By Dr. Regina A. Bernard
Families all across the country have recently found themselves thrown into a world of homeschooling without a guidebook, manual, or without pause. A few years ago, I experienced this after a series of unfortunate events with traditional public schooling in our city. That was when I decided to homeschool my two children who were four and six at the time. Upon a chance meeting at a homeschool field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I met a woman, a master homeschooler who became my pilot (and later my dear friend), and who helped us to design our new learning path. We never looked back.
Homeschooling under normal circumstances is just the umbrella in which the theory of learning-while-home takes place.
It is certainly a lifestyle, and a privilege to be able to engage so privately in the teaching of our children. Homeschoolers don’t always use their homes as the sole classroom and for many, there is a great dependency on cultural institutions, libraries, zoos, gardens, and other places. At the moment we are all forced to reckon with our living spaces doubling as our primary learning centers. We also find ourselves in a life-changing moment of being able to play major roles in the way our children learn as we partner with them.
In the early days of homeschooling, I learned not to try to recreate “school.” Our homes are not schools and we shouldn’t treat them as such or try to re-enact classroom scenes from a Laura Ingalls Wilder book. Hard shifts add pressure to the family but mostly to the learner who is trying to find ways to adjust to new learning environments. That said, there is no better time to consider how much exploration you can do with your learner(s).
Resources including free access to places that are generally fee-based are now flooding our inboxes and presenting us with bundles of information at rates we can barely manage. First, we must pause.
Then, ask where your child is right now in their learning?
Consider whether or not their teachers have sent home assignments. For children who attend school, teachers are learning partners and should be asked for support when it comes to identifying the type of student you are now responsible to teach. This might be particularly important for learners who have disabilities and require specific resources, such as learning with dyslexia. Free worksheets and other low-cost packets can be done together with your child. These tasks might serve as a guide to begin exploring topics or setting up assignments related to larger themes of study.
If work sent home isn’t explicit, or you don’t know where to begin with any of it, try educational theorist E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge Sequence as a loose guide for what is “expected” in a traditional sense. Vague conversations with your learner about what they are currently doing in school are also worthwhile as you may also learn about your child’s interests as well as their academic needs.
At the start of each week, develop a daily agenda for you and your learner.
This is key for children who have not been homeschooling and are perhaps more used to a highly structured day where there are scheduled activities per hour blocks. Remember to make the schedule as slack as possible, leaving room for breaks, lots of questions, rest, quiet, and veering off. As a college professor and homeschooling parent, I make sure that the courses and the instruction are adjustable and respond to wants and needs. For an idea on how to create sample schedules, there are templates that include daily subjects and suggested timings.
Every morning, after breakfast, begin with a read-aloud.
Too often we think children age-out being read to, but the truth is it continues the development of language and intellectual curiosity. It also builds consistent family time where there might not have been much before. If you find yourself with an empty bookshelf or books that have been read, use your or your child’s local library card number for access to book recommendations, E-books, and audiobooks that can be listened to while you work on other things. My son builds Lego creations while I read aloud, though the use of Legos and other building manipulatives like snap-cubes or math links can also be used for teaching and practicing math. These cubes work well with younger students in the elementary school grades. The use of Playdough is great for children with muscle tone issues and dually serves as a great activity while being read to. All of this can be done while reading aloud.
Check with your area libraries to see if any of them are offering access to e-books and other online reading materials. You can also find several books available for online reading or download at Project Gutenberg. To expand your roster of books that explore culture, folktales, and communities around the world, try the International Children’s Digital Library, which offers books in languages such as English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Hebrew, and Swahili to name a few. Increase your multicultural literacy by integrating books from a solid list found here. Many of these titles have e-book versions that are accessible through any of the portals mentioned. Asia Citro’s books have become our family’s favorite and teach science through storytelling.
Everyone can participate in the read-aloud, giving sections of the book or story to each child and participating adult. You can choose longer books to read over the week and create a book-club where your (older) learners come prepared with discussion questions. For middle school and teen readers, The New York Public Library offers Teen Cloud, where the reading selections are plenty and include graphic novels.
After reading, take a break to move. On any day when we can’t get to the playground, we stretch with Cosmic Kids Yoga or put on music to dance to. For younger children, small house chores like making the bed, washing dishes, and helping to clean their spaces, instill responsibility and for many others accomplishing them could be a milestone. This is a great time to think about what that means for your child and your family. For parents, the YMCA has created free On-Demand fitness videos and offers Yoga, Weight-Lifting and Tai Chi as well as youth-based fitness.
