The coronavirus pandemic has swept the entire globe. And in the midst of hand washing and toilet paper shortages, you are now facing a new unexpected challenge – your teenager’s school has closed and they are stuck at home with you.
They were probably sent home with assignments, and may even have virtual classes to attend online. But you still wrestle with how to supplement their education and just keep them occupied for the days (weeks?) to come.
There have been plenty of wonderful posts circulating online about celebrities recording themselves reading picture books and follow-along drawing videos. But your teenager outgrew those things years ago.
So, if you’ve never considered homeschooling before, you probably have a lot of questions about where to go from here, and how best to keep your student off their phones and engaged.
Below are five easy do’s and don’ts for this time, written by an ex-homsechooler and drawing from my own middle school experience. And homeschool families, do you have anything to add? Drop a comment below and help out your fellow parents!
1. DO give them freedom. DON’T “unschool” them.
There’s few good things about the spread of coronavirus, but one of the perks (and one of the reasons many families chose to homeschool) is that you can give your student a lot more freedom. This can extend to how they spend their time, what subjects they spend more or less time on and what you as a family can do together.
Does your student struggle with math? Now is a great time to give them more one-on-one time to work on it. Sit down with them and try to work out the problem together, or direct them to a helpful tutor or website that can help.
Are they good at but bored by history? Maybe you can skim over that for now, in favor of a topic that they are really fascinated by. (Or astound them with the nitty-gritty of history, something they’ve never learned before. How about a study of the French Resistance sabotaging Nazis during WWII or the Russian Czar who ordered everyone to shave their beards?)
The flip side of this tip is not to “unschool” your kid. If you are unfamiliar, this is a belief that children are naturally curious and will learn on their own without much guidance.
It’s problematic for several reasons, and while it may work ok for very young children, I guarantee if you just tell your 13-year-old to “go out and explore,” they will spend the day “exploring” Youtube. Give them structure and guide them through it. They may not like Spanish, but this is not the time to ignore it.
2. DO teach them real-world life skills. DON’T make it a chore.
There’s a joke among us millennials that none of us knows how to do taxes, change a tire or sew a button. But darn if we don’t all know that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.
This extended indoor time is a wonderful opportunity for you to teach your student some real-life skills. But do not, under any circumstances, make this chore time. Don’t call this lesson “you’re going to learn how to scrub toilets today.” (Although that is a life skill that every human must learn, eventually.)
What is your student interested in? Do they love travel? Assign them a country to research and then have them try to cook you a meal for dinner from that country. Hopefully they will pick something more exotic than tacos or pizza.
Are they learning to drive or excited to start? Now is a great time to teach them how to check tire pressure, oil, and what all those terrifying warning lights mean. Especially the engine one.
Figure out what your student is interested in, and then think of some way to tie in a real life skill to it. Cooking, cleaning, first-aid, money management – these are things they will definitely thank you for in 10 years, and hopefully won’t be calling you about in a panic.
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3. DO let them research things they are interested in. DON’T ignore them.
So your student finished all their school work and is lying around watching TV. How do you get them to engage their brain without it feeling like a chore or punishment? Have them start a project on whatever topic they want, and then present their findings to you.
You heard me, anything. TikTok, eSports, the impact of vaping, the rise and fall of Stalinist Russia? All fair game. Encourage them to pick something they are really passionate about and curious about.
Have them really research it – the historical, political, social and economic impact on the world. Then have them write up a research paper or put together a physical project. This can definitely be stretched over a few days.
When it’s done, do not ignore them. Sit and really listen to their presentation. Ask questions. Engage. This is not busy work for you to get a few hours of peace. Expect them to put in the work, and then respect their time by giving your student your full attention.
Now, I know what you’re thinking – “my kid would NEVER do that. If I tried to assign them extra work, they’d just roll their eyes at me.” Since this isn’t “real” schoolwork, it may be a good time to offer a reward.
Or, maybe you asking them to spend time researching the evolution of video game graphics would pique their interest just enough.
It also helps to follow my next tip:
4. DO give them boundaries. DON’T over-structure.
I get it. Your routines are all thrown off. Your student wants to sleep in, and you are inclined to join them. That was one of the most frequent questions I got as a homeschooler--“so do you get to sleep in really late all the time? Lucky!” NO. My mom woke me up on time every morning so that we could start school.
Routines are good for everyone. They keep you focused, on task and productive. If you are working from home right now too, think about your own routine. When you roll out of bed and immediately start “work” are you as productive as you are when you wake up early, shower, get dressed and eat before? Of course not. It’s the same with your student.
Designate a schedule for them. From 8:30-noon they’ll work on assigned schoolwork. From 12-1 they can take a lunch break and have free time. Spend the afternoon doing some of the ideas listed in this article.
Make sure to set aside time for breaks and stretching as well. And practice what you preach. If you’re working from home too, don’t spend half the day sitting on your phone. Model good discipline for your student.
Do NOT over structure this time. It’ll stress everyone out and your student will disengage with his or her work. Don’t be afraid to throw some random fun or rewards in there too, especially if this time of isolation drags on.
One of the best memories I have of homeschooling was the day my mom realized the DVD we got from the library was due that day and we hadn’t watched it. So, we did math in the morning, and took the rest of the day off to watch the movie and spend time together.
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5. DO talk to them about what’s going on. DON’T freak them out.
Think back to when you were a preteen or teenager and something scary happened in the world. Did all the adults around you clam up because you were “too young?” And how did you feel?
Your student has just as many questions about what’s going on as you do. Take some time to sit down together and talk about what the coronavirus is, how it got started, and why the world is taking such drastic steps to stop it.
But honestly, they probably already know some of these things from social media, so try to take it a step further and make it educational.
Have your student study how the virus spread all the way from China to the United States. And how is the world responding? How does a Communist nation respond as opposed to a Capitalist one? What are some pros and cons of each, and what do those economic words mean?
Why is the virus impacting the stock market so much? And, what even is the stock market? This pandemic is impacting the world in a myriad of ways.
Study them with your student so they understand the situation better, and also learn a thing or two about economics, government and global health.
All that being said, don’t freak your kid out. If your student is terrified of the virus and it’s causing any anxiety, sit down with them and calm their fears. If you still want to work in a lesson, this could be a great time to look back at some other pandemics.
How did those get started and spread? How are they different from the coronavirus? How has our healthcare improved since then?
And don’t forget to remind them that from the Black Plague to the Spanish Flu, life continued after and God was always in control. He will guide us through this as well.
There are SO many wonderful opportunities to encourage your child right now. You may be overwhelmed by the thought of having to “homeschool” them, but I guarantee if you care enough to be worried, then you are prepared and able to do this well.
You don’t need a stack of supplies or a lesson plan for each day. Listen to your kid, give them structure and space to explore their passions, and enjoy this extra time to spend with them.
With the right plan and attitude, you can all look back on this time as a blessing and not a curse.
Bethany Pyle is the editor for BibleStudyTools.com and the design editor for Crosscards.com. She has a bachelor’s degree in writing from Christopher Newport University, a background in journalism and a passion for telling good stories.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Halfpoint
Bethany Pyle is the editor for Bible Study Tools.com and the design editor for Crosscards.com. She has a background in journalism and a degree in English from Christopher Newport University. When not editing for Salem, she enjoys good fiction and better coffee.