An Open Letter to Parents Thrust Into Homeschooling Because of Coronavirus/Covid 19

The events and news of the day is startling. Words and phrases like Coronavirus, Covid 19, pandemic, incubation, social distancing and self quarantine dominate the vernacular. And it’s beginning to intrude in all of our everyday lives and routines in very significant ways. For those of us with children, it’s causing a big shift in our “normal.”

I’ll leave the medical side of Covid 19 to those with more medical expertise. But people, wash your hands! Keep them out of your face! Teach your children to do the same! Get out of the personal space of others! Boost your immune system with good vitamins and lots of Vitamin C! Common sense stuff! But here’s the thing. There is a significant period of time in the transfer of a globally spreading virus and we, in the US, are in it right now. We can flatten the curve of transmission by taking precautions right now! We’ll all get through this!

As I write, Covid 19 is causing states and local communities to put measures into place to protect groups of people and especially those people at high risk – the elderly and those with chronic conditions that may impede immune response. Toward that end, school system after school system – from primary schools to colleges and universities – are either considering or already sending students to complete their studies at home either through online forms of education or with assignments and books. My own college student has been sent home to complete courses online. This is affecting all of us.

On the topic of educating at home, I’ve got about 20 years of homeschooling experience and 23 years of parenting experience! This is my lane! If Covid 19 is disrupting your local school system, I thought I might take a few minutes to walk parents who are now facing school at home through some basics. I hope to share a few ideas that I’ve learned over the years that might make the next few weeks a little more manageable for you and your children!

My audience is composed primarily of home educators, so I’m counting on all of you to share this with your friends who are not home educating and who are bringing kids home from school as a result of the impact of Covid 19. This post is NOT a commercial for home education! I won’t hide the fact that I choose home education because it is from those 20 years of experience that I am writing to you. I’m going to do my best to encourage support and communication between you and your local schools and teachers with the knowledge that this situation is temporary! But I’ve got ideas from my experiences to help you through this transition!

Ready for a crash course in home education?

First, you’ve got this!

It’s actually a myth to think that you need copious amounts of patience or virtue to do this (and I am living proof!). And I’m going to blow your mind here a bit (and I say this with absolute respect for the many amazing teachers out there that are affected by this) – yes, you can educate your children without a teaching degree! Your teachers, administration, and the school system is going to support you. There may be bumps as everyone transitions, but you’ve got this! And guess what? You’re probably going to learn some amazing things along the way!

First and foremost as you step into this – keep your own physical, and mental well being in mind! Some parents who are extroverts or those with extroverted children will need to brainstorm ways to get in some social interaction in healthy ways (like skyping or face timing friends). Other parents who crave silence and quiet time will need to brainstorm ways to guard that. And if you yourself struggle with elements of anxiety you may feel your own reserves are used up in the face of Coronavirus…and now your kids are underfoot. Before you start this, acknowledge where you think you might struggle most, and then make an active plan to guard your mental and physical well being! Put your oxygen mask on first! Home education is quite forgiving! I promise you’re not going to mess up your kids. And you just might find some hidden joys tucked in these upcoming days!

Routine. Routine. Routine

Kids need routine…and so do we! Here is the tricky part – in times that are stressful we tend to come to an all-stop and turn on something mindless and stare into space just to try to process everything going on (or to avoid processing). Everyone needs a chance to shift gears, and you and your kids are no exception! Unfortunately, a lot of you are shifting gears FAST! There isn’t much of a transition time…so…take a deep breath! I’ll walk you through this!

Go find all of your kids’ school and assignment schedules. Your kids’ teachers probably sent them home at the beginning of the year or perhaps they sent some updated support paperwork home as they sent your children home. Look at that schedule and ignore the subject specific pegs, but pay attention to times your child is doing focused mental work. I’m going to give you a label for that, but please use whatever words work for you – consider that time a “learning block.” Your child probably has 2 (possibly 3) learning blocks each day, a meal block, and a physical education block. Don’t worry about times yet, just write down the general rhythm of your child’s day using those blocks as guides.

What if you have more than one child at home? Each child probably has learning blocks, a meal block, and a physical education block! Ignore the fact that they may be doing these things at different times than your other children – just look for the general layout of the day. THAT is your routine. That is the rhythm of your day during this *school-at-home* period. You’re going to take the assignments that your child’s teacher sends home and fit them into those blocks!

