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Homeschooling veterans offer panicked rookies some sage advice

Last Updated Apr 3, 2020 at 8:03 am EST

File photo: An elementary school student does her homework (FILE/EPA/NOEMI BRUZAK)

With Ontario schools closed until at least May 4, many parents have suddenly found themselves taking on a new, and at times remarkably ill-suited role — teacher.

Twitter is packed with amusing tweets (embedded throughout this story) from overwhelmed parents sharing humorous slices of their homeschooling fails and frustrations.

Many have also developed a new, profound respect for teachers.

To help fish-out-of-water parents navigate this new, daunting reality, the province has launched its Learn at Home web portal. Education Minister Stephen Lecce has also announced expanded e-learning options.

But there’s no website or politician that can beat the wisdom that comes from years of experience.

That’s why we reached out to some homeschooling veterans and asked them to show the rookies the ropes.

Members of the Facebook group Homeschooling Parents Ontario, graciously offered their advice.

Christy Knockleby, homeschooling her three kids for about 10 years: 

“My children are 15, 12, and 9 years old. The advice I give first is not to panic about schoolwork right to begin with. If you can, start with just one or two subjects a day and slowly increase the amount … rather than attempt to do everything right at once. It is perfectly okay for schoolwork to not take the whole day. Ensure there’s time in everyone’s day for relaxation, art, and play.

You don’t need to recreate school at home. Homeschooling can look different. If you’re jumping into homeschooling midway through the year, don’t worry about curriculum much. Play math games. Read. Practice writing stories and essays. Do crafts. Start developing routines and habits, but don’t worry about exactly what needs to be learned in which year.”

Ashley Coon, homeschooling for four years:

“I have had a few parents on my friends’ list posting about not knowing what to work on with their kids while they are at home. Honestly, I wouldn’t worry too much about academics at this time. Use it to be together as a family. Teach compassion, kindness and understanding. Writing a letter to a friend/family member is language/writing. Helping bake cookies is math. Even just discussing how everyday things work is a great way to teach science (and an amazing way to see inside our kids minds! Example: Ask them “how does the lamp work?” And then keeping prying into the answer).

If you want to do some more structured type learning I would recommend unit studies. You can ask your child what they are interested in and go from there. For example; Rebecca said she was interested in the Titanic. We looked up YouTube videos, articles, everything we could find about it. Then I had her research and do a small report on it (reading/writing). She looked at where it launched and where the shipwreck was found (geography), how much a ticket would cost in current-day dollars (math) and learned about how boats float (science).

Christine Lane from Mississauga has been homeschooling her six-year-old “from the beginning”:

“We are currently finishing off the Grade 1 curriculum. I would say the biggest takeaway I have learned, is that “teaching” can happen at any time, and anywhere. We only spend about two hours a day on actual “work.” Some days it’s less. It’s all dependent on how he’s feeling. We do alot of hands-on learning.

Even now as we are headed out for a walk, I will use the opportunity to talk about the season of spring. We will take pictures, collect data and bring it home to examine. And voila… you have science!! Don’t stress it, expect that you will have good days, and ones that are less than ideal. There are a lot of resources out there, and many are free at this time. Take advantage.”

Sarah Wall, homeschooling for 14 years and writes about it at Raisingroyalty.ca:

“Best advice is to not expect “school” to take the same amount of time it did in public school. When you only have one or two, maybe three kids at home, school work doesn’t take near as long.

So if you’re thinking math should take 45 minutes, and your eight-year-old is done in 15, don’t feel like you’ve done too little. You haven’t. That’s just how long math takes when you don’t have to wait on a classroom pace.

Also, playing is the best form of learning.”

Kristen Epstein from Port Hope has always homeschooled her four kids, the oldest of which is seven:

“We don’t follow a specific curriculum. Instead the kids pick topics they are most interested in and we use that as our jumping off point for the next two to three weeks. We consider them “unit studies.”

Kids are going to learn best when they are engaged in the topic and are interested in what they are learning about. That is why we do unit studies and we don’t follow worksheets or books. My kids always surprise me on how much they can learn and want to learn when it’s an interesting topic to them. If learning is a struggle, it’s a clear sign that the approach isn’t working. Kids are natural learners.”

Linn Zee from Kingston has been homeschooling for four years

“One thing I point out to parents thrust into “crisis” schooling is that when children are removed from public school in order to homeschool, there’s a very common practice called “deschooling” that takes place. Deschooling is a time of peace and low requirements on the child to allow them to adjust to their new normal, recover from the stressors of school, and rediscover their love of learning in their new environment.

Usually the recommendation is one month of deschooling per year spent in the public system. It is not at all recommended to remove a child from school and start homeschooling a week later. You’re just asking for resistance and a difficult transition for everyone involved.

So maybe you don’t feel like you can give your 7th grader seven months off, and that’s fair if you’re not switching permanently to homeschooling, but keep it in the back of your mind that your child is being asked to completely change schooling methods without any transition time, so go easy on them and yourself.”