Homeschooling Tips to Help Parents Stay Sane Until the School Year Ends

Homeschooling your child requires a lot of time and energy, and with the coronavirus pandemic impacting students nationwide, parents are suddenly finding themselves managing a job, a home and a classroom all at once. We talked with experts to get homeschooling tips to help you cope with your new role as teacher.

Here’s how it breaks down:

5 Homeschooling tips to help you get started

Managing your kid’s education may feel like the last straw for stressed out parents, but you don’t need to have a perfect plan from the get go, says Jamie Gaddy, a college education professor, homeschooler and the content and community manager for Homeschool.com. “Relax,” she said. “Jumping into trying to fit a school schedule into your day at home with work can be really stressful.” Instead, start with these tips and adapt as you go.

  1. Outsource core work. Pick a few important core subjects you don’t want to teach and find a ready-made curriculum for each one. “You don’t have to do everything with your child,” said Jamie Heston, a homeschooler, homeschooling consultant and board member of the Homeschool Association of California.  When Heston first started homeschooling her children, she found prepared math and language arts classes, then created her own activities and lessons in other subjects. “Just having a couple of things I wasn’t responsible for helped me take the leap and start,” she said.
  2. Keep them on task. Even if your child’s school is providing a curriculum, you’re still stuck with what may arguably be the hardest part of teaching — keeping students focused. Here are some ideas to help them keep their heads in the books:
    • Offer rewards. Give your child a prize for completing a task or staying focused for a set amount of time. “Make it something they love,” Gaddy advised. You can offer extra screen time, let your child choose what the family eats for dinner, set up a Zoom date with a friend or let your child pick a random prize from a basket filled with stickers, small toys and treats.
    • Motivate with music. Does your child work well with music in the background? Put on a fun playlist they can listen to while they work. Tell them as soon as the music ends, you’ll all go outside for a break, Gaddy said.
    • Alternate work with fun. Make a list of tasks and a list of fun activities. Gaddy suggested having your child work for 10 minutes, then doing a fun activity of their choice for 10 minutes.
    • Talk to the teacher. Before you stress out thinking that your child must do everything the teacher sends home, ask which assignments must be done. Then prioritize what’s mandatory and cut yourself some slack with the rest.
  3. Think outside the box. Your child doesn’t need to be sitting in front of the computer or at the table with a textbook to learn. Gaddy recommends using plenty of hands-on activities such as baking — a great way to practice math — and games. “When you play games, you’re teaching logic and critical thinking skills,” Gaddy said. You can even ask your child to help the family manage the current crisis. Americans report spending $178 stockpiling supplies to ride out the coronavirus, so ask your child to help figure out ways to cut costs in the budget.
  4. Stick to a schedule — or not. If you’re an ultra organized person who thrives on schedules, by all means make one, Gaddy said. But if you get stressed out by detailed schedules, then just make a to-do list or an informal plan for your day. Remember that unlike schools, you have all day plus evenings and weekends with your kids. So there’s no need to stick to a rigid 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. schedule, especially if you work during that time.
  5. Take the lead from your kids. Let your child’s style of learning and their interests guide and inform your homeschooling. If your child loves to read, allow them to read books and write reports about what they read. If they enjoy science and love to get their hands dirty, “Google some science experiments,” Gaddy suggested. One of her favorite lessons with her kids came from studying the Revolutionary War. “We made corn husk dolls and candles,” she said. “We did stuff they did during that time period.”

And take heart. “This is a great opportunity to have a good time with your kids,” Gaddy said.

Quick advice for every grade level

If you’ve recently been thrust into homeschooling by the pandemic, you may need some tricks to keep you (and the kids) motivated. The best method depends on you, your style, your kids and their ages. Here’s a guide on how to homeschool by age range:

Preschool years

Plan to play. The name of the game in preschool education is play. “Children of this age need to play, explore the world and develop social skills,” said J. Allen Weston, executive director of the National Home School Association.

Focus in short bursts. Spread more intensive “focus” activities across the day in 15-minute segments.

Get hands on. The day should be filled with lots of hand-on activities to build kids’ motor skills, along with reading. Here’s a list of activities for preschoolers. A few other ideas include doing a weekly craft focused on a letter of the alphabet, setting up a math center with objects your child can count and practicing writing in a salt tray.

Elementary years

Begin with the basics. The elementary years help kids develop a foundation for middle and high school, so shore up math, reading and other core subjects. Save your sanity by getting ready-made lessons in these areas and handling the fun stuff yourself.

Make it fun. It’s important to continue to keep learning fun for elementary kids, Gaddy said. In elementary school, children can discover a love for learning and begin a life of following their interests and curiosity.

Plan indoor activities for kids. As your kids learn and practice the basics, look for ways to make it fun with games and exercises that include physical activity. Here’s a list of 50 free at-home activities to do with kids, from Homeschool.com. And here’s a “massive” list of indoor activities for kids, which can help you and your family prevent the spread of the virus.

Middle school years

Encourage independent thinking. Middle school is when students begin to become independent learners and thinkers. Here are a few ways you can encourage independent thinking: ask open-ended questions, facilitate debate and have your child research a topic and teach you about it. For example: Ask your child to pretend to be a historical figure and write a speech from their point of view.

Prep for high school. Remember that middle school paves the way for high school. Be sure to keep strengthening the basics of reading, writing and math that were built in elementary school.

Offer electives. Encourage and help your students pursue their passions, whether it’s a specific subject area or a particular discipline. Begin to provide electives, or choices, of subject areas for classes and research.

High school years

Stay focused. High school is the time when children start focusing on the future. It’s important to keep your child focused on the basics, especially if they plan to attend college. These core high school subjects include: language arts, math, health, science, geography, history and a foreign language.

Keep an eye on the future. Work with your kids to set college and/or career goals. Then work with them to craft a curriculum to move them closer to those goals. Start by looking at a list of common high school courses required for college admission. Then decide whether they will take these classes online or through a local community college.

Take virtual learning trips. Your high schooler can’t go on an out-of-state field trip, or even to the local museum, right now. So send them on a virtual learning journey. “There are so many options,” Gaddy said. “Broadway shows are offering free streaming versions, and museums are doing virtual tours. So many free resources have opened up during this time.”

Free homeschooling resources

Don’t know where to turn to find a homeschool curriculum? These sites offer free programs and resources to get you started.