First of all, if you are reading this or Googling, “How do I schedule public school at home during a pandemic?” take a deep breath. This is Crisis Schooling, not homeschooling. If your children are in public school, you are under that jurisdiction, and not suddenly under homeschool law. These circumstances are unprecedented in our lifetime and no one knows exactly how things are going to play out. So before you freak out, take a deep breath and get a cup of tea/coffee.
In the spirit of full disclosure, in spite of my 19 years of homeschooling (4 kids, now ages 11-23), we have rarely had a strict schedule. I am no expert in scheduling, but I AM good at getting a lot done, so perhaps a few of my suggestions may help. Here are a few considerations for your Crisis School Schedule
1. Don’t Panic
If you have already done this, no worries. No one planned to get dropped suddenly into schooling at home with no warning. This is NOT normal. We planned ahead to homeschool–I had a 5-year-old and a 3-year old and had spent a year thinking it through. Today, everyone has suddenly been thrown into this situation at once. Everyone, parents, teachers, and kids are trying to figure it out, so you can’t be doing it “wrong.” Your kids are going to be ok. You are going to be ok. When I was in 4th or 5th grade, the teachers in my district went on strike for one or two months. I think I just read the whole time. It wasn’t ideal, but we survived.
2. Assess the Situation
Take a look at the overall situation first. You have probably already done this, but sit down and think through it again.
How many children are in your home?
How many schools are you coordinating with?
What ages are your children?
Who will monitor the schooling at home?
Are you still able to work? Working from home?
What tools are the schools providing for the students/parents?
What is your learning and organizational personality?
What are your children’s personalities?
How is everyone’s mental and physical state?
All of this will affect how you schedule your days. The first 10 years I homeschooled, I had a preschooler underfoot. There were often messes to clean, baby to feed, potty training to manage, food to prepare, disputes to referee, and crying (sometimes me, sometimes the children) to tend to. If your kids are older and somewhat self-managing, your daily tasks will look radically different than if you have younger kids. Plan accordingly. Enlist the help of older kids with younger ones. You are all in this together.
Do not compare your schedule or lack of schedule with other people. See what works for you, and ask your friends for suggestions. Simpler is better. My daughter is musical and artistic and could spend hours doing origami, so tight schedules did not work for her. She is doing Running Start at the community college now and has adapted to schedules just fine. I had another list-checker child who has always done much better with a defined list.
3. Start Each Day with a Few Constants
Routine is helpful, soothing, and grounding for everyone. Some kids really love a check-off list with things like “eat breakfast,” “brush teeth,” “make bed,” and other things to accomplish before gathering for school, and then another school check-off list.
For most of our 19 years of homeschooling, we have begun our day by eating breakfast, reading the Bible passage for the day, listening to classical music in the background, and reading a chapter or two of our current read-aloud book, then history reading and discussion. (If you don’t have ideas for read-alouds, we have read thousands over the past 19 years, so I have some suggestions for you! If reading aloud isn’t your thing, a good audio book can be a good start too.)
Because my four kids are spread out in age over 12 years (see–efficient scheduling isn’t my thing), I generally had a separate list or a check-off sheet for each child. I suggest a plastic sheet protector and a dry-erase pen–just slip a new list in every day with boxes to check off items. A chalkboard or whiteboard can serve this purpose as well.
After our group time, the youngest child often got my attention when I allowed the others to head off to their tasks, usually math then writing, grammar, etc. Then I would check in on everyone, providing instruction as needed. The public schools will be providing most of the assignments for you, and everyone, including you, your kids, and your teachers will be on a big learning curve with technology right now. Be patient with everyone as you get into the “new normal.”
We generally reserved afternoons and evenings for the kids’ many activities. This is obviously a challenge as there are now NO activities for anyone. Even though we are accustomed to schooling at home, this part has been hard for us too. Save afternoons for extra things like making cookies or a neighborhood walk/bike ride, planting things, reading, finishing up schoolwork or watching educational videos. I think most activities have an educational aspect, if you are creative.
Other checkpoints we have in the day are meals and bedtime read-aloud continued from morning. This tended to book-end our days nicely, and give us all some downtime at day’s end.
4. View This as an Opportunity
I am a realist more than an optimist, but I believe this sudden time at home can be an opportunity if we choose to view it that way. Crises can bring out the best or worst in people. We can help direct our kids toward the best.
Let everyone catch up on sleep
Let them wear pajamas sometimes
Read a lot – aloud and alone
Teach how to sew on a button
Learn some origami
Play games together
Learn to play chess
Make post-pandemic bucket lists
Watch old musicals together
Learn a new skill
Teach them how to shut off the water for emergencies
Have a fire drill
Brainstorm practical ways to save money
Download the Libby app and get library books
Wash the car
5. Panic Management
If your situation is dire financially or with lack of childcare or access to the technology you need, adding a lot of school stress right now may not work. If this is your situation, you probably need to focus your energy on your four walls—keeping everyone housed, fed, and safe. This is ok. Communicate with your school teachers. They are in this too.
My VERY first week of homeschool in 2001, I had my third miscarriage and the 911 terrorist attack occurred. Life was too crazy for me to think much about kindergarten with my 5-year-old and a 3-year-old underfoot. A week or two later, the State Superintendent of Schools declared homeschool in California to be “illegal.” This was not true, and they were forced to remove that from the website after being challenged, but it created a lot of panic among homeschool families at the time. That same 5-year-old ended up finishing his BA in Communications with honors just shy of his 20th birthday, so those “lost weeks” in 2001 didn’t scar him for life.
6. Focus on the Basics
When you are struggling to keep your head above water, so to speak, I would center on the core subjects–reading, writing, arithmetic. If you read aloud some every day plus having everyone read some at their level, tackle some form of writing, even if it’s simple, and some math concept or lesson, these subjects will keep your students afloat. It may take everyone awhile to get their bearings in this “new normal.” But don’t give up.
“You must read to your children and you must hug your children and you must love your children. Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens in the White House, but on what happens inside your house.”