Do you remember back as a child when people asked what you wanted to be when you grew up?
Some of us likely mentioned such dreams as doctor or lawyer, astronaut, or athlete. Others may have said actor, or police officer, builder, or superhero.
There are so many professions a child could name, but I reckon emergency homeschooler would not be one of them.
During these trying days confronting the coronavirus, our world has taken notice of real superheroes in our communities—the frontline workers such as health care professionals, maintenance and food service employees, firefighters and others devoted to offering essential provisions.
Yet, while there are many individuals deserving credit and appreciation for their tireless work, one unsung hero has to be those at home striving to balance so many duties, including educating their children.
One More Hat to Wear
Due to physical distancing protocols, parents confined to their homes now find themselves challenged to meet so many responsibilities. They are to conduct their regular work obligations, keep up with domestic chores, prepare meals, monitor their personal health with exercise or leisure pastimes and, oh yes, raise their kids.
But raising children these days does not just mean modeling good behavior with manners or encouraging sharing among siblings.
Now, since COVID-19 took hold of our society several weeks ago and caused the closure of schools across our nation, parents have been given the extra responsibility of homeschooling their kids.
True, classroom educators continue to serve their role in preparing lesson plans and assignments that will ensure their students can learn and succeed through distance education. Teachers remain professional and still aim to instruct students from afar, using resources such as textbooks, online tools and various forms of social and interactive technology.
However, let’s be honest, parents have certainly been thrust into the mix and have undoubtedly felt the pressures of monitoring—and even directing—this learning.
While this can seem daunting, leading some parents and kids to yield to the burden of the current online education format, homeschooling children during this time of pandemic restrictions is not impossible.
Now well into social limitation and stay-at-home practices, many parents and students alike have perhaps found a groove or established a program that seems to be a good fit for them.
But with plenty of time left until the end of the school year and to help keep focus strong, it is worth considering (or revisiting) some sensible points that can help parents effectively encourage their child(ren)’s academic success, while keeping a sane, loving and faith-filled atmosphere in the home.
Knowing the Role
First, parents need to acknowledge that, while not necessarily trained or qualified teachers in a classroom setting, they are called by God to nurture and educate their kids in life as best as possible. As described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, this duty is more like a commission that is to be accepted with pride.
“The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation. ‘The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute.’ The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable.”CCC 2221
A Structured Home Base
As regular homeschooling parents can attest, any attempts to have children sit down and pull out their books for studying could be met with resistance or complaining. Having a plan and routine established can relieve this challenge.
Setting expectations and sticking to structure can help students understand what is to be completed while also staying on task along the way. Granted, these standards should be both reasonable and attainable so as not to overwhelm or discourage the children. Having realistic objectives can hold kids accountable but also provide them with a sense of accomplishment, thereby boosting their confidence. After all, the intent of at-home learning should be to engage kids in order to achieve success—not to dishearten them or turn them off to education.
The Ol’ Switcheroo
As much as routine and structure set the tone, having variety can also keep students interested during their educational experience away from school. Parents may want to stress the importance of elements like literacy and numeracy, but repeating the same exercises or lessons will only lead to boredom—for the student (child) and educator (parent).
For example, when working with our two kindergarten-aged sons during the current school closures, I try to mix things up without ever veering off course. I focus on practicing math each day, but we do that in different ways. Some days, I write a traditional math format on a piece of paper for addition and subtraction problems (e.g. 5+3=8) while also having them compare numbers with the greater than (>) or less than (<) signs. Other days will feature different objects the boys need to count together (you’d be surprised how fun grouping Cheerios or blue and red triangle magnets can be). Additionally, every few days, we’ll pull out prepared flash cards that come with a dry-erase marker, giving the kids the added joy of hearing a squeaking sound each time they answer on the card surface after counting pictured frogs or cupcakes.
Bend But Don’t Break
Being flexible with the delivery of an at-home education program can also ensure children will remain involved participants. Having them play a part in determining the plan can give them a sense of appreciated autonomy. Changing the daily schedule every so often could also work wonders in keeping students attentive or excited.
Each day at home, for instance, I will sit with our boys at the dining room table to work on their alphabet and vocabulary. They will write out their upper and lower-case letters, associate words with pictures and copy sentences. (Tip for dads: having young kids write out Jesus loves me always and My Mommy is pretty is a perfect way to evangelize while gaining favor with your wife—all the while helping your children develop their writing or printing skills.)
My wife, meanwhile, will take her turn by bringing the kids on a nature walk in order to explore or collect various items like rocks, insects or leaves. She will also show them an online kid-friendly art class occasionally, pausing the video at times to give them opportunity to work on their given task (we’ve quickly developed a portfolio taped on our front windows, featuring anything from robots to Jesus’ empty tomb).
Don’t Forget to Ease Up
While students may need a structured schedule to keep focused, they can also benefit from strategic breaks. Various activities can be both entertaining and educational, such as Legos, Jenga stacking blocks, memory card games or building a fort out of couch cushions. Children in all grades can grow and learn through many different pastimes, including painting, reading or journaling, while providing their parents with much-needed rest or opportunity to focus on other priorities.
A neighborhood bike ride, outdoor scavenger hunt, homemade obstacle course or hopscotch layout in the basement or driveway are also fine examples of how kids of all ages can reward themselves with a pause from their studies. Such activities can hold the double effect of not only providing a mental break but also helping students take care of their bodies as a temple of God in a physical sense.
With all the messaging and resources bombarding us during this period of distance education, parents homeschooling these days are wise not to place too much pressure on their children or—of equal importance—themselves. It is essential they do not come to expect perfection in all aspects all the time.
Some days will be more fruitful or productive than others. Kids may be more alert or motivated at certain points in the week, compared to others. Students or parents may measure themselves against what their peers are accomplishing. As I often remind my classes, simply do your best and let God do the rest.
As tempting as it might be to anticipate stellar execution or completion of everything related to the current at-home school model, both adults and children alike can take solace knowing everyone is handling this ordeal differently.
Parents and students are advised to focus on successes, then, rather than dwell on failures. Feeding passions, encouraging creativity and savoring quality time with one another at home can also serve as ingredients to a healthy recipe during these anxious times. Learning, after all, should be fun and constructive, not guilt-provoking or unbearable.
Let God Grow You
As someone battling the challenges of both homeschooling children while teaching my own students during this pandemic, I appreciate the frustrations that can be felt. I also strive to see this as an opportunity for growth, however—not only as an educator but also as a parent.
We can help our kids develop in their academic skills, certainly. Yet, as parents, we must remember it is also our task to nurture love in our children—a love for learning and problem solving, yes, but also a love from God that radiates through loving relationships and service in the family.
As the Catechism teaches, we have the great privilege of evangelizing our kids as the first heralds of the Good News (CCC 2225). Using this homeschooling experience as an opportunity to come together in work, play and prayer, we will be able to better navigate through the many obstacles we will surely encounter.
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Matt Charbonneau is a high school religious education teacher who inspires his students to explore a deeper relationship with God. Applying uplifting lessons, engaging activities and insightful experiences, he strives to demonstrate the powerful presence and unconditional love of God in everyday life. For more of Matt’s writing, visit God’s Giveaways at www.mattcharbonneau.com.