Home Educating Your Child During COVID-19

And suddenly thousands of mothers who have never, ever wanted to homeschool are teaching their children at home.

How is it going, sweet Mama?

I know this is not how you anticipated spending this school year. I hope you know you are being thrust into very unusual circumstances and that this is not what homeschooling mamas feel like all the time. As we all know, routine and expectations are a huge part of what makes our days successful, and you had zero time to prepare your home, your heart, your budget or your schedule for this radical change! I hope you are giving yourself boatloads of grace…and your children too!

I wanted to tell you a bit about how we are navigating this season here and hopefully give you some encouragement that will help both you and your children not just survive but thrive in this season of learning at home. If any of these points are encouraging and helpful, take them to heart. If any of these make you feel like hiding under the covers, ignore them! Take only the good stuff here, sisters!

  1. YOUR CHILDREN WILL CONTINUE TO LEARN WHETHER YOU ARE INTENTIONALLY DOING ACADEMICS OR NOT! Take a deep breath and relax! Your children don’t need worksheets, organized activities or 30 min using math apps every single day to keep their brains growing and learning. They are learning! As they draw pictures, build Lego structures, help unload the dishwasher, measure the flour and empty the trash. This is especially true for kids under eight as the research shows that most of their learning happens through play, exploration and hands on experiences. So don’t stress! Look for the learning that is already happening in your child’s day and chalk that up for today’s schoolwork. Write it down if you need help remembering not to have unrealistic expectations. Notice how he’s observing the different water temperatures as he washes his hands at the sink…and makes a horrendous mess in the process! See how her hands are moving carefully and slowly as she draws that butterfly. See how he is learning empathy as he helps his little brother. Don’t miss the way he’s problem solving as he builds that sand castle or how she’s learning time as she watches the clock waiting for snack time to finally come…again! God created those little brains with a curiosity that is insatiable! They are learning every moment of the day. It’s not all in your court. Do what you can and release the rest. Breathe.

2. LET THEM TURN THE SCREEN ON. I’m just going to admit it and own it. We’ve used more screen time in the last 6 months than we ever have before. Right now, my two little boys are downstairs watching Paw Patrol because I just can’t pull it together. I can’t put on my happy face and come up with cheerful answers right now. I can’t solve another squabble. I can’t handle the noise level of two happy, loud, active boys this afternoon or risk having the baby woken from her nap. I just need a break and a few minutes of silence. They might be there the rest of the afternoon. We have definitely surpassed the ‘hour a day’ screen recommendations many times lately. But you know what? Right alongside that increased screen time we’ve also had more time outside than normal. Without the obligations of school my children have had time to play in the sandbox, jump on the trampoline, swim at the beach, ride bikes, climb trees, play with their chickens and rabbits, go for walks and catch frogs. They’ve also had more naps, more quiet time and more sleep each night. They’ve had a more consistent, less busy lifestyle without all the stimulation from outside activities and people.

3. DO NOT LET YOURSELF MAKE ANY LONG TERM COMMITMENTS RIGHT NOW. My husband and I decided early on in our parenting journey that we would not commit to any one form of education long term. Instead, we try to take one year at a time and just see where life leads us. There have been opportunities, blessings, challenges and trauma that have influenced when, where and how our children learned from year to year. I am so thankful we were able to tweak our original plans as we went along to best suit the needs of our children each year. It can be so tempting to jump head first into one particular style of learning in a season when it feels like the perfect fit, but doing that often makes it hard for us to let go of that when our children or family move into a new season that just does not accommodate that style any longer. There may be a time, even this year in the midst of anxiety and pandemic chaos, when the best thing for your family is for your child to be at school. Right now I have three at school and two at home. There may be a time when home learning is the best option. Private school may be a good fit in some seasons and not in others. A particular teacher or program at school can make or break a child’s education experience and sometimes we don’t realize that until he or she is no longer there. When I first started homeschooling my youngest daughter, I thought I would do it forever. But then I learned more about her special needs and learning differences. I experienced the pressures of trying to balance mama and teacher to a child who struggles to learn, and I realized that I couldn’t do that for the next twelve years. I needed help. Right now she is thriving in a special education classroom at school in ways I never could have anticipated, while my older daughter whom I vowed I could never home school is home for the second year in a row! I’m so glad we gave public education another shot, and that we opened our hearts to home education for our older daughter.

4. YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT LIKE ANYONE ELSE. You don’t have to fit a mold. You can unschool on Mondays, Charlotte Mason on Tuesdays, have an Eclectic Wednesday, gameschool on Thursday and totally wing it on Friday. You can mish-mash your curriculum, schedule and resources. You can try one thing for a week or a day or a month or a year and then abandon it if it’s not working. It’s ok! Don’t let the homeschool bloggers, Pinterest and curriculum fairs convince you that you have to have it all sorted out before you start. This is real life, and it’s good for your children to see you learning, using trial and error and recovering from science experiment flops with resilience. Figure out what makes your home and family feel good about home education and focus on that. Some people like to be more structured while others like to have variety and fly with the wind of each day.

5. YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT ALL YOURSELF. Somewhere along the line, I told myself that to be a good home educator, I needed to be able to teach my children every subject well! I was sure I had to be the expert on everything from math to geography to music composition. It didn’t work. Not only do I not know much about some of these subjects, I despise them! Pulling out paints makes my skin crawl! Forcing myself and my daughter to read Science textbooks made me feel guilty and bored and dissatisfied. Trying to find time to teach my daughter piano, even though I love to play, was so difficult! The judicial system confuses me and dioramas make me want to run away. But flashcards? That’s my thing! I love setting my kitchen timer and racing my daughter to see which one of us can make it through the stack the fastest. Reading? I could spend hours and hours reading aloud, completing book reports and discussing characters and plot. Math workbooks? I love those! I love seeing the pages fill up and checking off those boxes. Journal writing? Yes please! Buy me more notebooks! Colouring maps and memorizing provinces? Yes! So we do the things we love and we leave a bunch of the things we hate and then for some other things, I turn to my village. This year Miss A will take piano lessons, which we are bartering for chicken eggs. My friend will give her some art classes for a month or two in her quiet home where there are no busy little boy hands spilling the paints and touching all the supplies. My husband will hopefully do some business modeling and maybe some woodworking projects. She’ll bake every Friday and our church kids coordinator will put her hands to work serving at our church prepping kids church materials. She will spend one afternoon a week at Forest School, helping littles learn in the natural environment that she loves. Another day she will help with our church’s Market ministry, cooking food . My neighbour will give her paddling lessons in exchange for some sweat and hard work cleaning up their outdoor Inn for the Winter. The point is…we are not doing this alone! Miss A will receive a much broader, more diverse, more interesting education this year by accessing our village! Now, to be clear, I could never have done this with my younger daughter five years ago. But my older, independent and very mature teenage daughter will thrive on this exposure to other people and places in her days, and it will be good for the two of us to have some distance alongside all the time we have together at home.

6. START WITH ONE THING. When kids begin school in September, the first couple of weeks they do not have a full course load. The first day is usually filled with practicing new routines, fun games, sorting materials, getting organized and drawing pictures about their summer vacation. Your homeschool should be the same! Don’t pull out the whole box of books the first day or even month. You will overwhelm yourself and your children before you even begin. Pick one or two things you are excited about or feel confidant in and start there, then you can slowly feather in more over the next few weeks as you understand your schedule and atmosphere better. Your children don’t have to put in a solid 6-hour learning day or even a full morning or afternoon. If you hope to have the stamina to do this long term or even for part of this year, you need to pace yourself. One enjoyable hour is better than three miserable ones!

I hope these tips have given you hope, encouragement and some real life practical tips for your days.

You are not alone. There are hundreds of mamas and families in your shoes right now, and everyone is just trying to cope the best they can with the hand they’ve been dealt right now. Your children are not going to fall behind their peers during this time.

