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Homeschooling for the Non-Homeschool Mom

Navigating the Coronavirus Pandemic as a Homeschool Newbie

What does a parent do when suddenly faced with kids at home for (potentially) the rest of the school year, while also trying to work? Congratulations! You have now become responsible for their education.

Wait, what?

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be starting my new blog at the same point in time that schools are closing around the world. With the CDC putting the brakes on public gatherings, all afterschool activities and even playground visits are indefinitely suspended.

That doesn’t mean we sit around all day and turn into piles of goop on the couch. There is a lot we can and need to do.

Disclaimer: I’m not an expert, but I survived an entire week of homeschooling quarantine when I never thought I had it in me. I’m just paying forward the research I’ve done to discover what this whole “homeschooling” thing is all about.  

I hope this helps you get through the next few weeks (dare I say months? Eek!). Take what works for you, forget the rest.

This is a meaty post so let’s get started…

#1: Remain Calm

If your kids think you’re freaking out because you started rationing toilet paper, they will feel that energy and panic with you. This is not good.

B * R * E * A * T * H * E. Sit down with them. Take 2-3 deep breaths, connect to your children and listen to their concerns. Pause. Answer calmly. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you will look it up and tell them later. That way, while you are scrolling the internet, they won’t see the scary news over your shoulder. But make sure you write down that question and go fetch that answer…this builds trust between you and your child and makes them feel safe.

Cosmic Kids Yoga is a great resource for creative, guided meditations. Even I feel better after! We love their Zen Den Mindfulness series. Plus, I love her British accent.

I highly recommend doing some easy yoga stretches with your kids before you even start the day. Short on time? This Unicorn Yoga video is less than 5 minutes. Simple yoga focuses all of you to stay on task and works wonders for your immune systems to boot. Healthy minds/healthy bodies.

#2: Make A Schedule

Create A Schedule and Respect It Like It’s The Law. We used a small chalkboard at first to chunk out time blocks for reading, writing, math and science/social studies. The basics. Then filled in with breaks, recess, art, music, movement, etc.

I found this very simple Daily Planner that you can open in Excel and tweak as needed. I’ve been using this for the second half of the week.

Do Hard Things First. In life, the best strategy is to get the most difficult tasks completed first. Get it out of the way, then reward with a healthy snack break. The rest of the day will flow with ease (most of the time!).

Below is our schedule from Monday, taking into consideration Dad’s availability to help. He was able to cover during reading time so I could sneak away to the chiropractor.

Monday, March 16, 2020

8am Breakfast  
8:15-9am Yoga with Mom
9-9:30am Writing
9:30-10:00am Reading
9:30-10:00am Chiropractor – Mom
10:00-10:15am Snack
10:15-10:45am Math
10:45-11:00am Break/Snack
11:00-11:30am Science
11:30-12pm Recess/Trampoline
12:00pm Lunch
12:30-1pm Fun Projects
1-3pm Movie (Mommy works)
3-4pm Tidy Time!
4-5pm Bike Ride
5-6pm Dinner
6-6:15pm Shower
6:15-8pm Family time/Movie
8pm Bed time

I learned that afternoon time gets a little loosey-goosey. I failed to account for everything, including laundry, dishes, etc., which gave my kids permission to run around the house, gaggling like pink flamingos that have been freed from the zoo…until I force us all outside.

Be Open to Change. Thankfully, uber-organized Dad stepped in and helped create a new plan for Thursday. He’ll do breakfast with the kiddos and get them ready for “school,” then I take over. He’ll also pop in the late afternoon (when he can) so we can both enjoy the less structured, creative time with the kids, OR I can get more work done.

30 Minute Blocks. We scheduled everything in 30 minutes blocks to keep it simple and more consistent.

Normal Bedtime. I was also given sage advice to put the kids to bed at their normal, earlier bedtime. It’s best to keep a routine. It also allows me to wake early to work. I’m a morning person. If you are not, change your work hours to after kids go to bed. Early bedtime works for both scenarios.

