At home learning has certainly been a learning curve for parents as well as students. We’ve had our fair share of fails, but here’s what’s working for us right now!
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We are now seven weeks into social distancing/quarantine or whatever-you-want-to-call-this-weird-time-in-history. It’s been a wild ride! We, like many families, have done a lot of trial-and-error experimenting to figure out how to navigate this unique time, and I wanted to share today what is currently working for our family.
Our situation: I have three kids (second grade, kindergarten, and toddler). I consider myself lucky that my boys are young and close enough in age that we can do a lot of activities all together.
That being said, I know that what works for my family may not work for others. Moms with kids ranging from high school all the way down to preschool will likely have a completely different strategy–you mamas are amazing!
Consider this just a snapshot inside our life, and a list of ideas to try if you still haven’t found something that works for your family. We can do this, mamas!
Eight things that are working for our social distancing “home school”
1. Keeping a (loose) schedule. I thrive on structure, and so do my kids. If I have a whole day of just going with the flow, the “flow” makes me cranky. Here’s what our schedule looks like most days:
Our Daily Routine
|7 – 9||Morning routine (breakfast, get dressed, free play)|
|9 – 10:30||School time (reading/writing, math, Zoom call)|
|10:30 – 11||Recess (outside play, bike ride, Cosmic Kids yoga)|
|11 – 12||“Fun” learning (science, cooking, STEM)|
|12 – 1||Lunch, free play, clean up|
|1 – 3||Quiet time/online learning games|
|3 – 5||Free play (arts/crafts, outside play, etc.)|
|5 – 6||Clean up & dinner|
|6 – 8||Family time (games, movies, bike rides)|
|8-10||Kids’ bedtime (then Mom & Dad relax)|
We start school every day as close to 9:00 as possible. Keeping this consistent helps my boys realize that it’s non-negotiable, and they don’t fight me when it’s time to start. We work on core academic subjects first, and then we branch out to more exploratory learning and free play as the day goes on.
Keep in mind, I don’t adhere to this schedule strictly. Sometimes, “recess” (my boys love calling it that) goes long, and we just play outside until lunch time. I’m totally fine with that. If they are happily self-entertaining, I leave them alone.
After all, kids learn during play time, too! Proof: here they are experimenting with physics…
2. Starting school with a dance party. A few days into “homeschooling” I decided I needed to find a way to get my kids excited about school each day. So, a few minutes before 9, I put on an upbeat song and told the kids that it was our school anthem. We dance, we laugh, certain children sometimes run around madly trying to get dressed because they haven’t yet…it’s a party! When the song is over, we begin school. We pick different songs each day, and it’s been a really fun way to start school on a positive note.
3. Giving myself time to get organized. After our mini dance party, the kids settle in on the couch and they watch a virtual storytime. My son’s kindergarten teacher posts a video each day, so that’s what we watch, but if you don’t have Mrs. White’s Kindergarten corner, there are tons of read-alouds online. Try Scholastic’s Learn at Home series or good ol’ YouTube (this is a great read-aloud channel).
This reading time helps get them in the right frame of mind, and it gives me 5-10 minutes to get all the day’s work organized and laid out on the kitchen table. Once their story is over, we all gather at the table and work on their core math and language assignments for the day.
4. Giving the toddler his own “school” to do. One of our biggest struggles has been keeping the two-year-old in our house from destroying every project we do. Poor kid. He just wants to be involved, but he has ripped, scratched, colored on, and broken an impressive number of things in the last two months.
I finally got smart(ish), and realized that he needed his own activities to do while I’m helping the other boys with schoolwork. Now, when I lay out my boys’ work, I’ll set up something for my toddler as well (coloring books, play dough, our travel felt board, or reusable sticker books).
Sometimes, he really thinks inside the box. Silly boy.
Here are three of my favorite sites that have tons of ideas for toddler activities:
5. Reading with Epic Books. My kids are assigned to read 15-20 minutes per day. I totally support reading practice, but without being able to take our weekly trips to the library, I was struggling to find books at a kindergarten level.