A quick word to those of you with several children in several different grades. Deep breath! You can do this! Give yourself permission to NOT compartmentalize every little thing! In other words, don’t think you’ve got to spend 6 devoted hours with your 2nd grader, and 6 more devoted hours with your 4th grader. Think of your day in blocks and roll through your day in blocks. Your 2nd grader, 4th grader, and 7th grader can all work – at the same time – on different things. You will be available. Your job is to guide and help and see that they do the work that teachers have assigned. They are capable – set them up for success with a little organization and routine, and your days will be much smoother!

School at home doesn’t look like school at school. This one might be obvious to many of you, but if you’re just trying to navigate everything that is going on, it might be good to hear this. Your kids don’t have to line up to go to the bathroom, they don’t have to pack lunches or raise their hand to ask a question. What you’re about to find out is that school at home takes a lot less time than school at school. Don’t panic if your kids complete their work in 2-3 hours time (this varies depending on the age/grade of your student)! You may be tempted to think that you’re doing something wrong – but you’re not! You are discovering all the extra time your teachers spend wrangling and corralling and herding groups of your children. Your group is much smaller than the group they work with, and the actual focused work time is going to be shorter. And that’s good because it’s going to give you all much needed time to recharge and breathe!

You’re in charge

And you have been all along. Since preschool. In middle school. And high school. You’re just as in charge of your child’s private or public school education as I am in charge of my child’s home education. You may have chosen to delegate more on a daily basis than a homeschooler, but in delegating we don’t abdicate the authority we have.

So this is me, adjusting your crown.

For a time, you may spearhead your child’s education at home. Your child’s teachers have probably been very organized and thoughtful and have sent home assignments, books, perhaps even guidelines or lesson plans. Or maybe your school system is managing all of that via online methods of communication. Either way, you’re still in charge and you need to gather all of the paper and digital tools that your teacher sent home. Print assignments that might have been emailed, and assemble everything together and get organized! Keep each child’s papers together and designate a home base – your kitchen counter, a shelf, a bag, the dining room table. Grab your daily routine that you worked through and sit down with that and all the assignments that were sent home. Your routine is going to provide stability and security, and the assignments and work are going to give direction. Make notes when you run into challenges with your child and keep track of the days your child attends and completes work.

Get organized

We’re not talking crazy-matchy-labeled-basket organization here, we’re talking about basics that are going to keep you sane, keep your kids moving forward, and allow all of you to find what you need each day because one day, very soon, life IS going to go back to normal and your child’s teachers are going to have to assimilate everything you’ve been doing at home into their schoolroom again. Do them a favor and get organized!

Each child needs a space for their school stuff! In temporary situations like this, I actually find that the best organizing container is a bag! But you can use a bin, a cardboard box, or a cleared shelf! Whatever you do find a physical space for books and things, and use a different physical space for each child! Gather your child’s books, but also notebooks, pens and pencils, and any other learning tools your child needs. You can use a simple ziploc bag to wrangle all the little stuff! You’ll thank me later!

Stay on top of this because this one thing – keeping up with books and things – can make or break a day! Keep it simple, keep things near where you and your kids will work, and keep up with it!

Go outside

Wherever you are, I’m telling you that time outside is going to save sanity. Every day, go outside with your kids. Breathe fresh air, let your kids stretch and run and play. This applies to kids of all ages – preschool to high school. And yep, all you college kids now doing college at home – close the screen and go outside for at least 30 minutes every day. No, you do not need to orchestrate this time. No, you don’t need lesson plans, scope and sequence, or directed play. Open door. Release. Sit in sunshine. Breathe deeply.

If at any time your day unravels, or you explode, or the kids meltdown – go outside again.

Read Aloud

Coronavirus is a big fat unknown in many ways, and it has upended the security of routine that children need! To combat the uncertainty and the unknown that takes up space in thoughts and seeds the imagination with worry, read good books. Read. Good. Books.

Your teachers have no doubt given you detailed assignments and the books your child needs in all the subjects of a given day. And that is good! But you need to do a little something more. Not much. And I promise it will be good for you and the children. Read something aloud – just for fun. Children have active imaginations and in times that are scary those imaginations may be filled with adults having conversations about scary, adult things (try not to have these conversations in front of your kids). Inoculate them (pun intended) by picking up a good book and reading it aloud. To all your kids!

