I Homeschooled for 3 Years. Here’s What I Learned
COVID-19 has changed our daily routine for the foreseeable future. Many schools across the nation have been shut for weeks and there are rumblings of some states, including Texas where I live, closing them for the remainder of the academic year.
Virus fears aside, don’t panic about homeschooling. I’ve got some tips and tricks for you. You don’t have control over a virus, but you have a lot of control over homeschooling. And if your school is closed for the rest of the academic year, let’s take a deep breath, it’s only 12 weeks or less depending where you live.
I started homeschooling when my daughter was in the 5th grade, which was really nerve-wracking because just about anyone can start with the ABC’s, but making my teaching debut with fractions?!?
We had such a good time, my seven-year-old son, begged to leave public school and join us, so he did. Two kids with drastically different personalities, learning styles and curriculum made me kind of want to pull my hair out and question my life choices. But by the end of the third year, we figured out a basic routine, a solid curriculum and enjoyed the time spent with each other. Mostly.
Of course, now that they are older, my daughter is in 8th grade and my son is in 5th grade, they both wanted to go back to public school for the social interaction. Enter the coronavirus… Ha! #Irony
Anyway, here are the things I learned homeschooling my two kids over the course of three years. Feel free to apply what works to you and your family.
- Establish a routine. Children (and adults) find routines comforting because they know what to expect. I’ll give you our schedule below.
- Create a study area. Whether it’s the kitchen or a playroom, make sure that toys and/or videogames/electronics/cell phones are out of reach while you are working. Keep a basket of the basics (pencils, pencil sharpener, erasers, ruler, pens, crayons, markers, glue, tape, paper, calculator) available. If you have a dry erase board and markers that’s helpful too.
- Figure out curriculum. Follow your school district’s instructions. Some schools are offering online classes, others are emailing assignments, and others, like our school, are still trying to figure things out leaving parents to fill the void. I’ll give you some helpful curriculum ideas and online resources below.
- Divide and conquer. My kids completely different. My daughter needs silence and my son loves to talk. I have my daughter work on her own in another area while I work with my son on his math. It helps to stay focused on one lesson plan at a time. When he’s done, I give him a 15 minute break so I can review my daughter’s work.
- Breaks are necessary. Some kids have a really tough time sitting still or focusing for 30 minutes. If you see your kid is struggling to finish worksheet, set a timer for 5 minutes and let him do something different, like play with Play-Doh or do jumping jacks. Even though 5 minutes seems short, sometimes that’s all it takes to get your kid to re-focus.
- Together time. Lesson plans are usually done separately, but there are other things we do together, like reading a story or doing an art project. Since my kids are older, the things we read together are history books and more complex stories, like Greek mythology. We also watch educational YouTube videos showing science experiments.
Here’s the schedule that works best for us. Feel free to use it as a guideline and modify it to fit the needs of your family.
- 7:30 a.m. – Eat, get dressed
- 8:00 a.m. – Math
- 9:00 a.m. – English (vocab, grammar, writing)
- 10:00 a.m. – Snack time/break
- 10:30 a.m. – History/Geography
- 11:30 a.m. – Science
- 12:30 p.m. – Lunch/break
- 1:30 p.m. – Art/music
- 2:00 p.m. – Read book of your choice
- 3:00 p.m. – School’s out!
Make a quick calendar of what needs to be done in each subject for the next 12 weeks. I made 5 columns (Date, Subjects: Math, English, History, Science). I only put the major academic subjects, because those are the key areas kids get tested on. If, for whatever reason, we fall behind on a lesson plan, I make up the time during art/music on our schedule.
It looks like this:
When you have your page numbers and chapters broken down into weekly bite-sized lessons you will feel more in control and make sure you are staying on track.
If your kid has a text book from school, all you have to do is count the number of pages left and divide it by the number of weeks until the school year is done. My son doesn’t have any text books at home, so we are using a 5th grade workbook I had around the house.
For history, English and science we are following Layers of Learning year 1. We had started this previously, so we’re picking up where we left off, Unit 4, Ancient Greece.
During COVID-19 Khan Academy is offering free daily schedules for kids ages 4-18. While I have not used them in the past, I’ve heard great things about their programs from my other homeschool mom friends and plan to check it out myself.
My favorite curriculum that I use and highly recommend is Layers of Learning. It covers starts with a theme and carries it through history, geography, science and the arts. The curriculum is divided into four years (1-ancient, 2-medieval, 3-colonial, 4-modern), and each year is divided into 20 chapters. It is written so that you can tailor the activities based on your child’s age or skill level. The arts ties in directly with the history lesson, so if you are reading about ancient Egypt the arts section would cover Egyptian drawing styles and craft projects for creating pottery. The science covers biology, physics, earth science and chemistry. There are also lots of writing assignments and lessons on poetry, fairy tales and research projects that my kids found interesting. You can buy each chapter for $15 or the entire year for $270, but check their website directly.
If you are more of a workbook person, Brain Quest makes a giant workbook for each grade that covers spelling and vocabulary, language arts, reading and writing, math skills and word problems, social studies and science. I use them more in the summer to supplement learning, but they will give a very basic overview of common core lessons. They also make a series of deck cards that we use on long car trips (long quarantine days) that keep the kids entertained and engaged.
I use a lot of workbooks. I especially like Kumon for the lower grades. For math facts, the website Xtramath is good for doing math drills on addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. It’s only about 10 minutes a day, but good practice. If you Google free math worksheets you will get a ton of them to use. Flash cards are also useful.
Websites and TV Shows for kids Pre-K – 8th grade
Starfall.com – designed for kids pre-k – 3rd grade. They teach reading, phonics, math and have a huge library of fun educational games and stories. There are free games and to unlock everything there is an annual fee of $35
PBS has a lot of good educational shows like Sesame Street, Dinosaur Train, Sid the Science Kid, Super Why and Word Girl. They also have a website with videos and games: PBSKids.org
Animals are fun at any age. Check out National Geographic Kids for videos and games.
Brain Pop is a great video website that gives animated videos about lots of different subjects including science, social studies, English, math, art, engineering and health. They also have a website for younger kids called Brain Pop Jr.
Want to learn a new language? Check out Duolingo. They also have an app designed for kids.
Hang in there new homeschooling parent! We will all get through this together. Remember to take a deep breath and do the best you can. It’s only for a few weeks. And then it’s back to regular school.
P.S. – If you would like to get a copy of my Mom’s Choice Award winning book, “Mind Your Manners Minnie Monster” please email me at Lisa@sheslosingit.com. The cost is $8.95 + shipping.
Other Books by Lisa Traugott
Lisa Traugott is a personal trainer, Mom’s Choice Award writer, original cast member of FOX/John Cena’s “American Grit” and has a monthly fitness column on Bowflex.com. She won Ms. Costa Rica Sports Model 2017 and her transformation story was featured in Muscle & Fitness Hers, Good Day Austin, Great Day Houston and Austin Woman Magazine. She blogs at ShesLosingIt.com and is passionate about her clients.
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