Unexpectedly Homeschooling? How to Stay Sane When Your Kids are Home 24/7

From next Monday morning, millions of families will find themselves thrust unexpectedly into the world of home education. Many will be sent home with home learning packs, prescribed online work, timetables and online support from teachers. Some will be very structured, others less so. Some parents will still need to work from home whilst supporting their children’s education, others will have more time to spend with them. I suspect the common theme right now, however, is a feeling of being overwhelmed. Questions such as, “How can I do it all?” “How can I help my child with their work?” “How can I manage with them at home for all that time?” are surely whizzing through the minds of most parents.

When we were making the decision to homeschool four years ago, I remember distinctly that feeling of being overwhelmed – half excited, half terrified – but in a permanent state of worry about whether I could fulfil all of their needs outside of the normal education system. Be reassured dear reader though that once we’d settled into a rhythm, which for us took only a matter of weeks, we never looked back, and now I wouldn’t change our homeschool lifestyle for the world.

Nevertheless, usually we are free to explore the world as we see fit and not isolated at home. But, having set up our home as an environment of learning and with the great outdoors still open for us to roam, I can honestly say that I’m secretly looking forward to this period of enforced home time. No dance classes, hockey meets, rehearsals, cricket practice, or Cubs to ferry them out to, feels, as wonderful as all of these sessions are individually, a little like heaven to me! We’ll have time to read all those books I’ve been desperate to get to, hike more, play games together, go for more bike rides, get out the kayaks, bake, play, sort out the garden and make nature journals. In essence, we’ll have time to connect with our children like never before. What an amazing opportunity!

I appreciate though that those not used to being with their children 24/7, especially if they’re trying to manage their own workload at the same time, will find this a challenge initially. I promise though that it will get easier as you settle into a rhythm. Below are some ideas of how to help you stay sane during this period.

Routines

Some children will have a designated time when they’re supposed to log on and work through their planned timetable, set by the school. Even if this is not the case however, I would recommend sticking to some sort of routine, although it absolutely does not need to be the traditional 9-3pm. We’re all early birds in this house and so we’ve normally dressed, breakfasted and started our work by 8am, allowing us to finish earlier. By the end of the week though, we’re significantly more tired, and so a later start time suits us better. Many home ed teens prefer to sleep in during the morning, start their work after lunch and work into the early evening to best meet their changing body clock needs.

Be prepared to be flexible with the routine in those first few weeks as you settle into life together and adapt it to suit what works best for your family. Involve your children in the conversation – discuss with them what they need to achieve in the day and ask them what routine they’d prefer. The more control they have, the more engaged they’ll be.

Be aware that some days will go really well, and you’ll feel on top of the world, and yet others will feel like nothing is going right and you’ll want to throw your hands up in despair! Enjoy the former and write off the latter. Those types of days happen, it’s OK, your children will not get behind, trust me. Just stop the work, go and do something fun together and come back to it later/another day.

At the start of last year, we took the children on a three-month trip around the world and during this time, we did very little formal academic work. When I say very little, I mean maybe 30 mins of maths three times a week and reading with their kindles. And yet, once we’d returned to more formal style of work, I discovered they’d made huge strides in their academic ability, even in topics like grammar, spelling and punctuation – areas we’d not touched once in their time away. The break was clearly an important part of the learning process; it allowed time for their brains to mature and assimilate all the work they’d completed before their trip. So please don’t panic.

And finally, it’s essential to remember that at home, there will be no time wasted in managing the logistics of having so many children in school at the same time, meaning the number of hours of learning you’ll need to do is significantly less than the school day. I’ve read many reports on this, some with figures as low as 50 minutes of focused work time for children in a whole day at school, once you take out all the extraneous non-learning time, whilst others put it at around 2-2.5 hours. Anything extra is a bonus. To be honest, I’d try to start with a planned work time of around 3-4 hours depending on their age. You’ll probably find they’ll do much more as time progresses, as they get used to learning from home.

They could complete this before lunchtime for example, and afterwards, spend some time outside in the garden playing or nature journalling, on a walk or bike ride with you. Once they’re back inside in the late afternoon, this could be followed by reading, games, sewing, practising their instrument, baking, helping you with dinner, playing or doing art or engineering type projects whilst listening to audiobooks or music. You’ll soon find there isn’t enough time to finish everything you want to do by the end of the day. But that’s OK, because time is something we have!