When the days feel long, the kids are driving you crazy and you just want a break…take it!

Make space for everyone to unwind.

Remind yourself of all you have to be grateful for. Clothes on your back, food in the pantry, children to love, a home to do this messy life in, the years of access to education that you have enjoyed thus far in a country where educating all of our children is considered a basic human right.

I hope you look back on this season someday and see that there was good, there was laughter, there was time, there was rest in the midst of chaos.

And I hope today you choose to make those things a reality.

~AF

Goodbye, Hello & His Goodness in the Uncertainty

And while the world slowed, we said goodbye.

In the middle of a worldwide pandemic, with all our normal routines suddenly readjusted, we did the bittersweet lasts. As usual it ended abruptly, not quite following the carefully constructed plans we had made…but we did get to say goodbye.

For almost two years our foster son was ours to love, care for, delight in; but now he has moved on. He leaves a hole in my heart that looks like the shape of his face, the sound of his voice and the presence of his animated, lively personality in our home. His leaving holds all the typical emotions of foster care; sadness, frustration, fear, surrender, peace and even relief that the chaos of transitioning is over. Unlike sometimes, it also holds new relationships forged with birth family, the hope of continued connection through the months and years and the sound of his voice on the other end of the phone.

As seems to be typical in the story of our family, we simultaneously grieve and look ahead with anticipation. As one child leaves our home, my womb swells and pulses with the life of another.

Sometime in the next two weeks we expect to welcome this new wee life into our world and we are all so thrilled! The past nine months have flown by in the whirlwind of family life and it is hard to believe we are already here, on the brink of our new forever. I can’t help but stop and smile at the timing of it all, and breathe in the sweet relief of once again seeing how perfectly God orchestrates these stories in our lives.

While so many things about this season of isolation, social distancing and elimination in the world have been inconvenient, it has also been a season of much needed rest and intimacy for our family, especially as we said goodbye and realigned our identity as a family of six instead of the seven we have been for so long.

I am so thankful for the sweet, uninterrupted time we have had together these past few weeks.

Seeing my children’s heads bowed around the dining room table over crafts, schoolwork, Lego structures and board games has been so good for my heart. Dirty hands and faces planting seeds, splashing through the creek, gathering eggs and riding bicycles. So much time to make memories together, to enjoy the quiet and to soak in the first hopeful signs of Spring. Freedom from schedules, obligations and social requirements.

We had our first bonfire, dressed in mud suits and mixing smoky hot dogs with dirt and the last remaining snow piles. We’ve taken walks, raked leaves, done Science experiments and moved our hens into their outdoor enclosure.

It’s been far from perfect; there have been tears, short tempers and insane amounts of glue and tape. There has been screaming and lack of impulse control and interrupted sleep and more screen time than I’d like. But still, it has been exactly what we all needed in this season of loss and growth.

I didn’t plan on bringing this little one into the world in the midst of homeschooling, social distancing and medical fragility worldwide, but I see the goodness of it all and I’m grateful.

I didn’t plan on having our foster care transition plan moved ahead by weeks and to suddenly, in the space of a weekend, realize we were at the end and it was time to say goodbye. We didn’t have the physical support and monitoring of our social workers that I had pictured as ideal, and I felt far from ready…not that you ever really get there anyway.

But still, I see His goodness in the details of this season and I trust that despite the questions that want to hold my heart hostage He has got these circumstances and this precious child I love securely in the palm of His hand.

He is not the least bit surprised, fearful or disappointed.

He is absolutely Sovereign over it all.

My stretched, shifting womb with the heartbeat throbbing inside.

The tears in both our eyes as I hold him and tell him how very much he is loved, my heart breaking with his as we try to understand our new reality-apart instead of together.

The spreading disease that makes us all suddenly stop and see the world’s fragility through new eyes.

And it’s enough.

Trusting that He is Good and Sovereign is enough to carry me through this and every season of life.

-AF