My kids and I genuinely enjoy our time together.
We might spend our days reading classic poetry, or poring over books about art before going to the gallery, or sitting together with a cup of coffee to watch a documentary on climate change. We talk for hours some days, just discussing current events or dog training or online makeup artists or classic French cooking. Other days they’re absorbed in their own projects, rarely emerging from behind their desks except to grab a snack, and then re-emerging to show me their latest whittling project, or the digital animation they’ve been working on, or their enormous intricately detailed Minecraft world modeled after the gothic cathedrals of Spain.
Their current interests are always driving independent inquiry. We just go with it now.
It wasn’t always so relaxed and comfortable, though.
I have always homeschooled my kids — all four of them. They are currently 14, 12, 6, and 3, and none of them have ever been educated anywhere but home. I never planned on it, and I just stumbled through everything at first, but now we can’t imagine doing anything else.
Those first years were full of mistakes and oversights and more exhaustion than there needed to be, most of it a result of the absurd expectations I placed on myself. I only ever attended public school, so that’s all I knew. It took me a long time to (sort of) figure out how to reset my standards.
There are so many parents that are deciding to homeschool now, in the middle of a global pandemic, after being forced to make some hard decisions this past school year. It’s important for us all to remember that pandemic homeschooling isn’t the same as everyday homeschooling, so it won’t always be this difficult. With this in mind, I have a few pieces of advice that may help you figure it all out for yourself.
1. Don’t sit inside the house all day. As we’ve learned this past 18 months, isolation isn’t good for anyone, even the most introverted among us. Even in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions, it is possible to engage with your community safely, especially as more people in your household are vaccinated. Look for opportunities with libraries, YMCAs, co-ops, and clubs. You can find an opportunity for nearly everything — from chemistry labs to Cantonese lessons — online, of course, or you can create your own group. Even if all you do is go buy a tomato plant or go for a half-mile hike, it’s important to get out for a change of scenery.
2. Set some healthy boundaries and develop guidelines to take care of yourself. For me, that means typical physical self-care, but it also means setting and honoring boundaries with my time, my work, other people, and myself. Here recently, it also meant that school work was a secondary concern, because life takes precedence. Make sure you schedule time for everyone — including you — to rest and recharge.
3. Don’t compare yourself to public school teachers, or other homeschoolers, or even yesterday you. You don’t have to stand in front of your kid and lecture for eight hours a day. They would probably prefer you didn’t! You don’t have to assign a nonstop slew of papers and projects and tests. You don’t have to use textbooks, or allow digital devices at all, or go to every historical battlefield in the nation, or anything that you may notice other homeschool parents do, especially on social media. You just have to do what’s best for you and your kids.
4. There is no expectation that you will simply duplicate a public school day. Focus on routine, not schedule. Most of us develop routines for small moments in our days, like early mornings. You may get up, make coffee, then watch the news while you sip it. The same idea works for homeschooling! Our family developed a natural rhythm over time, moving the pieces of our day around to suit us. Don’t set yourself up for failure with an intense schedule that stresses everyone out.
5. My final piece of advice is the most important: Don’t take the rough parts too personally. Your kid may fail an essential assessment. You may get ghosted by another parent you thought you clicked with. You may spend a mortgage payment on a boxed curriculum just to find you hate every single piece of it. It happens to all of us. Just take a breath, take the time to reset, and move on.
It takes time to settle into a groove. Some families get it right away, while others are still feeling unstable months later. There’s no set schedule for a huge transition like this, so be patient with yourself and your kids. And welcome to homeschooling!