Suddenly Homeschooling – Advice from a Traveling Family
Walking through the aisles of the local grocery store, past the empty toilet paper and hand sanitizer shelves, my phone buzzed. It was a notification from my sister in Chicago. Her children’s schools were closing because of Coronavirus.
“Looks like I’m homeschooling like you now,” she said.
“I guess I was a trendsetter,” I jokingly replied.
But, it turned out, this was no joke. By the time I got home that day, my friends in New Mexico had posted that schools there were closing for 3 weeks at least. Then posts from friends in New York, Virginia and North Carolina. In short order all the dominoes started to fall. By week’s end, every school across the country was closed. We were all in shock. Life in the middle of a global pandemic already felt like it was spinning out of control, and now everyone would be home with their kids, all day, every day.
As the world wrestles with this new—hopefully temporary—normal, I ask myself, what can I offer? Four years ago, our family of five moved onto a sailing catamaran and I started boatschooling my kids by necessity. I do not homeschool because I reject the public school system. Quite the contrary, actually. My kids go to brick-and-mortar schools whenever we find ourselves in one place for a longer period of time. They have gone to wonderful schools in New Mexico, Texas, Florida and the Bahamas and our whole family has benefited from these immersive experiences. But as a full-time traveling family, schooling at home—wherever home might be that week—is usually the best option for us. If your child’s school just closed, you suddenly find yourself—excuse the pun—in the same boat. As I think about all we have learned along the way, I realize there are a few pieces of advice I wish I had been given (or, more accurately, heeded) at the beginning of our journey into home education.*
#1 – You are not alone
This may seem like a strange thing to say since you likely ARE alone with your core family as you read this, but if I have learned anything from homeschooling, boatschooling, unschooling and worldschooling my kids for the past 4 years, it is that many wonderful people do this much more successfully than I do and are always happy to help as you work your way through it. It took me a long time to understand this. I spent most of the first two years of homeschooling trying to figure it out by myself before I realized there are tons of resources out there to make it easier. Just google “homeschool group” plus the name of your town to find local families to reach out to. Granted, in the age of social distancing, this help will have to be of the online variety for the time being, but even connecting virtually with another parent who understands, can help you navigate these new waters.
If reaching out to a stranger doesn’t sound appealing, remember that you likely have a friend or relative that already homeschools and who would probably love a check-in call during these crazy times. Don’t worry if it has been a long time since you’ve been in touch with this person. Just start the conversation with, “Help!” or “How do you do it?” and I promise they will be glad you called and happy to share tips that can help you keep your sanity.
#2 – This is NOT That
If you are anything like me, you will have BIG plans for your home education system. You will make charts. You will create schedules. You will buy school supplies. And then, after more tears and torture than you can endure, you will throw your hands up and say, “I quit!” And that is where your real home education journey will begin because that is the moment when you embrace the fact that, this is not that.
Your home is not supposed to be a mirror of your kid’s school. The school has resources you do not. Even the underfunded, overworked teachers have librarians, janitors, lunch room assistants, office support staff and school administrators that you do not. Suddenly you are the librarian (especially now that libraries are closed). You are the janitor, the lunch lady/lunch man, the teacher and the principal all rolled-into one. If you try to recreate the classroom in your home, you and your kids will be miserable. Yes, there are a few parents out there who do this successfully and I admire their superpowers, but these tips are for the rest of us. I invite you to release the guilt over your failed attempts at recreating the classrooms they miss, tell yourself over, and over again that “This is NOT That!” and allow for the magic that can happen when you decide to do it your way and honor your kids’ unique learning style.
#3 – “Stop! Hammer Time!”
At the risk of revealing to the world just how OLD I really am—insert eyeroll from teenage daughters here for full effect—I will share one of my favorite homeschooling and parenting survival techniques. When things really start hitting the fan and nothing seems to be working, I like to horrify my children by shouting, “Stop! Hammer Time!” and then breaking out some sweet, MC Hammer-wanna-be dance moves. This has the double desired effect of interrupting whatever wasn’t working by shifting the focus to something funny, and giving you a little exercise. This works really well when the kids are fighting, refusing to do their work or generally annoying the heck out of you. If MC Hammer doesn’t work for you, try anything that makes you laugh. I have a friend who belts out, Frozen’s, “Let it Go!” when her kids fight until they run screaming from the room. Problem solved. Even if these interruption techniques don’t get the kids to actually do their work at least you will feel better by finding a way to laugh in the middle of the chaos.
#4 – Give Yourself Grace
Homeschooling is one of the hardest things we have ever done as a family. As if parenting isn’t hard enough when you can send the kids off to school for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, how do you survive when you find yourselves on communal lock down together? There are no museums, libraries, playgrounds or trampoline parks open to help you burn off all that pent-up energy or break up the boredom. Even with all the tools in your homeschool toolbox, there are days that things are going to go south. You are going to have a day when you feel like the worst parent, teacher and human all rolled into one. We have all been there and those are the moments I invite you to give yourself grace.
Even parents who are more like Mary Poppins and “practically perfect in every way,” still miss the mark on occasion. If you can find it in your heart to give yourself grace (or “a break” or “self-love,” or whatever you want to call it) at those moments, you will be teaching your kids a skill I believe is far more valuable in their lives than anything they can learn in a textbook. You will be teaching them they can be flawed and worthy all at the same time. Imagine the positive impact that will have as they step out into the world, knowing that they can love themselves even when they aren’t perfect. What a gift you will give them, by giving yourself a break when things fall apart.
#5 – Take Time for Yourself
This may seem completely impossible when you’ve just been forced to be with your kids 24/7, but if I can do it on a 45 foot boat, with three kids, one husband and a German Shepherd, you can find a way to do it wherever you are. Yes, we have all heard a million times that, “you can’t take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself,” and have been told to “put your own oxygen mask on first so you can help the kids with their masks,” but it is more than that. When you go to work and the children go to school, at locations which are not also your home, you have breaks from each other built in. But when everyone is home together, the kids’ time bleeds into your time and before you know it, all the time—including your time—is their time. Then where are you?
One of the best things you can do to make schooling at home more effective is to put, “My Time,” on the schedule too. Block off at least an hour each day for quiet time to hear the sound of your own inner voice. I know this is really hard to do, and for me that means waking up at least an hour before the rest of my family, to allow myself time to write, process and plan. For you it might be taking a walk with your dog or scheduling time to read. It might be working on a photo book or knitting project. I don’t know what it looks like for you, but I do know it is worth the effort. By claiming this time, I was able to write this blog post, launch my audio podcast and still feel somewhat successful at the super important job of supporting my kids’ education at home.
As you are reading this, you may not have any intention of “Homeschooling” your kids for the long haul. You may be just trying to figure out how to stay afloat until things finally go back to normal. Whatever your education plan is for the future, here’s hoping these tips help you (mostly) keep your sanity, while helping your kids explore this great, big, beautiful—albeit a bit crazy—world.
*If you would like a printable copy of these “5 Survival Tips for Schooling at Home,” please click here to join my email list and I will send it to you.