If your child has been in school, then chances are they were already in the middle of a curriculum per subject they are studying.
Instruction that aligns with state standards can be found at Khan Academy which includes free access to courses in math and STEM, as well as other much more advanced subjects such as Finance, Economics, and Computing for teens. For more science-based STEM programming, review some of The New York Hall of Science’s menu of projects, including access to their makerzine. Brain Pop is another resource that can help accompany a student’s studies while offering other interesting topics for perusal. While all students might benefit, teens might especially like watching and/or listening to TED-ED Talks in science and technology as well as other topics. IXL used by some schools offers practice and timed lessons in a variety of subjects stemming from prekindergarten-Calculus.
If your child is used to exams, this could be a great way to regularly assess at home. If you are looking to change or adopt new curricula you will find a wealth of information in these reviews. For diverse learners or students with special needs, such as autistic learners, this can also supply a variety of lesson plans, daily agendas, and worksheets that children might be familiar with from their schools. For young children, Sesame Street offers a variety as well. Using the same site can also provide ideas for future lessons and resources for teens.
School, whether home-based learning or in a brick-and-mortar building most likely regularly includes field trips.
Recently, the Tenement Museum has provided online access to their current exhibit entitled, Under One Roof. The Tenement Museum offers older learners lessons on oral histories and listening sessions where they are able to employ a lot of their existing skills. For history buffs, The New York Historical Society is offering many live online classes from kindergarten-high school, with high school classes offered every Monday.
Take your field trip to places you may have never visited or thought about visiting before, such as Uffizi Gallery in Firenze, Italy, or the Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand in São Paulo, Brazil. The National Women’s History Museum has given virtual access to their Standing Up For Change exhibit, which is a great way to ignite conversations around social justice.
Allow time throughout the day for independent reading as a moment to engage in quiet work but be available to help struggling readers when necessary.
However, there are also options for independent reading built-in assistance. At the end of the week, ask your learners to make old-fashioned book reports using simple formats or rate books they liked and didn’t. You can also create a running log or document accomplishments on a sheet of paper. Your learners will love seeing how much they have achieved while learning at home. Spend time together cooking and baking basic dishes where you can employ math, reading, science, and literary skills in a single activity.
Inspire your learners to wander further out and into the animal kingdom by using my 7-year-old daughter’s favorite daily activity of bird-watching. You might also like to spend some time at the Monterey Bay Aquarium where there are penguins and sea otters on live cameras. Maybe you just want to see some Madagascar turtles at the Bronx Zoo. On days when you need an hour or more to work, enroll your child in an online class at Outschool, where my children are currently taking an art class with a fantastic teacher. There are many more hour-long classes including music appreciation and language for preschool-high school ages. Though many of the resources listed in this piece will give you options for weekly live lessons that are free of charge.
This is a great time for children and teens to spend time on their passion projects like art-making, designing inspiration boards, blogging, music, engineering with recycled objects, coding, writing stories, poems, journaling and scrapbooking. For ideas and suggestions check out Pinterest. Remember to create space for independent work but also check in throughout the day where there is time for shared activities and interaction. Unplugging throughout the day for long periods of time is also beneficial for everyone.
End the day with a conversation about the day’s learning and overall experience.
Ask about things your child found interesting, perplexing, as well as ask them about what they would like to learn tomorrow or in the near future. Be open to hearing criticism and things they didn’t enjoy. Make a list of those things and remember to come back to them as some learners have great memories and high expectations.
While your child is tucked in for the night and if you’re still awake, make sure to revisit your agenda, and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done. Be ready for the next day’s adventure and keep going! Remember, we are our child’s first teacher anyway, we’re just returning to the job.
Born and raised in Hells Kitchen NYC, Dr. Regina A. Bernard holds a few degrees, including a Ph.D. in Urban Education. She is the author of three books on education, race, gender, and social justice. She has also written pieces for a variety of books, collected editions, and academic journals. She is currently an Associate Professor of Black Studies and Education at the City University of New York. No longer in Hell’s Kitchen, Dr. B. writes, researches, teaches, and ferociously homeschools in the outer boroughs of New York.