Thursday, March 18, 2020

5:00-9:00 Mom works
8:00 Breakfast-Dad
8:30 Dress and Brush Teeth
9:00 Reading
9:30 Writing
10:00 Yoga / Snack
10:30 Math
11:00 Science /
11:30     Social Studies
12:00 Lunch
12:30 Recess – Trampoline & Play time
1:00      Scooters/Bikes/Hammock
1:30      Sidewalk Chalk / Water Play
2:00 Snack
2:30 Tidy Time /
3:00      Clear Toys /
3:30      Declutter
4:00 Free Time /
4:30      Arts & Crafts
5:00 Dinner
5:30 Family Time /
6:00      Game Time /
6:30      Movie Time
7:00 Showers / Bed by 7:30

Update: Below is the final schedule template that we will follow next week… this is not set in stone. It’s a process, not an end game!

Friday, March 19, 2020

5-9Mom Works
8Breakfast with Dad
8:30Change Clothes, Brush Teeth & Hair
9:00Academics Start
9Reading
9:30Writing
10Math & Snack
10:30Brain Break! Cosmic Kids Yoga
11San Diego Zoo Virtual Field Trip
12Make S’Mores with Kiwi Crate Solar Oven
12:30Lunch
1Recess – Get Outside!
2Tidy Time
3Bike Ride
4Arts / Crafts / Music
5Dinner
5:30Family time / Games / Popcorn / Movie
7Shower, Jammies, Brush Teeth
7:30Bed Time

Theme Days!

Try a theme for each day of the week, like Manic Monday. Wait, NO…scratch that. Try these, or make up your own!

Marshmallow Monday: Challenge your budding engineers to build the tallest tower they can with marshmallows, spaghetti and tape.

Taco Tuesday: Easy way to get kids cooking!

Wacky Wednesday: Watch this Dr. Seuss book read aloud and have kids wear their wackiest outfits.

Thankful Thursday: The whole family can use this cute printable to write what you are thankful for and make sure to color the rays! Hang it on the refrigerator each week as a reminder and watch the rainbow grow. Another idea: We started a “Gratitude Jar” last year. It’s easy. Decorate a jar with your kids, and whenever inspiration strikes, any family member can jot a note of thanks (with the date and their name). At the end of the year, have a Gratitude Party and read all the notes to each other.

Fun Friday: The possibilities are endless! But I think we’ll try the Oreo challenge today.

Miscellaneous Tips:

One Load A Day. I learned this trick from a decluttering class. Try to do one load of laundry every day. That way you are not stuck on the weekend with 8 loads of laundry blocking your hallway. The timing never works out the same, so I squeeze it in when I can.

Tidy Time. I am incorporating “Tidy Time” into our daily schedule. This is for cleanup up of crafty messes, as well as sorting through old toys and engaging the kids in my decluttering mission. And if a kid wants to vacuum…great!

Brain Breaks. You know your kids best. When they start whining, dragging their feet, or making silly mistakes, get them on their feet and moving, even for 5 minutes. Gets the blood flowing to the brain, improves mood and focus. You can squeeze this in at any time. Check out these YouTube Channels that incorporate music, dance and learning:

GoNoodle

Jack Hartmann Kids

Kiboomers

KIDZ BOP

Koo Koo Kanga Roo

Pancake Manor

The Learning Station

Clearly, I don’t work full time so it’s my job to take the lead on this homeschool thing. However, as the weeks go on, Daddy will be able to adjust his schedule so I can work more. He’s kind of awesome like that.

#3: Use a Timer

This makes it easier for everyone to follow the schedule. Kids like routine. I need routine. I used those dial-up egg timers in the past, but they are not very accurate and break easily. Which is unfortunate because some are really cute! We have been using this timer and it works like a charm. It has a little stand or you can hang it up, making it very easy to drag from room to room, or stuff in your back pocket. (I make no money on this…just offering what works for us.)

