I always peruse the news for stories about homeschooling and unschooling, but in the past two weeks I’ve given up that practice. Never before has there been such an explosion of articles. Except they’re not about homeschooling, or unschooling, at all.
What do parents do with their kids now that they’re home all day? How do they keep their kids from driving them insane? How can the kids avoid “falling behind” in their education? How can they even get an education if they don’t go to school?
These are the burning questions. So they look to homeschoolers, the people who might have all the answers. But here’s the thing. The lives of homeschoolers have been upended, too. Homeschoolers are not isolationists. When you consider the fact that they are in the same building every day, school kids are way more isolated than my kids were. We were — well, all over the place: the park, the library, the woods, the beach, the supermarket, the nature sanctuary, historic houses, museums, community college classes, jobs, internships, rehearsals, concerts, plays.
If COVID-19 had hit when my kids were still at home, it would have changed their lives as much as it’s changing the lives of kids who go to school. We would have had a few things working in our favor, however.
- Because our slow homeschooling style was based on letting the kids pursue their interests, they knew how to fill their own time. Unless they genuinely sought our feedback about an idea they wanted to try, or a project they were engaged in, they did not look to us to help them figure out what they should do.
- A routine of side-by-side work was already established in our household. Every homeschooling family has to find a rhythm that works for them. For us, that meant we were often in our own respective spaces pursuing our own work.
- We were already accustomed to spending time together. Whether it was dinner conversations, baking bread or cookies, planting seeds, or reading aloud, we were used to — and liked — each other’s company.
- Play was a priority. From the time our kids were babies, their number one activity was play. As I have said in the past, I homeschooled my kids and recess was our curriculum. Even when they got older and started pursuing things that didn’t look like the conventional definition of play, its spirit was there.
- We believed in our kids’ inherent intelligence, competence, and drive to learn, and we trusted them. Astra Taylor speaks of this trust eloquently in a recent essay that’s well worth reading.
- Negotiation was a keystone of our slow homeschooling philosophy. We were not authoritarian parents. When issues arose, we engaged in respectful discussion to make plans and find solutions.
- We embraced and nurtured creativity. Making music, writing stories, painting pictures, creating comics, putting on puppet shows, doing plays — our kids pursued whatever inspired them.
- We were involved in our community. Whether it was pitching in at dinners for the homeless, volunteering for our homeschool support group, or offering food or rides to help friends dealing with illness, work schedules, or other challenges, we stayed aware of and receptive to the needs of others as best we could.
I think these things would have helped us get through this difficult time, and I think they can help other families, too. Whether kids have been in school or not, everyone is adjusting. Let your kids do what they need to do right now, even if it’s not structured schoolwork. If they have been assigned schoolwork to do on the computer, don’t get into a power struggle about it. If a conflict arises, have a conversation about it, encourage everyone to share their thoughts and feelings, and negotiate a solution. Do enjoyable things together. If possible, find ways to help — engage the kids in making masks, delivering groceries to housebound elders or others in need, or just cheering up a family member or friend. Know that your kids are smart and capable. If they don’t have a creative outlet, help them find one, and let them play as much as they want to. Creative outlets and play not only bring joy, they are valuable mechanisms for working through the emotional toll the current situation is surely taking. If you do lay out a plan, keep it flexible. My friend and “Unschoolers” co-author Sophia Sayigh proposes a great one here.
Because homeschoolers are generally more accustomed to spending time with their kids and taking responsibility for their kids’ education, it makes sense that many people are looking to them for ideas, but in that process it’s important to remember that the quip “we’re all homeschooling now” is false. We are not all homeschooling now. We are in the midst of a global pandemic that’s changing life as we know it for all familes, likely for a long time to come. My hope is that the wisdom and experience homeschoolers continue to share not only helps families get through a difficult time, but also spreads greater awareness of and appreciation for homeschooling.