An Example Schedule

Some schools have been very directive about the schedule, but if yours has been more relaxed with the timetable, the following might be a helpful daily routine:

  1. Morning Basket (about 1 hour). This is really about starting the day with joy, beauty and pleasure, in the form of prayers, singing, great literature & poetry, art & music appreciation, languages and really anything else that you love doing (see this post for more information). This is undoubtedly the favourite part of our day. To start this off, you could:
  • Each say a prayer/come up with a list of things you feel grateful for in the world (5mins)
  • Sing a song together. We do a hymn, but you could learn and sing any song. I promise it will make you feel good! (5mins)
  • Poetry/Shakespeare section – if you’re interested in Shakespeare, you should definitely invest in a copy of How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig (it’s one of our go to resources). It takes key passages from a range of plays, explains their meaning in simple English and teaches some of the key literary techniques used by Shakespeare. The children then memorise the passages and act them out. Once you have the book, it’s super simple to deliver (literally pick up and go) and great fun. If your child prefers poetry, then just use this time to read some of your favourites, discuss them together and memorise. (15mins)
  • Language – We do one track of our Michel Thomas Spanish CD course each morning but this, whilst excellent, is quite an investment. You could just learn some vocabulary together of a language you’re currently learning/would like to learn, using for example a book like this: 52 Weeks of Family Spanish. Or you could play a language game together such as KLOO (we have the Spanish version, but there’s also a French and Italian version). (10mins)
  • Literature – You could choose to read any fiction or non-fiction read-aloud book here. Or you could select a topic of interest to them, such as the Victorians, rainforests or even epidemiology if you want to be topical, and find some supporting literature to read aloud or play it on Audible if you want to give yourself more time. (15mins or more…)
  • Art/Music Appreciation – We’re currently following the free Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool’s drawing and painting curriculum online, whilst at the same time listening to classical music (we’re using the pieces we’ve studied with this SQUILT programme, but you could chose any piece). Or you could just listen to current music that you enjoy or more of that audiobook!
  • Essential Maths and English Academics (1-1.5hours) – Undoubtedly, this will have been set by your school, but if you want more help, I’ve written a post about what we do for English and for Maths.
  • Project Work (30mins-1hour) – Ask your child to select a topic they’re interested in studying and use this time for them to read related books (or listen to audiobooks), watch documentaries, write up notes, do some related art, memorise key facts or dates, or create a lapbook (see this post). Move topics when they feel they’ve researched it sufficiently.

For example, if they decided to study WW2, they might like to

  • Watch Wartime Farm, a brilliant documentary about how farms would have been run/used in the War (you can find episodes on You Tube)
  • Read supporting fiction, such as When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (Judith Kerr) or Friend or Foe (Michael Morpurgo), and non-fiction, such as Who Was Winston Churchill (Ellen Labrecque), Children in World War II (Sarah Ridley) or My Secret War Diary (Marcia Williams). There are literally hundreds of great titles.
  • Make a timeline of the key events leading up to and throughout the war
  • Draw some pictures of the different uniforms of the allies vs. the axis or do this sticker book
  • Research a particular aspect, such as the Battle of Britain, Alan Turing’s work to crack the Enigma Code or the Make Do and Mend and Grow Your Own campaigns, which are particularly pertinent now given the lack of food on the supermarket shelves! Write these up.
  • Write a story or poem from the perspective of a child living in London through the Blitz or their evacuation experience to the countryside.
  • Reading (30mins) – Encourage them to select a slightly more advanced novel, poetry book or non-fiction selection to read during this time, in addition to their normal reading book. For example, Bean10 is currently finishing up Little Women as her “stretch novel”, but when she’s tired, she’s dipping into Mrs Piggle-Wiggle and the Beano for a bit of light reading.

Intersperse Quiet, Still Periods with Bursts of Movement

This is so very important. Children need to move; those little bottoms need to wiggle! It’s a natural state for them. If you ever watch children unschooling (where children follow their own interests and set their own learning agenda), they will tend to move from quiet, concentrated periods of work to active, physical bursts and then back to the quiet again. And so, the cycle continues. If you opt for a bit of structure, it’s essential to make sure they get sufficient time to move between work periods.

My children are older and so used to longer stretches of work, but even they need to move every hour (and more for Bean9), be this a run around the garden, a bounce on the trampoline, climbing a tree, throwing a ball around the living room, running around the house playing hide and seek, bowling a cricket ball down the hallway (a favourite of Bean9’s), skipping or playing football on the lawn. It doesn’t have to be long, but these short bursts of movement are essential. Furthermore, even within their work periods, they’ll need to move. So, let them lounge upside down on the sofa or bounce a ball whilst you read to them. It’ll make your life easier in the long run.