#4: Reading Logs

This is critical for my family. I downloaded this simple Reading Log that both my kids use. This website has a LOAD of free printables to help organize your mama life. For my Kindergartner, we enter the number of minutes in the “Pages Read” column instead.

Schedule Reading First. While my oldest cuddles up in her room with her book, I read with my youngest, and we all get that block done in 30 minutes. I switched the schedule to do reading first, then writing. It flows more organically as my son works on spelling the new words he learned from reading.

#5: Online Resources

So, how exactly do we fill in all of those academic blocks in the calendar? Read on…

Google Classroom If your child uses this at school, you should have access at home to complete assignments. Also, check your School District Portal for free resources.

Raz-Kids Our school district uses Raz-Kids Reading for lower grades, but anyone can buy a membership. They do offer a free trial, AND there is an app for your smartphone or tablet! Bonus for shuffling kids to their separate corners to study.

Most of the following resources are FREE, but please check details:

PBS Kids Everything is great! Plus, they just launched a new Weekday Newsletter with activities specifically designed to help families remain engaged and learning during school closures.

Highlights for Kids Tried and true. I grew up on Highlights and now so are my kids. They have a great Explore section with fun Science questions, like, “What makes stickers sticky?”

Scholastic Kids They are having a Virtual Book Fest, every Friday. And they even have a link to create your own comic book! They also have a free Learn at Home for 20 Days program. Click here to sign up.

Sesame Street No explanation needed. I think we all grew up chasing the clouds away on Sesame Street. The 1970s jingle still runs through my head whenever I think of this show.

National Geographic Kids So many good things here!

Time for Kids This is a beautiful site by the classic Time Magazine company.

Nasa Kids Club Geared towards PreK and Elementary Students.

TEDEd TEDx has launched daily video lessons for free. Brilliant.

Khan Academy is now offering a free program with complete daily lessons for kids 4-18. I love that they are getting academics done before lunch – I think that’s the best plan.

Storyline Online Celebrities read children’s books out loud! This brainchild was launched by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, which also happens to be my former employer back in the day.

Age of Learning Offers free access to ABCmouse, Adventure Academy and Reading IQ.

Prodigy Math Free access to math games for students in 1st through 8th grades.

Mystery Science Free Science lessons for grades K-5.

Cool Math 4 Kids Fun games and brain teasers specifically designed for students 12 and under.

FunBrain Pre-K through 8th Grade, fun educational games that explore math, reading and problem-solving.

How Stuff Works This is an excellent site for discovering how just about anything works in a multitude of categories, including Health, Science, Home & Garden, Auto, Tech, Culture, Money, Entertainment, Adventure, etc. Even cool stuff like 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Pizza. And they have quizzes!

Bill Nye the Science Guy If you have never heard of him, check him out. He rocks.

Happy Teacher Mama Jennifer created free printables of activities for PreK through 3rd grade, and an awesome School Cancellation Pack.

Kentucky Association for Gifted Education. A comprehensive list of online educational resources that covers all subjects and grades. It’s impressive.

Amazing Educational Resources This is the motherlode. If you want to get overwhelmed (like me) click this list. It’s mind-boggling.

Free writing course for kids ages 6-10 This is video led instruction with downloadable exercises. So cool!

Writing Prompts for All Ages Great list.

Education Companies Offering Free Subscriptions Includes Brain Pop and Brain Pop Jr. They have a free Coronavirus Lesson.

Kiwi Crate We bought subscriptions for Christmas. These are excellent art and engineering kits designed for different age groups. You can get individually priced kits if you don’t want to subscribe. Use the code, LEARN, to get 15% off. But wait, there’s more! They now offer FREE At-Home Toolkits, updated daily. Love their stuff. Great quality and totally deliver on their promise.

Virtual Field Trips!

We took a “trip” to the San Diego Zoo! I downloaded free printable zoo trip activity sheets from Teachers Pay Teachers: One for my 11-year-old and a different one for my 5-year-old.

National Museum of Natural History

List of Famous Museums Around the World

Great Wall of China

Google Arts & Culture Collections Excellent resource.

