Never in my life did I envision homeschooling my children. Nope, no way, never gonna happen. But then along came a pandemic. My twins were in their last year of preschool when we suddenly shifted to virtual learning via Seesaw. Their amazing teacher did all she could to keep them engaged, creating a makeshift classroom where she’d conduct her morning meetings for us to watch at home. She arranged group calls for the kids to see one another. But just like that, my kids began complaining about school for the first time ever. They were frustrated to be on mute (which is essential with a group of 4 and 5-year-olds), and they simply didn’t like school in this new way. Because it was preschool and not something they were getting actual grades for, we felt like we could do some of the activities but skip others when kids got frustrated about the Seesaw platform, etc. During their class calls, we had the added challenge of kids needing to be far enough apart from one another to avoid reverberation, but I needed to be near each of them for technical assistance. I could tell their teacher had to be putting in so much extra time to transition to this new approach, but it just wasn’t working for my kids.
We spent the summer, like everyone else, wondering what the upcoming school year would look like. We knew virtual school was not an option for us, not if we wanted our kids to actually enjoy school. We hated the idea of our kids beginning elementary school staring at a screen all day, and the thought of trying to keep my kids on task for virtual school while tiptoeing around them to do stuff around the house…well, that sounded miserable for all.
We were very serious in our Covid-19 precautions, and our kids didn’t go anywhere except a necessary doctor’s appointment and my parents’ backyard. The idea of sending them to school in person was terrifying. Plus, they didn’t seem to be handling masks very well, and I couldn’t picture them wearing them all day. Our last option? Homeschooling.
This option created feelings of relief AND anxiety for me. Okay, we have a plan…sort of. But wait, there’s this one tiny problem: I’m not a teacher! I wouldn’t be happy if my kids’ teachers didn’t have degrees in education, but somehow I have the audacity to think I’M qualified to teach them?
I researched programs and joined homeschooling Facebook groups. I got advice from veteran homeschool moms, and I enlisted feedback about various curriculum options. I landed on a program called The Good and the Beautiful, which mostly appealed to me because it was very straightforward. Open the book and do what’s on the page. No lesson plans needed! As I knew homeschooling was only a temporary plan, I didn’t want to make it more complicated than necessary. We got the language arts, handwriting, and math courses and supplemented with things like Reading Eggs/Math Seeds, which we’d been using with the boys for a couple years (this program is great and kids enjoy it). We incorporated science and social studies through things like Mystery Science program (we did this via a promotion for a free subscription but would absolutely pay for a subscription for this one). As the year progressed, we used Khan Academy for some lessons. At the beginning of the year, I printed out the school system’s curriculum expectations for their grade to make sure we covered everything required to successfully transition to in-person school.
I focused on most subjects, but my husband handled math. (I’m the word girl; he’s the numbers guy.) We spent about three hours a day on school lessons, and then we’d do art projects, read, maybe watch an educational show like Tiny World or Secrets of the Zoo. I checked out a lot of library books, and reading was definitely my main focus. It was fun for me to find books that focused on things I wanted them to learn about, topics I knew they would enjoy, and ones that were just right for their reading level. I also found it was actually quite useful for me to teach their language arts lessons, because I sure didn’t remember some of the reading rules. Now I can nudge them if they struggle with a word by saying things like, “That’s a bossy silent E. Remember what its job is?”
Homeschooling gave me the opportunity to really grasp my kids’ strengths and challenges. I don’t think I’d have the same awareness of these things if I weren’t the one teaching them. I might not know how tricky it is for them to remember when C makes a hard or soft sound. I might not realize they needed help distinguishing between a lowercase b or d when writing. I now feel like I understand how they learn best and what approaches are most effective for each of them.
I recognize homeschooling is not an option for everyone. I know I am so fortunate that this worked for our family. I wasn’t also trying to work from home, and the mere thought of balancing work with homeschooling or virtual schooling sounds impossible to me. I also don’t think this would’ve worked as well if I had older kids. Kindergarten felt manageable, but I’m pretty sure I would fail miserably at teaching my kids beyond that; my stomach hurts just thinking about all this new math that apparently awaits us. And I had the added benefit of having kids in the same grade. I truly don’t know how parents juggle more than one grade!
Homeschooling provided our family with a more peaceful school experience during a tumultuous year, and I can honestly say my kids enjoyed kindergarten. That said, I’ve turned in my resignation and will not be teaching them for first grade. I’m excited for them to attend school in person, in separate classes (that part makes me a tad nervous, but I think it’s for the best), and I look forward to hearing about their school days when they come home.
This experience has made me more appreciative of teachers than ever before – and I always thought they were awesome. When I struggled to keep two kids on task, I wondered how someone keeps 20 kids focused. When one person finished an assignment and was fidgety, I thought about a class full of wiggly kindergartners.
For those of you who are long-term homeschoolers, hats off to you. I don’t know how you do it, but I know you work really hard. For all teachers, I pray this year is wonderful and somehow makes up for the challenges of last year. And I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for dedicating your lives to teaching our children. You are heroes in so many ways.
P.S. I know homeschooling during a typical year would have looked different than the version we embraced. It would’ve involved outings to the zoo and parks, meeting up with other homeschool families, or even joining a co-op. We chose this option to keep our family distanced from others, so our approach was different.