Life is full of unexpected happenings, and those keep coming even when you’re homeschooling. Chronic illnesses, pregnancy and other maladies can make it hard to to keep up with even the most basic of tasks. The good news is that it is possible to successfully homeschool your children even in these challenging times.
Here’s ten ways to make it easier during these times:
- Use DVD’s. This is a great time to pop in those free episodes of the History Channel’s Story of Us or fill up the Netflix queue with educational DVD’s. Even public libraries generally have many educational options for all ages and all subjects. For younger kids, look for fun shows like The Magic School Bus. Older kids may enjoy IMAX films and documentaries. Netflix carries a wonderful reality TV series from the BBC called Rough Science that gives a team of scientists in remote locations challenges that they must solve with few tools and science know-how.
- Pile on the books. You can browse for books online and order them through interlibrary loan in Minnesota, then arrange for a loved one to pick up your stack. Older kids can do more independent reading right now, both fiction and nonfiction. With younger kids, you can pile them on the couch or in the bed with you and read together.
- Let technological toys and computers help out. There are so many fun educational programs for iPods, Nintendos and such these days, not to mention toys like Turbo Twist for spelling and math. Have the kids do 20 minutes of “Stack the States” on your iPod to get some geography in and then answer so many questions with the iLiveMath Speed app (it’ll even email you a report on how many they got right!). You can find ten of our favorite free educational apps here. There are also hundreds of free educational programs online, from videos to explain algebra to games to improve spelling. See the links at the end of this article for some of our favorites.
- Talk. Never underestimate how much children learn from simple conversations! Talk about what’s going on around the world, family stories that elderly relatives have passed on about life in the early 1900’s, financial lessons you learned the hard way, the differences between mammals and reptiles, anything. Let kids take the lead and just see where the conversation goes.
- Turn on the TV. While none of us want our kids to be glued to the television 24 hours a day, there are some really good programs out there that teach a lot of things and give parents a chance to rest. PBS has wonderful shows like Cyber Chase to teach science and math concepts in a fun way, while channels like Nickelodeon have some good educational programs for younger kids. For older kids, shows like MythBusters offer great science lessons in fun ways. The History Channel, the Discovery Channel and PBS offer many good shows in the evenings as well.
- Encourage nature studies. One of the advantages of having to stay home and take it easy is having more time for nature-based activities. Set up a bird watching area where the kids can watch birds from inside (kids can get a free bird watching kit and submit data online here). Give them time to explore outside. Provide seeds for an indoor or outdoor garden. Head to the back yard with little ones and let them just dig, pour, search, study, climb and otherwise enjoy the outdoors while you rest nearby. Have kids gather natural items for an ever-changing nature table to examine, take apart and experiment with. Items can include seed pods, interesting rocks, flowers, dried plants, and even dead insects like beetles and butterflies. Time outside can be especially beneficial during these times, since it helps keep kids active and provides the fresh air and sunshine that helps parents and kids alike.
- Give kids time to follow their interests and talents. This is a perfect time for kids to have the freedom to immerse themselves in the subjects that fascinate them and to hone their unique skills. Whether it’s a fascination with dragons or a love of photography, these interests will lead to all sorts of organic learning.
- Set up science and art stations. Keep a rotating basket of fun science supplies for kids to explore, such as magnifying glasses, natural items, pH strips, easy science experiment books, magnets, crystals and so on. Let older kids know what’s okay in terms of science exploration (such as pouring small amounts of kitchen liquids like lemon juice for testing with pH strips) and encourage them to explore the materials. See Great science stations for young kids for science station ideas for younger kids. Likewise, set up an art box of items from the recycling bin, artistic odds and ends, different types of papers and so on. Encourage kids to be creative in setting up their own projects and be sure to switch it up with different fun things added each day.
- Let life be the lesson. While it can feel frustrating to abandon lesson plans and homeschool goals, don’t discount all that kids learn during these times. Children can learn many life skills by helping out when parents are sick, such as how to cook simple dishes and working the washing machine. When Mom is on bedrest or dealing with a tough pregnancy, they learn all about fetal development, prenatal nutrition, preparing for babies and more. When a parent is dealing with a serious illness, they learn about the immune system, conventional and natural remedies and so on. All of these can give kids invaluable knowledge to prepare for their own futures, not to mention priceless time with loved ones and the ability to feel helpful during tough times.
- Focus on joy. Some things are more important than algebra and proper nouns. Times of illness, pregnancy and unease are hard on children. They can feel just as worried, stressed and anxious as adults, and often have fewer outlets for those tough emotions. This is the time for extra hugs, snuggling, silliness, humor and sensitivity. Let kids know you appreciate the extra help they’re giving and the sacrifices they’re making. Make jokes, write them lists of reasons you love them, play games, ask questions, buy treats and otherwise pamper them and yourself during this tumultuous time. All of this will help turn a tough time into one with more blessings than you might have expected.
It’s good to remember that homeschooling is one of the best gifts you can give your children during these times. One mother who successfully battled breast cancer while her child was young told me that she was very grateful to have homeschooled during that time. She described rough days when she would stay in bed with her son and a pile of books and just spend the day talking, snuggling and reading. Since both of them were scared and sad during that time period, she was grateful that they weren’t separated by the artificial life of the classroom all day. Her son didn’t have to soldier through phonics and math lessons while worried about his mom, and she was able to focus on giving him quality time (albeit in a different form than they were used to) when he really needed it.
Likewise, it’s okay to ask for help if you’re not up to doing it all yourself. Lean on friends and relatives. Arrange for kids to spend time with other fun people in their lives. Do what feels right to you for your own health and family.
Remember, this is just a season and it’s okay for life — and homeschooling — to be very different than usual during this time. One of the best things about homeschooling is that it is so adaptable and kids learn so well even in such different environments. The easier you make everything on yourself during this time, the sooner you can get back to those other parts of homeschooling.
Looking for free child-led resources online and off? Here’s some that have been featured in this column:< /p>
- WatchKnow offers thousands of free educational videos
- Ten sites for fun, free summer math practice
- History Channel’s Story of Us offered free to homeschoolers
- Way past worksheets: Website offers free educational games, projects and more
- Free online learning games for every subject
- Free astronomy class offered online
- Free science DVD’s for educators
- Free 2 year subscription to LEGO Magazine!
- Khan Academy offers free science and math curricula online
- Download free Nature Connection worksheets for kids!
- Free Ink and Fairy Dust magazine focuses on Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Free DVD’s on Washington, flight and more!
- Free science magazines for middle schoolers!
- Web site provides links to hundreds of free lessons
- Free 6 foot president timeline poster from C-span!
- Mosaic offers a free comprehensive world history curriculum
- Online games teach kids about conservation, the environment and more
- Subscribe to a free physics magazine!
- Freely Educate shares free teaching materials daily
For additional support online, see:
- Preschool projects to science fun: Five great educational groups on Facebook
- Five more great homeschooling groups on Facebook
- New secular group started for Minnesota homeschoolers
- Homeschooling 101: What homeschool groups are in Minnesota?
- Homeschool 101: Email groups for Minnesota homeschoolers
- Homeschool 101: What Facebook groups are about homeschooling for Minnesotans?