Kitchen tables have turned into classrooms as parents ease into their newly minted roles of at-home educators. Distance materials are arriving, but with schools closed until at least May 4, many parents are worried about what weeks of school at home will look like.
Suddenly, groups for home-schoolers are getting inundated with requests for tips, advice, resources and just plain reassurance.
Ellen Crain, who owns a home-school testing company based in Wyoming, Minn., created an “Emergency Homeschooling” Facebook group last week. Within a couple of days, the group had more than 1,800 members asking questions and seeking (and offering) support. Crain said her main advice to apprehensive parents: Get into a good routine and cut yourself some slack.
“It’s important to recognize what parents are being asked to do is really difficult,” she said. “Everyone has to turn on a dime, and that can be especially hard when kids are involved.”
Jamie Groth, a literacy coach in the Robbinsdale Area Schools, said her credentials weren’t enough to ease all apprehension about instructing her two children.
“It’s not easy to teach your own kids at home,” she said, adding that her children’s initial reaction to having Mom teach was something along the lines of an exasperated “Ugh.”
Last week, Groth worked to keep to a schedule, blocking out time for certain subjects along with several choices for her new “students.” In addition to completing free writing and math exercises, her 11-year-old daughter has learned to load the dishwasher and her 9-year-old son tried his hand at the laundry. For a family used to rushing from activity to activity, suddenly staying at home has provided more opportunities for bonding and real-life teaching moments, Groth said. Still, she feels it’s important to implement some structure.
Like many parents, Groth is waiting to see what her children’s schools send for distance learning materials before she decides how much of the day’s schedule will include her own chosen lessons and activities.
She also wants parents to know that while there will be an adjustment period, their child’s regular teacher will be there for support once distance learning starts.
“[Parents] aren’t the paid teachers, so they can’t expect themselves to know it all,” she said. “Yes, they need to be there for their kids, but they won’t be alone.”
Longtime home-schoolers are echoing the same sentiment, particularly on the many social media support groups that have popped up or grown since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“Home schooling was such a niche community for a long time,” Crain said. “But a lot of the struggles folks are going through right now as they transition are familiar to the home-school community. ... We’re happy to help as people struggle through that change.”
Like Crain, Nancy Bjorkman, who owns a home-school resource store in Elk River, said she’s heard more from less-than-confident parents looking for tips than from those looking for curriculum. That might change in coming weeks, she said.
“This time might give people a chance to say, ‘Ya know, this isn’t so crazy of an idea. I can do this,’ ” she said.
Crain agreed. “This is unprecedented,” she said. “It’ll be interesting to see how many parents decide not to send their child back to school.”
Andrea Royce of Roseville said she never expected to be homeschooling her children.
Her 6-year-old son Rowan is an advanced reader and loves math but had been struggling with writing at school. He was coming home and melting down, saying he felt dumb and bad at writing.
Just before the school closures, Rowan had an occupational therapy appointment that revealed he struggles with the fine motor skills necessary for writing. That answer combined with not having to go back to school has made Rowan a “totally different kid,” Royce said.
“Every day when I’m working,” Royce said, “he slips in and tells me, ‘I love you so much. Thank you for homeschooling me. I love it.’ ”
Royce plans to home-school Rowan for the rest of the school year. She’s nervous about balancing it all with her own work and caring for a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old, though she’s grateful for the help she’s getting from a nanny.
So far, homeschooling has included reading a chapter book and starting a math program that Rowan is excited about. Royce also wants to introduce nature journaling and project-based learning activities based on his interests.
“Since he’s required to be home, we realized that we have a unique opportunity to meet him where he is,” she said. “Just like everyone else, we’re taking it moment by moment and doing our best to roll with it.”