We’re all home-schoolers now

Katie Andrews, a senior at Kansas State University and student teacher, helps her brother Philip with an assignment. LEAVEN PHOTO BY LORI WOOD HABIGER

by Moira Cullings
moira.cullings@theleaven.org

On March 17, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly ordered schools in the state of Kansas to close for the remainder of the school year to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Suddenly, parents became their children’s primary in-person teachers.

“There’s so many parents that are dead scared right now because all of a sudden they feel like they are completely responsible for their child’s education,” said Janet Harkins, a parishioner at Queen of the Holy Rosary in Overland Park. “And that’s not true.

“I think once the school district has the programs that they’re going to be using figured out and they start to distribute it to the parents, there’s going to be some people taking some very deep breaths.”

The Department of Education is working on an education plan for students for the rest of the 2019-20 school year, and schools and teachers are continually sending families online resources.

But many parents are still overwhelmed by the sudden new responsibility they have in ensuring their children’s remote learning.

Holy Trinity, Lenexa, parishioner Suzanne Andrews, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, Westwood, parishioner Maria Klassen, and Harkins — all moms who home school — shared with The Leaven their advice to help parents get through the remaining school year in one piece.

Advice for happy home schooling

• Don’t panic

“First, take a deep breath,” said Andrews, who has home-schooled for 15 years. “It’s not as awful as it sounds. And then, remember the things that are most important. Try to keep your kid on top of things like math and faith — that’s the most important.”

Sebastian Harkins, left, and his brother Isaac sit side-by-side while they work. For many parents who home school, the typical school day brings opportuni- ties for siblings to grow closer and for parents to understand how their children learn best.

• The schools’ resources are enough

“My biggest piece of advice is to remember that whatever [resources] get sent out [by the schools] is enough,” said Harkins, who has home-schooled for five-and-a-half years. “Don’t make your kid do extra.

“They’re suddenly going to be given a whole lot more free time that they haven’t had before, so let them explore. Let them be kids.”

• Utilize unconventional learning

“We have full days sometimes that we devote to that,” said Andrews. “We call it life skills, [and it includes] how to properly clean a bathroom, laundry, sewing, knitting, embroidery and cooking.”

“Remember that baking cookies is learning, cooking dinner is learning, fixing the tire in the car and the honey-do list that every family has is full of opportunities for kids to learn,” said Harkins.

“Whether it’s practical activities that they’re going to need to know later in life or turning baking cookies into math class with fractions, it’s all learning,” she added.

Gabe Andrews helps his mom Suzanne make lunch. Unconventional learning is a form many home school parents use. LEAVEN PHOTO BY LORI WOOD HABIGER

• Take advantage of technology

“Even though we’re all hunkering down, FaceTime friends,” said Harkins. “Set up play dates over the internet. We need the social interaction.”

“There are a lot of educational videos, especially on different science topics,” said Andrews. “All of this stuff is available to watch online [through] YouTube videos. Some of the resources that do charge are now opening up free trials for parents who are finding themselves in this situation.”

• Share your own interests with your kids and make memories

“If you ever had a hobby that you enjoyed, now’s the time to show it to your kids,” said Harkins. “If there’s a book series that you love, sit down and have your child read that book series to you.”

“Those kinds of things that are really enriching and beautiful [to you are important to share], especially right now thinking about what’s going on currently and all the unknowns,” said Klassen, who is in her second year of home schooling.

“I really want my children to have memories of this time that were beautiful and joyful.”

• Give your kids time to read

“My kids read so much because they have so much time at home,” said Klassen. “It’s become a culture of reading in our house. That is probably the richest part of their home schooling is they have access to a lot of books.”

Gabe Andrews reads a book during a school day at home. LEAVEN PHOTO BY LORI WOOD HABIGER

• Don’t put pressure on yourself

“God gives you what you need, and he gives you what your children need,” said Klassen. “Don’t feel it’s not enough. Just do the best you can, and your children will benefit from it.”

• Establish time for yourself each day, and don’t forget to pray

“That’s really important for peace of mind and to be able to stay steady on a day-to-day basis — to know that you have that time to rest and to pray,” said Klassen.

“Be praying for your kids and for the patience to deal with your kids,” said Andrews. “The only reason I can do this is because I take that time every morning for myself and to pray about it.”

• Make the most of extra family time

“Bring back dinner around the family table,” said Harkins. “Bring back all those things that fell by the wayside because everybody’s so busy.

“Remember that there’s ways to bring in all sorts of subjects just in topics of conversation. Even dinner table conversations can be learning experiences.”

Janet Harkins works with her son Dominic on math. Harkins has home-schooled her four sons for five- and-a-half years and says it’s an opportunity to share your hobbies and interests with your children.

• Don’t be afraid to ask for help

“Reach out to other parents who either have experience [home schooling] or who are going through the same thing you are, even if it’s just by text message,” said Andrews. “And encourage each other. It’s hard being isolated.”

Tips for parents of multiple children

• Ask your older children to help your younger ones

“It keeps them sharp on their basics and it frees you up if there’s another child who needs attention right in that moment,” said Andrews.

• Schedule time to work with your kids individually

“Staggering their independent work and their one-on-one work with the parent usually helps, too,” said Andrews. “That’s a good time to insert an educational video so you’re occupying somebody else while you’re working with another kid.”

•  Remain calm and confident

“If you feel less than confident, your kids are going to pick up on that,” said Harkins. “Be calm, whether you feel calm or not.”

Two Harkins boys work side by side on the computer. Many parents who home school utilize technology to help their children learn.

A (not so) typical school day

Home schooling allows for a flexible learning schedule with more time for play, sleep and other activities. It’s also an opportunity for you to get to know how your children learn best.

Here’s what a typical day of remote learning might look like for your family.

1. Wake up after getting plenty of sleep (for many home-school families this means 9 a.m.).

2. Eat breakfast and start the day off with a family prayer.

3. With younger kids, start with hands-on learning and devote your attention to helping them. If you have multiple young ones — depending on their age gap and the curriculum and resources the schools give you — you can teach them together or one at a time. Older kids are much more independent and can work and study on their own.

4. Take a break for lunch and allow your kids time to play. Finish up any schoolwork during the afternoon.

With a typical home-school schedule, curriculum for an 8-year-old would only take about two hours of a school day. Children younger than that would be done in even less time.

So, don’t be surprised if by the early afternoon your young kids are done with their learning or have no more attention left to give to it.

Older kids will have more work to do, but they should still be able to complete their studies by or before the time they would normally get out of school.

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