Three times a week, we start our day with a 1km run along the pavement outside our house – 500m in one direction and back again. They were a little reticent the first time we did it, but now they absolutely love it and it sets us all up for the rest of the morning.

Outside Time

I appreciate this is especially hard for those without gardens or in towns and cities, but where possible, please get the children outside as much as is physically possible within the current restrictions. We’re lucky to be based in the countryside and so have daily walks, runs or bike rides in the fresh air, or I throw the children into the garden for them to play for an hour or two. This is probably the most important factor in retaining positive mental health for you and your children and probably warrants its own post. You’ll notice the difference if either you or they don’t get enough outside time. Make it a priority above everything else.

Workspaces

You absolutely don’t need a dedicated room for homeschooling but finding areas in your house for the following activities is a good idea.

They’ll need a space to:

  1. Write – be this on their own desks or at the kitchen table, and ideally with their workbooks stored nearby.
  2. Do arts, crafts and science type projects (a place where it’s OK to be messy!) – again this could be at the kitchen table or a corner of a room, with the materials laid out or stored somewhere easily accessible.
  3. Snuggle down and read, with bookshelves/book baskets to store the many books you’ll end up getting!
  4. Play board games.
  5. Listen to audiobooks (either whilst lazing on a sofa or drawing/ colouring as they get whisked away to another world).
  6. Watch documentaries.
  7. And last but by no means least, a space for imaginative play.

This could all be in the same room or spread across the house. See this post for more information about what these workspaces look like in our house.

Allocate a Do Not Disturb Mummy or Daddy Time/s!

I love my children and I love homeschooling them, but I’m an introvert and sometimes I crave alone time. We have set times throughout the day (lunchtime is one of them for me) where I tell the children that I need to have some “Mummy time” and they are not to disturb me. Even if you’re not an introvert, after a while, you’ll need this time where no-one asks you questions or requires something from you. It doesn’t need to be long, but it is essential. Go in a different room from them and read a book, do some pilates, listen to music, call a friend or whatever else fills your cup. And do not feel guilty about it, it’ll make you a better parent! Factor this into your routine and discuss the rules around it (for us this is just not interrupting Mummy during this time unless you’re dying!) with your children up front.

Remember You Don’t Have to Know It All!

Like your children’s teachers, we’re all human and we don’t have all the answers. It is absolutely OK not to know the answer to every question children throw at you. In fact, it’s a fantastic opportunity to show them that you don’t need to know everything, but that there’s always a way to figure out the answer, be that through books, research on the internet or asking a friend or other knowledgeable adult or child. Learning alongside my children has been one of the best unanticipated side effects of homeschooling them.

Healthy Snacks Throughout the Day

If your children are anything like my son, they will need to snack throughout the day. You’re very likely to get fed up with the question, “I’m hungry, what can I eat?” So, it’s worth agreeing some ground rules with them up front. In our house, we have an agreed list of healthy snacks (trust me, you’ll pay the price for sugary treats!) that they’re allowed to snack on without my consent as long as it’s not too close to either lunch or dinner. We also have the rule that they must have a drink first (they’re not great at drinking enough) and to self-check that they’re genuinely hungry rather than just boredom eating!

Document Their Leaning Journey

It’s easy to be worried that you haven’t done enough. One of the best ways to counteract this is to document their learning in some way, either by taking photographs or writing a diary. And don’t just include the academics either but everything they’ve learned through daily life, such as the conversations where you’ve had the time to explain something, the exciting things they’ve found in the garden (my two have just come to show me the “most enormous newt” from the pond), or the time when they’ve realised they’ve done something wrong to their sister and said sorry without being asked. This type of learning is just as, if not more, important than anything learned through books.

The documentation doesn’t have to be fancy or take a long time to do (my diary takes me literally 10 minutes at the end of each day), but it’ll mean that you take notice of all the little moments of learning throughout the day, and when you pull it together, you’ll be surprised at just how much you’ve covered.

And remember, you are enough, you’re going to be great at this. There will be rocky times, but I promise you’ll come out the other side and look back fondly on this time, with a stronger relationship with your children to boot. Enjoy!

If you’d like any more detailed information on how we homeschool, I’ve written a series of posts on what we do by subject and how it all ties together into a homeschool schedule, along with a day in the life of post. Here are those links, hope they help:

English

Maths & Sports (although some of the sports aspects won’t be relevant during this period)

The Arts & Languages

Science & Humanities

Our Homeschool Schedule

A Homeschool Day in the Life Of


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