Many kids will inhale this time, but some kids (especially boys) have a hard time sitting still and giving attention. Brace yourself: let them play while you read. Let them do handstands on the couch. Let them build with legos. Let them color. Let them be active. Almost all of your active, bouncy boys are still listening – I promise. Read!

I thought listing some favorite read alouds could be helpful, but then I considered that many of you may not have access to these books and we may not be going to bookstores or libraries like we used to. So, I’m going to share some resources for books you can read online via your tablet or audiobooks!

Set out some art supplies

Please, please don’t go overboard here! Simple paper and markers, pens, scissors and tape are the basics, but those of you with crafty leanings might want to share a little of your stash! Also, apparently we all have a lot of toilet paper now…here are 101 crafts to to do with toilet paper rolls! 😉

Here’s the thing. Young children sometimes have a hard time verbalizing things that are scary or nebulous…like leaving the security of their routine, or hearing things about a coronavirus that has no vaccine, alongside a sudden shift in the chemistry of home life. But all children need to be able to safely express their emotions and feelings. And you need to be able to hear them. In my experience, a piece of paper and a handful of markers can be an outlet for a child to express feelings and concerns. (By the way, so is imaginative open-ended play!) And sometimes, creativity is simply an outlet of expression and creativity. All of those things are healthy and good for children.

Set screen time limits

You probably already know about this, and you’re probably already watchful, but I have to warn you anyway – stressful times are magnets for screen time. However, unlike the outlets of time outdoors, reading aloud, and creating and expressing through art, screen time can aggravate tempers, deaden imaginations, and suppress healthy communication your child may need to share. Now, don’t get me wrong!!! My kids enjoy a little screen time! But I set specific limits for screen time, and I watch for red flags like extra agitation between the kids (extra…not normal – just keepin’ it real), emotional meltdowns that are out of the norm, or behavior that seems more melancholic than normal. I just want you to keep eyes wide open. Screens in our home are considered appliances and have a specific place that they live, and that place is in a public space.

One exception – my high school and college students have computer screens in their own rooms. We’re not going to wade into all of the (many) considerations there – I’ll leave that to you in your own family! But do help your older students manage time so that they get up and engage humans every now and then.

Finally – guard your time

Any time you educate at home it takes time, energy, effort and sacrifice. Every home educating parent has to set up some boundaries to guard sanity or life gets sour and unbearable quickly – for everyone.

You will need downtime, and although this may seem impossible or at least implausible, it isn’t – even if your kids are at home! This is worth brainstorming! These are some of my favorite mom getaways or sanity breaks that I think will work in a time of social distancing:

  • Take a bath! You’ve got doors and they close and lock! You might have to wait until husband or older kids can be in charge of littles, but shifting gears and taking a deep breath in a relaxing bath can be calming! Give yourself an hour!
  • Along those lines, lock yourself in the bathroom for a mask/facial and do your nails! Turn on your favorite music and relax! Little things mean a lot!
  • Have a nice glass of >insert your beverage of preference here< in the evening after bedtime! Red wine is full of antioxidants and can be a welcome way to unwind after a full day! But sweet tea, craft beer, lemonade, and margaritas all count. After a day of feeding and lessons and coaching and refereeing…there is something terribly relaxing and calming about a beverage that you don’t have to share!
  • Take coffee/tea breaks. You may need a break in the middle of your day (I do!!). Take a 30 minute break and grab a book and claim 30 minutes of quiet time with a cup of coffee or tea. Think of it as a mini-getaway to refresh – and claim it! Drink your coffee in your bedroom, or on the porch, or the back deck – send the kids out to play and you take a break, too!
  • Go for a walk! Getting outside and moving for even 30 minutes can do wonders for your mental health!

Final thoughts

What to tell your kids? My experience with my 5 children includes being honest with some prudent guarding for my younger kids. My older kids (teens +) are aware of everything and when they ask questions we’re very honest and proactive with them about behaviors, hygiene, and transmission. My younger children are aware of Coronavirus and have been asking questions about Covid 19. I answer their questions honestly and say things like, “There is something new making people sick and it’s like the flu. We’re going to be extra careful and I am always going to take care of you!”

