Tips for educating in quarantine
With schools closing their doors to stop the spread of COVID-19 and America’s kids getting their education from home, many families are learning to adapt to this new world of social distancing they find themselves in.
But for some families, this is nothing new. Homeschoolers are used to doing all their education from the dining room table, the couch or the woods.
With schooling from home being the new norm — at least for right now — advice from homeschooling families is in high demand.
“From here to Arizona people have been asking me questions,” said Sunita Halasz, who coordinates the North Country Homeschooling group.
A few families from around the Tri-Lakes have a couple rules for parents and kids to live by.
The first thing homeschooling parents said is to not overwhelm yourself.
“People are putting a lot of pressure on themselves thinking that they have to homeschool all of a sudden. You’re going to make yourself crazy,” Joy Cranker in Saranac Lake said. “When you’re not stressed the schoolwork will go easier.”
The parents said choosing to homeschool is a big commitment they take a lot of time preparing for. Most families are now coming to home education at a difficult time, and not by choice.
“My decision to homeschool was a gradual decision,” Tracy Goff in Tupper Lake said. “When I pulled them (out of school) I thought I had to mirror what a public school day was, and you can’t.”
Goff has homeschooled both her children for three years now.
Goff’s 11-year-old son Wyatt said, as a kid, it’s not a big deal.
“You’re just doing school from home,” Wyatt said.
Cranker said parents should support their kids first and then education will follow.
“If you can find enjoyment together, that is probably going to help your family most now. Then the schoolwork will come,” Cranker said.
Cranker has homeschooled for 15 years now, with her daughter now in the seventh grade and her son graduated and attending North Country Community College. She taught art while living downstate and said homeschooling is easier, because you just have one student to teach, instead of a whole class.
Goff said 15 minutes of one-on-one instruction is about equal to one hour of instruction in a class.
Enjoy the unexpected benefits
While families start homeschooling for a variety of reasons, most keep at it for one simple reason: they like it.
“I do enjoy it. I absolutely do,” Goff said. “Take the opportunity to learn how your child is learning. We as parents, when we send our child to school, never have the opportunity to really see how the wheels are turning.”
She said that when the kids go back to school parents will be better tutors to them at home.
“It was a gift to see the lightbulbs going off for myself,” Cranker said.
Goff and Cranker both said they have learned a lot in the process, too.
“I have found a new-found love for history,” Goff said. “I think there’s a lot of things that we take for granted as adults, that we’ve already learned or have experienced.”
“I love truth,” Cranker said. “I found more truth by teaching my son than I learned in school.”
They said homeschooling allows their kids to follow their interests, their passions.
“It’s taught me to have more confidence in my kids’ ability,” Goff said.
She said all school subjects overlap in real life, and that each topic is a rabbit hole.
“It lets you go where the child wants to go. That’s why I like homeschooling,” Cranker said. “The kids will take a lead in many ways.”
She said her son Schuyler did a lot of science and always loved the experiments. Now he’s planning on pursuing a master’s degree in science.
There are other, more unconventional benefits, too.
“You can eat all day and have pajamas on,” Goff’s 13-year old daughter Eastynn said.
Survive your family and stay connected
Homeschoolers have a reputation for social distancing. In fact, it is possible the most common question they get asked is “How do they socialize?” This is largely a myth though.
“The world is our school,” Cranker said. “We don’t just sit at home.”
She said homeschoolers are having just as difficult a time adjusting to quarantine life as everyone else.
Nevertheless, they are well-equipped with advice on how to survive being around your family all day, every day, and still learn something in the process.
Parents said if you feel your kids’ childhood and youth slipping away, now is a good time to enjoy it and connect with them better. They even said it is a good time to shape their opinions, morals and beliefs, too.
“They are little minds, they are little people, they are little sponges and they absorb everything, even anxieties and the worries that you might have,” Goff said.
Goff said sometimes it is difficult, though, spending all day in the house together.
“This is like the worst time to have cabin fever,” she said, adding that everyone is acting out.
“We have those moments,” Goff said. “Do I lose it sometimes? Yes. I think we all do.”
Again, Goff said the solution is to breath and defuse the situation.
“We parents don’t talk to our kids (enough),” Goff said. “I think if you can take a step back and just go, ‘OK, remember when you were a kid and you did this? What would have stopped you?'”
Eastynn has some advice for the kids, too.
“Don’t give your parents a hard time, because they always get their way,” she said.
Homeschoolers also know how to stay connected outside of school.
“You wouldn’t believe all the different ways our kids get socialized,” Goff said.
She said Wyatt and Eastynn’s hockey teams are still doing lots of video-chatting. As part of a “goalie mom” Facebook page, there also is a whole group of young goalies who are pen pals from all over the world.
Wyatt made cookies last week while video-chatting with his best friend in Lake Placid.
Cranker said it might be a good time to call or video-chat with a grandparent or someone who is even more quarantined.
And if worse comes to worse?
“Some alone time is not a bad thing,” Cranker said.
The schedule is flexible
The good thing about homeschooling, is that the schedule is more flexible. A lesson can wait a few hours, or even a day.
“It sounds like the schools are doing an excellent job at sending work home,” Cranker said.
Halasz said the advice she has been giving to all the people who have asked her for help is to give the kids a daily checklist and have them stick to it themselves.
“They refer to the planner, and I don’t have to do any parenting except to make the plan for the week each Sunday,” Halasz wrote in an email. “At the end of the day when you’re back from work you can talk about if they were able to achieve the things on the list or not and change things up as needed. It makes the kids really responsible for themselves.”
She suggests using paper instead of a computer calendar, so the kids can cross stuff out and feel like they’re accomplishing something.
Cranker said sticking to exact times is too hard, and shouldn’t be expected. Sometimes a lesson takes two days, sometimes you do two lessons in the same day.
Halasz said to avoid power struggles, let the kids manage their own time.
“The planner format is key!” Halasz wrote in an email. “It also takes all pressure off the parent-child relationship because I always can say, “Well, what does your planner say?” as though it is the decision-making entity in our lives and I have nothing to do with it; like I’m just as much under its purview as the kids are, so we’re all equal and there’s no power struggle.”
If they’re struggling with a lesson, Cranker said to do something else, play a game, do a puzzle or read.
“I found the most important lesson you can teach is just the love of learning,” Cranker said. “Everything else follows that.”
The parents said there are many online resources to use, too: Khan Academy, Outschool or the Crash Course YouTube channel.
Some said they are taking virtual tours of the Wild Center Nature Museum and museums around the country. There are plenty of educational documentaries.
Goff said that we live an a wonderful place to learn about the natural world. She said within weeks of starting homeschooling in the spring of 2017 she and her kids studied the frog eggs which hatch in their backyard every year for the first time.
Eastynn said for parents not to go easy on their kids while they help educate them at home, but not to stress them out.
Most of all, they all say to have fun with it.
Goff said in quarantine, she and her kids have been acting goofier than usual.
She walks around the house singing lines from Niel Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” parody about the virus.
“Haaaaaands,” she sings.
“Washing haaaands,” Eastynn replies.
The other day she was engaged in a pillow fight with Wyatt. While being pummeled by pillows she put on his hockey helmet for protection.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Goff said.