We asked a home-schooling pro for tips for parents who have been suddenly forced to teach full time.
Katie Boyle has run an outdoor educational program in Oxford, Mississippi, for pre-school and home-schooled children for five years. She has also home-schooled her two kids, ages 9 and 5, since they were old enough to learn.
If you could only give parents new to home-schooling just one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t try too hard to mimic your child’s environment in school. Be flexible and sensitive, especially now. In normal times, that would be my advice as well, but right now we’re all under stress, and we’re out of our routines, unsure about what’s going to happen next. We’re all trying to rework our lives, and I think there’s going to be a lot of grace that’s required to get us through that.
I know that structuring schedules greatly depends on the age of the child and the attention span of the child. How do you provide some kind of structure but not an unreasonable amount?
A routine is important. But I think one of the critical things to remember is that in a school day, the kids are there for that chunk of time, but they’re not doing education every minute. We do most of our schooling in a couple of hours. After that, be gentle with yourself. These are stressful times. If you need the kids to watch a movie in the afternoon or play one of the hundreds of thousands of educational apps that are available, I would encourage people to not feel guilty about that. And I can’t emphasize enough that kids cannot learn when they’re stressed out.
What mistakes do you think are most common with parents just starting out home-schooling?
I think there is a misconception held by parents that they are not the best teachers for their children or that they don’t know how to do the right things. But I think home-schooling is, for most of us, how you would parent otherwise. I’ve often heard from people going into home-schooling that they just don’t think they can do it. But they are in fact home-schooling for the other hours of the day that they’re with their kid. They’re reading to their child. They’re talking about interesting things. They’re always there. They’re getting them interested in music.
I know you’re a believer in getting kids out into nature to learn and discover, but for parents who might not be particularly outdoorsy, what advice do you have for them or for families who might be in an apartment without a yard in a city where maybe the parks are closed?
If you have a window, you have access to nature. Right now, all across the country, migration is happening. It’s an amazing time to literally just look out your window. And if you do that, you will see birds. You can see how they behave. Maybe you go and buy a plant from the store with your child — when it’s safe to go to the store, of course. Or maybe you get a package of seeds, and you add a little bit of dirt — and it doesn’t take much. I think for most cities in our country, a great effort has been made to at least make sure there is a tree nearby. If you start with one tree and start thinking about that tree, you can watch as the tree gets ready for spring. And every single day, since now all we have is time, you can go and check your tree every single day and watch the littlest teeny things happen daily. Even if it’s not something that you’re particularly into, I would just keep in mind that it might be something that your kid is into.
Do you have any other general advice for families stuck at home for who knows how many weeks or months to come?
Take breaks as you need to. Try to be understanding that it’s very hard for children not to see their friends as well. And don’t be afraid to just leave something for a little while. My general rule is, if it’s making a kid cry, then it’s time for me to let it go. It’s OK to say, “You all go watch a movie.” It’s OK if something’s not working to try something new, and it might spark a new idea.
And also, just reading! If all else fails in your house, and you’re having a terrible morning or afternoon or whole day, just getting a book and cuddling up on the couch and reading until everyone falls asleep — that has saved our day many, many times. I would encourage people who have older children to make time for that every single day, where everyone reads out loud. It’s such a lovely way to connect with your family, especially during a hard day.