The changes and upheaval from the Coronavirus is going to be temporary! Covid 19 can absolutely be stalled by the social distancing that local communities are putting in place. In this transition time you may have to get creative, but I want to encourage you to trust your parental intuition – trust your gut!

For those of you reading, I’m grateful you’re here and I hope this was encouraging and helpful! Drop me any questions in the comment box and I’ll do my best to answer!

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  1. This is fanrastic advice to give parents. I am a PreK teacher at a private school and I will be sharing your post with my families and in fact the whole school. We are on Spring Break this upcoming week, but the possibilities are high that we will be closed longer. We sent our student’s home with activities/lessons in the event that would happen and will of course step in to provide more online support as well. Thanks again for this post, I appreciate all the work it took for you to provide this information to us. Here’s hoping this spreads throughout the education system instead of the virus!

  2. Thank you, Jen!

    Long time “lurker”, rarely comment. I’m a college professor and parent of two high schoolers and this advice is so spot on and practical – I also will share with all those I know who have children coming home. I live in Minnesota and Gov. Walz just shut down all schools in the state starting Wednesday through the 27th of March. I wasn’t particularly worried personally about my children e-schooling/schooling-at-home as they are good about doing their work, asking questions when they need help, etc. I know many who are concerned.

    I have long appreciated your web site and your work with home-schooling but I especially appreciate your planning suggestions. They have become invaluable for me as someone who has to structure my own schedule.

    Thank you and God Bless,

  3. Thank you for taking the time to gather, plan and write your experinces and thoughts about this very unusual time in our country. As an administrator/educator I am walking through this with my family, our faculty and the families that attend our school. This information is practical, encouaraging and just what I needed to read. Again, thank you for your words of wisdom and peace. May God bless you during this time. 🙂

    1. Thea, I’m so grateful for your kind words, and also for the many, many teachers and school administrators stretching in so many ways to take care of their students! It is truly an unusual time. Never, ever did I ever imagine that my audience of homeschoolers would extend to the entire nation of parents. In this, I want to contribute encouragement and positive idea sharing with my voice! God bless you richly!

  4. Dear Jen,

    Thank you so much for these wonderful words of encouragement to not only new families, who are thrust into homeschooling their children, but to us veteran homeschooling mothers as well. I have enjoyed reading your blog and have never posted anything. so here goes my first time, ever! :)
    We have had the joy of homeschool our 7 children for over 15 years now with another 15 to go as baby number 8 due in June. I enjoyed reading your post it was a great refresher course for me. During this period of adjustment, even for homeschoolers, as college students are now home as well as many Dads are beginning to work from home, I have noticed one thing that I did not expect. All of us, as parents and especially as mothers, try to make our homes a place of joy, rest and refreshment for our children and our husbands. There is a different vibe, if you will, when Dad is home. The days are freer and everything is a bit more laid back than the hustle and bustle of the weekday routine. When my husband is home I try to free up my time so that we can spend time together or even just to talk. I will say, with 9, almost 10 of us in the house these talks are by no means long discussions, but I do always try to schedule my weekends so that if my husband’s plans for the day are different than mine that I can, most times, alter my plans so that we can get done what he needs done during his limited weekend time at home. Now that Dad and older siblings are home, I have found myself slipping into this “Weekend Feel”. I am allowing myself to get a little lazy in keeping up with my responsibilities of checking work, the composition lesson, finishing folding the laundry or even taking those 15 precious minutes in my morning to do my morning spiritual reading. It is now even more important that the children and I get our homeschool work completed before dinner so that our evenings can be family time. It is also even more important for me to get my 15 minutes of personal prayer in the morning. If nothing else, my prayers during this uncertain time, will assist my family more abundantly than any load of folded laundry would.
    This will be a balancing act for sure for all of us to keep our homes as the havens we wish them to be for our loved ones but now also a place of work for those who now need an office or quiet study room in every nook and cranny or our homes.

    May God bless us during these unusual times,


    1. Sharon,
      Thank you so much for sharing your comment! I find myself feeling similarly, and I have noticed my need for rest has increased! I’m so grateful you shared your personal observations and your family’s strategies! Like you, I place a primary priority on my morning prayer time! God bless you and your family richly, Sharon!

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