A few days ago, I asked my husband how his teleconference went. “I only spoke to one person,” he replied. “Everyone else was busy trying to homeschool their kids.”
With an increasing number of school districts closing schools for weeks, and some for the rest of the school year, many parents now consider themselves homeschoolers. After all, their kids are doing school at home. However, truth be told, they’re not really homeschooling. They’re Corona-schooling. And there are some significant differences:
- In a corona school, students take on-line classes with their school teachers. In a homeschool, some students take some online or co-op classes, but children are primarily taught by their parents or (this is significant) they teach themselves.
- In a public corona school, curriculum is determined by federal or state officials. In a homeschool, curriculum is determined by the parents, who become experts on their children’s abilities and learning styles.
- In American corona public schools, equity laws, which are meant to put everyone on the same playing field, limit flexibility. For example, in some states, because a few students may not have internet access, teachers may not make online assignments count towards grades. In a homeschool, there is much more flexibility, allowing curricula to be highly individualized. Even packaged curricula or a co-op curricula are easily tailored to fit the needs of the individual student and his/her family.
- In corona schools, teachers set the pace of learning even though they may have limited ability (due to the nature of the online classroom) to discern how well students understand the material. In homeschools, children are free to learn at their own pace. A child who struggles with long division can keep on that topic until it is mastered.
- Corona-schooling is a new and rushed response to a pandemic. Teachers and parents are in a hurry to figure out what works. Meanwhile, problems with internet and technology are causing students a lot of stress and frustration. In contrast, most homeschooling parents have the benefit of being able to plan for months before embarking on the journey. They prepare their homes, their schedules, and their curriculum.
- With corona-schooling many parents are neither prepared nor able to devote significant amounts to time to one-on-one instruction because of work obligations. This pandemic has caught parents off-guard, and many are scrambling to find child care, let alone the time to teach their children. With homeschooling, at least one parent is ready and able to devote significant amounts to time to one-on-one instruction.
- With corona-schooling, parents have no choice but to have their children do school at home. Many hope schools will reopen ASAP. With homeschooling, parents see homeschooling as a lifestyle choice that could last for years.
At the outset, corona-schooling and homeschooling look alike: in both cases, children are being educated at home. However, their differences are important to note. Why? As more and more schools plan on remaining closed through the summer, parents will think they are homeschooling when, in fact, they are not. They are corona-schooling: trying to motivate their kids to do online assignments that may/may not count towards a grade, hoping their kids are paying attention to an online class instead of playing games or watching videos on another tab, trying to solve internet and connectivity problems, trying to explain the inexplicable common core math curricula to their kids, trying to stay on top of multiple messages from multiple teachers for perhaps multiple children all the while trying to stay on top of their regular work. Corona-schooling children for many parents is nerve-wracking. “If I don’t die from corona,” rants one mom, “I’ll die from distance-learning!”
It’s not that the teachers aren’t trying; they are. And it’s not their fault when their innovative and creative solutions are stifled by the mandates of distant federal bureaucrats. Public school teachers should be granted an “Emergency Use Authorization” to bypass restrictive equity laws so they can have more flexibility to address individual needs and abilities.
Furthermore, teachers need feedback from parents and students. Ever since corona-school started in our home for my high schoolers, I’ve been asking my teens, “How are your classes going?” When my son says, “The teacher goes through the slides too fast” or “I don’t understand the material,” I tell him to let the teacher know. Teachers need to know when kids are having a hard time grasping the material. Let’s remember they have had very little time, if any, to prepare for corona-school. Teachers will learn to adjust the pace and work out the glitches, but it will take time.
Corona-schooling elementary age children in particular is going to be very stressful for many parents. Homeschooling is not without its challenges, but homeschooling parents are at least ready and able to invest significant amounts of time to one-on-one instruction. That’s not so easy to do when both parents are working full time. Furthermore, let’s just admit it: real homeschooling requires a lot of parental dedication and grit. Parents who are used to having their children in school all day long may not be mentally prepared for the amount of discipline and consistency needed to effectively educate their children at home.
My concern is that when corona-schooling becomes too much of a burden, parents or even entire school boards will simply give up trying to educate children for the rest of the school year. (This New York mom already has, so her boys will spend the bulk of their days playing video games and watching T.V.) Folks, that is not fair to our children, who have a right to an education. We can’t give up just because teaching our children at home is difficult.
“What’s the big deal?” some may ask. “What’s five or six months of no schooling?” The problem is that when kids take such an extended break from school, they forget a lot of what they have learned. They may need to repeat the entire grade to be properly prepared for the next. But even worse, kids who are idle for such a long time will end up playing Fortnite and watching Tiktok for endless hours. Too much screen time, we know, is detrimental to the brain. Do we really want this to happen to thousands, perhaps millions of children if public school systems and parents throw in the towel?
So what can parents do?
- Establish a routine at home. Create an environment that is conducive to study and free from distractions. Assert your authority as parent and teacher.
- Implement this one rule: No video games or social media until school work is done.
- If online assignments won’t count for grades, focus on the most important subjects: reading, writing, and math.
- Encourage your kids to work independently but be ready to help them. Make room in your schedule to tutor them, and when you do work with your kids, don’t multi-task.
- Ask teachers to be flexible with due dates. Even better, see if they will allow students to repeat assignments until they get an “A”. If a student is really struggling, see if the teacher can schedule time to work with individual students and/or small groups on zoom.
- Give teachers a lot of feed back. Think of them as collaborators, so make your feedback positive and constructive.
- If children finish their school assignments quickly and have a lot of time on their hands, give them other educational activities to do that perk their interest.
Since corona-schooling has do be done at home, parents should have a significant say in what needs to be done and what is realistic. For corona-schooling to work with elementary age children, it should mirror real homeschooling in some of its most fundamental characteristics: flexibility, availability of one-on-one instruction, and the dedicated involvement of parents.
It may take weeks for teachers and families to adapt to this unexpected shift, so parents should persevere through this time of transition. Patience and perseverance is our homeschooling mantra. Don’t give up on trying to educate your kids at home. Corona-schooling will probably get better and easier over time. So work closely with your teachers; they are your allies.
However, parents need to know that if corona-schooling isn’t working out for their children after weeks of trying and if their schools will be closed for the rest of the academic year, they still have another choice: real homeschooling. The beauty of real homeschooling is that home comes first: the needs of the individual student and the needs of the family come first. Creative teaching methods and curricula are not tossed out simply because they don’t work for everyone. If they work for your children, you get to run with it. The flexibility of real homeschooling means you can pick what works best for your children and for your schedule.
Either way, educating our children at home does not have to be an all or nothing deal. Particularly during this uncertain and difficult time. We do our best to educate our children and keep them occupied with constructive activities. We don’t have to and shouldn’t try to micro-manage every hour of their day. Somehow our efforts will be good enough.
So hang in there, Corona-schooling parents. Even if you have to sacrifice personal interests, make time to teach your kids. With patience and perseverance you just may find, as many homeschoolers have, that the time your spend schooling your kids at home is enriching, rewarding, and memorable.