Homeschooling 101
Mix it up, experiment and have fun, but please, just get out of the PJ's

Homeschooling 101

One of Sarah Rankin's three children works on homework recently. A former elementary school teacher, Rankin suggests setting a schedule and keeping to it – and leaving plenty of time for exploration, fun and outdoor activities. / Photo by Sarah Rankin

Sarah Rankin - 04/23/2020

The days were long and wide, mine to fill with whatever content my imagination could inspire. I spent most of my time outside, and solid literature was the backbone to my literacy. Math was based on real-world applications.

But where were the gold stars? Where was the red pen to highlight my shortcomings? How was I to know how I stacked up, without the loaded color coding of my reading group? “You’re making me stupid!” I began counting down the remaining days of my second-grade homeschool career.

Like many parents, you may be in the position of adding a new title to your already long list of daily obligations: homeschool teacher. After a couple weeks under your belt, you have figured out some things that are working, but with several more weeks ahead of you, it may be helpful to refine your practice.

Perhaps you are looking to balance online instruction (and screen time) or maybe you want to take the reins all together. Whatever your motive, the following ideas are intended to support you. After 12 years in the classroom and five years of homeschooling my own children, I have discovered some routines and practices that work for us. As in all facets of life and parenting, take what you will, leave the rest, and remember that there is no one right way. Valuable learning is happening in your home, with your family, even if it is not quantifiable.

The first idea has to do with setting the tone. If you don’t take the time seriously, your kids probably won’t either. Therefore, no matter how tempting it might be to stay in PJ’s all day (or finally be the victor in that old going-to-school-naked dream), my kids and I are more focused and productive if we all get ready for the day. Eat breakfast, brush teeth, and yes, get dressed in something other than pajamas.

Next, come up with a schedule that you can stick with. Try to spend 20-30 minutes on math and each of the four blocks of literacy (reading alone, working with words, guided reading and writing). PE should be every day, and you can work in art and music in the afternoons, or as related to content. If you are working from home and time is limited, think about hitting these areas every day: your child reading alone or with your help, you reading to your child, writing something every day, and math. Use a big piece of paper or dry-erase board to post the schedule. At our house, we finish everything by 12 or 1 p.m. every day and then play around with art or music in the afternoons. You might choose to take Fridays off so everyone feels rested and balanced.

As far as how you teach, there are tons of options online and with the games your kids’ teachers provide, but feel free to mix it up. Maybe one day, read alone from one of the books you have at home and the next day, use an online reading program.

Working with words can be a review of  lash cards with phonemes or digraphs (aka “word chunks”) for younger kids. Older learners can work with spelling grade-level words or editing a piece of original writing.

Guided reading is reading with your child and discussions that follow, ranging from the basics such as characters, point of view, setting and plot, to bigger questions that connect reads to other books, the world or themselves.

Writing is where we have the most fun but it may be tough to find online practice and support. I know it is tempting to make corrections to your kid’s writing, but it is more effective to let your child express him or herself – leave the corrections for when you are in your “working with words” block. This is especially true for young or reluctant learners. Writing is about the original and uncensored expression of ideas.

To accomplish this block, on Mondays, we do “Monday Mail” where we all sit down and write letters to friends or family members. We also make a point of heading outside once a week to do Nature Writing. You can walk your child through an exercise where you isolate each of the five senses and talk about first only the things you can hear, then see, smell, feel, and touch. Then, for about 20 minutes, find some alone space in the yard or park and write about all the things you sense or think about. When you come back together and read these, you may be surprised by the poetry you have created.

Math is another area that can be fun from home. Cooking together provides practice with fractions and time. Gardening invites practice with the calendar and measurement. Making a shopping list and sticking to a budget is a great one for working with money and addition (hopefully you will not be working with multiplication with the price of toilet paper). For younger learners, you can make a set of popsicle sticks with skills that are worth reciting every day: months of  the year, days of the week, shapes, money, tally marks, time, and counting by 10s, fives and twos.

Whatever path forward you choose in the coming weeks, know that just being at home with your family is providing valuable learning in what it means to listen to others, be patient, maintain relationships and find balance, however imperfect those practices may appear at times. Check with your child’s teacher before branching out, but chances are, your teacher will be in support of what works for you.

Sarah Rankin spent 12 years as an elementary school teacher. She now teaches her three kids from her home in Durango.


Homeschooling 101

Rankin's three children work on art outside. While homeschooling can be stressful, the important thing to remember is, there is no one right way (even taking a day off is OK.)/Photo by Sarah Rankin

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