Homeschooling Help for Stretched and Stressed Parents
The only constant thing in life is change. Currently, as a collective earth, we are all united in the fact that we are enduring the biggest change that any of us have ever experienced in our lives. The economy, the environment, and all industrial and social constructs are under pause or re-evaluation, and may never look the same again.
Psychologically speaking, change is most stressful when we are not an active agent in that change when we feel “done to”. Enduring a global pandemic is a tremendous example of such a change. No one is exempt from feeling the stress. Parents are facing the pressure and expectation to literally do it all, and without access to the proverbial village. Working from home, homeschooling, and all household responsibilities from meal-prep to cleaning, are all on the shoulders of parents for the unforeseen future. Most parents have already been living absolutely stretched lives and are feeling the addition of homeschooling to be insurmountable.
Meanwhile, other parents and I have been juggling these duties for years already. We are not super-human, but I do think that some of the lessons learned over the last several years of my homeschooling journey can help shift the experience for others who are in this boat for the very first time.
We do have some agency over how we interpret this experience, and what we make of it. When it comes to living under one roof together, we can view this time as an opportunity to learn and experience what has not been taught at school. We can provide accommodation for our unique learners, as they are no longer tethered to a desk and we can protect their attachments to us. It is my sincere belief, that there are definite ways to make the most of this unique time in history as we have our children home with us.
Ways to Make the Most of This Unique Time
Understand Learning is Non-Stop and Non-Linear
Something that really shifts the paradigm around learning, is to remember that school is a relatively new concept emerging around the Industrial Revolution. Prior to that, for hundreds of thousands of years, learning has happened through self-directed exploration and play. When we understand the need for fresh air, good nutrition and exercise, are as important as math and literacy, we can start to appreciate that learning is literally a constant.
When parents begin to fear that their children aren’t learning anything, it is because they are not seeing it. Sit and observe your child playing a video game, ask questions about their interests, and watch how they light up by your appreciation for what they love. Another aspect of learning worth considering is how you learn something. When we are truly passionate about a subject, we usually “binge” it. We do not abruptly stop at 25 minutes and change subjects. During the deep dive, multiple “subjects” naturally present themselves within their adventure. Consider cooking for example, where math (measuring), science (chemistry) and reading (recipe) all come into play. Current circumstances give us the unique opportunity to allow ourselves and our children to dig deep into our interests and go back to the way learning has always happened naturally.
Choice Creates Empowerment (and Reduces Stress)
Progressive teachers have been co-constructing classroom rules for years. The positive outcomes for learning have been so remarkable that since the late 1960s Democratic Schools have offered complete self-directed learning environments with success. When young people feel that their voice is heard and respected, they will naturally become more engaged, receptive and cooperative. One way to instill empowerment is to come together to create a flow for the day that considers the collective needs and goals of each family member. Everyone matters and every opinion counts no matter the age.
Together, the family can decide their values, needs, priorities, and objectives. In my family, we created rules and a motto that hinge upon our values. Our rules center around emotional and physical health, mutual respect and empathy. We consider everyone in the house when we set the time of day for meals, bedtime, and instruction. Our loose schedule makes the rhythm of our day truly flow. We know what each of us needs in terms of pursuing our individual passions (for our 8-year-old, that includes Minecraft, and yes, that matters). We know what we need to do to stay healthy, and we factor in the human need for exercise, proper nutrition, rest and relaxation, spirituality and connection.
Create Engaging and Inviting Learning Environments
Have you ever been forced to do something? Doesn’t it give you a visceral reaction? You can almost feel your mind and body shut down in the experience. Our children feel the same way when we force them to do something. It is not unusual for children to resist sitting down and doing paper-work for example. Young bodies naturally want to move and have all their senses engaged. When we are intentional with our learning environments, we open up new worlds to our children without coercion. We can think beyond print-outs and set up a station with activities of a kinesthetic nature. Family dance parties, building your own Rube Goldberg machine from household items, and the entire process of gardening are all excellent learning opportunities.
Remember That Connection is Key
If no curriculum books are touched, no exercises are downloaded from the internet and nothing turned in, all is not lost if the priority is placed on the need for human connection. Free play is one of the absolute most important ways that children learn and process their realities. If you can let go of the attachment to seeing learning represented only on recitation and paper, you can expand the horizons of even the most resistant student.
I know that many parents fear the excessive use of “screen time” during this time. How to possibly keep little ones off screens, yet engaged during an important conference call? I urge parents to let go of those fears, and recognize that sometimes kids just need to chill out, and online videos and games can be a great source of learning, with the added advantage of being highly engaging, offering parents a chance to catch up on some work.
If possible, have your kids stationed in the same room as you, while you work. They can play or watch a video, and you can not only ensure the content is appropriate, but also become aware of what they are into. You can build off of their interests and give your children the feeling of being “known” which increases the parent/child attachment bond. Learning is faster and more effective in the context of attachment, safety and security. You will see that what takes 6 hours in a traditional school, takes a maximum of 2 hours at home when connection is prioritized.
Some tangible tips to try:
- Have a family meeting to discuss needs/values or everyone and create a fluid schedule
- Involve your kids in the running of the household in ways that are positive and inviting
- In times of conflict or stress, remember the golden rule: “do no harm”
- Set kids up with a nest near your work area, where they can play tablet games near you
- Go outside every day (earlier the better to avoid inertia)
- Remember that you are more than qualified to “teach,” as you do not need to know everything. You are their trusted guide who facilitates their journey
In the midst of a life turned upside-down, we are given an opportunity to re-examine our lives and our existential priorities. If we can think beyond the worry of keeping up with grade-level curriculum, we can truly leverage this time for the advantages it brings us. Many people are afraid that this will become a “lost year” and set this generation of children back. A more helpful and hopeful perspective is to see this time as one that can be lived without regret, and to see this as an opportunity to learn beyond the confines of a classroom.
We were all our children’s first teachers in infancy and into toddlerhood, and they learned at the most rapid rate they ever will, during that precious time. Do not underestimate our influence as parents as our children learn by watching all that we do. Learning how to become flexible, question arbitrary rules and constructs, and resolve conflict, will help everyone live a more nuanced life of human connection. During this very unique time in history, we will learn how to evolve, grow and change. What a powerful opportunity!
Written By: Brandie Hadfield
Brandie Hadfield has always balanced work and educating her two children at home in Toronto, Canada. Brandie is a certified health and wellness coach, who is passionate about helping parents curate their lives with intention. If you are looking for more help juggling work and homeschooling, or making healthy living a part of your curriculum at home, reach out to Brandie through www.thedreammethod.com, or through Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/thedreammethod/) or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/thedreammethod/).