Then, my son’s teacher recommended using Epic Books. It’s a digital library with over 40,000 books geared toward kids 12 and under. I especially love the early reader books that my kindergartner can rock! Every time he finishes a book, he gets excited to push the “completed” button and watch confetti burst onto the screen, celebrating his achievement. He’s my reluctant learner, so finding something that is motivating to him is huge for us. Anyone can get a free trial for 30 days, but check with your child’s teacher–they can set up a student account that will be free until June 30!
Here’s a small sample of titles they have available to read:
6. Giving myself permission to NOT do some assignments. I’m a rule-follower, a former teacher, and perfectionist…so this one was hard for me at first. But early on in this distance learning situation, I was driving myself crazy and making my kids miserable trying to do every assignment. I told my sister (an elementary teacher herself) one day, “I would actually love the chance to homeschool my kids during this time IF I had carte blanche to do it the way I want to do it. But it’s hard to be beholden to someone else’s requirements.”
And then I realized…I am my child’s primary educator right now. I get to choose how we do school. If that means skipping an online science lesson because we are outside experimenting with paper airplanes, that’s just fine with me!
My current plan: we do the basic math and writing assignments from their teachers (which usually take 30-45 minutes daily), but I consider anything else optional. If it fits with our interests and schedule, great. If not, no guilt!
7. Enforcing quiet time every day. I still have a napping toddler, so I need the house quiet for him in the early afternoon (and by after lunch I’m certainly ready for a bit of quiet, too!). While baby brother sleeps, the older two boys do “quiet time.”
We’ve been doing quiet time for years, but our current situation has required some adjustments to how it works. From 1-2 pm, my boys go to separate bedrooms (one in their room, the other in my room) to work on quiet individual activities. At 2:00, they can come out and get started on their online learning (Lexia, Prodigy, Spelling City, Starfall, etc.). When they finish their required online learning activities, they are allowed to do learning games until afternoon snack time.
This time is critical for both my sanity and my ability to get any work done, so I protect it pretty fiercely.
8. Exploring their interests. One of the beautiful blessings of school at home is that it really allows for personalized learning. My boys don’t have to follow the generic plan that was made for ALL of the second graders at their school. They can spend time learning whatever they think is interesting.
Our first week of “homeschooling” I explained this awesome freedom to my boys, and I asked them what they wanted to learn more about. I made a master list of all their ideas, and we’ve been using that to guide our “exploratory learning” time each day. Their list included the following:
- endangered species
- cool places in the world
- science experiments
- Lego challenges
I usually try to pick one theme from their list for the week, and we explore that topic through various books/videos, art projects, and science experiments throughout the week. I’ve also added in a few of my own ideas, like our “all about bugs” unit and our “castles and knights” unit…both of which were (thankfully) well-received.
I’m trying to keep this part of our “homeschool” casual and fun. I don’t force any activities or participation. I just say, “Hey, wanna see something cool?” and we see where our curiosity takes us!
My big “homeschooling” takeaways
Some days, homeschooling is wonderful and I love having everyone home together. I love being more aware of my kids’ academic skill levels, and I enjoy the freedom to explore whatever our curiosity leads us to.
Other days, things go awry: my kids struggle to focus, no one seems to get along, and meltdowns are rampant. On those days, we really just do the bare minimum and focus on fun stuff instead. We go on bike rides, we read stories, and we watch movies in the living room under a blanket fort.
I don’t enjoy every minute (goodness knows I still lose my cool sometimes), and that’s OKAY. But I’m making a deliberate effort while I have my kids home with me all day to create more opportunities for happy memories. Most days, it’s actually working!
Today’s groove will probably have to be tweaked again tomorrow, and I’m okay with that, too. If I’ve learned anything from this, it’s to take things slower, to respond to my kids’ needs in the moment, and to let go of my predetermined plan. It’s hard, but we’re going to get through this…and I think we might even grow closer as a family because of it.
How is social distancing “home school” going for you? What is working at your house? Please share in the comments below!