and being able to go places. Be patient with your children and with yourself.  Children are sponges. They are learning all the time. What they most need right now is you, stability, routine and normalcy, assurances that everything will be okay and encouragement and understanding.  Love them, connect, talk, listen, play games, read aloud, create, cook, listen to music, get plenty of fresh air and sunshine at a safe distance from others, and laugh as often as possible. Help them find ways to stay in touch with friends and extended family and allow them healthy age-appropriate control over aspects of their life when all feels out of control. Children also can’t sit for hours at a time. They need to be active and to have breaks which also allows time for them to process and integrate concepts they are learning.

Take one day at a time, stay mindfully in the present and don’t let worries rob you of this extraordinary opportunity. It’s rare in our fast-paced world where most families get up in the morning and quickly head out in different directions. I heard a statistic awhile back that parents have an average of 27 minutes of quality time a day to connect with their children. As any of us with older children can attest, time goes so fast. I understand the current situation we find ourselves in is not ideal. There are stressors and competing priorities, but slow down, breathe, center yourself, surrender to what is, let go of what you can’t control, and accept the beautiful imperfection of life and family. You are together and as chaotic as it may seem now, come summer’s end, when you are all rushing out the door in opposite directions again,  your mind will linger on many of the moments from this unique and rare time,  and you will find yourself missing them and the luxury of  togetherness …challenges, noise, mess and all.