Zoos, National Parks and Museums

33 National Park Tours

Lynne Marie Talented children’s book author has compiled this fantastic list of virtual tours and a lot more!

Don’t Forget About the Arts!

Art For Kids Hub. Loaded with How To Draw instructional videos.

Broadway Musicals Online Who knew? I LOVE musicals! My daughter and I had tickets to a local production of Into the Woods that was cancelled. Now, we can make popcorn, snuggle under blankets, and stream it on our TV (thanks to tech-savvy Dad). These are free only if you have subscriptions to platforms like Amazon Prime. Some are pay per view.

Happiness is Homemade and The Spruce Crafts.  Check out these sites for easy kids crafts and daily activities.

How To Homeschool For Free If you have musical instruments at home, or even a pot to bang on as a makeshift drum, you can find free lessons here.

Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems! Learn how to draw this famous author’s characters by watching instructional videos taught by Mo himself! Also includes downloadable activity pages. Mo Willems is a huge hit in our house.

Jarrett J Krosoczka Children’s book author offering free daily drawing lessons, Monday through Friday, at 2pm Eastern Time. How great is this?

Brainchild This Netflix series explores everything from Social Media to Dreams and even Outer Space. (Free with subscription)

Ask the Storybots Also on Netflix. These quirky characters answer real kids’ questions, like, “Why is the sky blue?” or “Why do I have to brush my teeth?” We love this show!

The Yucky Bug An online story book created by the author, Julia Cook, to help younger kids understand the Coronavirus.

There are SO MANY great, educational shows on Netflix & Amazon Prime…I’ll update this list as I go!

#5: Schedule Outside Time

There is a good reason schools schedule recess. The Social, Emotional, Physical, and Mental benefits outweigh any unfinished assignments or worksheets. Here is a link to a 2018 Study with stats.

Unstructured Play is Best. Adults should supervise but get out of the way. Let your kids’ imagination soar!

Bad Weather? Check out Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube or GoNoodle – serious fun that gets the whole family movin’ and groovin’. Another great Youtube channel is 20 Online. They have free 20-minute workouts for kids. See the list above under “Brain Breaks” for more YouTube channels that get the wiggles out of your kids.

One of the best parts about homeschool for us (besides learning, of course…duh, I’m a nerd) is doing yoga together, trampoline/snack breaks, and our daily after-school bike ride. Today, we found some beautiful flowering yellow trees. We caught the flowers as the wind blew them down. My daughter (smart girl) threw two small balls in her bike basket, so we stopped under some shady trees next to a lake and played “Piggie in the Middle.” It was a great release after doing academics all morning.

Bottom line: kids need fresh air and movement. Helps the brain, body and soul. You need it too. Get outside.

#6: Stay Connected to Family & Friends

Social distancing doesn’t have to be alienating. It’s important to keep your connection to family and your kids’ friends. We use all of these methods: Skype, Viber, Facetime, Facebook Messenger Video Chat, and old-fashioned phone calls.

We signed our oldest up for Messenger Kids. It’s a very safe, parent-approved way for your child to stay in touch with their friends and distant relatives. Definitely Mom-approved. Two thumbs up from me!

***

The most important thing to remember during this crazy season is that life is short. I received priceless advice on Facebook, from people I don’t even know, when I freaked out earlier this week regarding this inconvenient interruption in my life plan. I’ll sum it up:

Consider this time with your children an unexpected blessing.

There is no reason to cram activities into your day, running from one thing to the next, like hamsters on a wheel. Bust out of the norm. You have the opportunity to follow your own schedule. Whatever works for you and your family.

Consider this: You get to spend precious quality time with your kids, and you DON’T HAVE TO FEEL GUILTY ABOUT IT. How cool is that?

Learning by Doing You can also offer them hands-on learning experiences. Educators call it, Experiential Learning or Progressive Education. Basically, it means kids learn by interacting with their environment and adapting rather than by rote memorization, encouraging organic study or student-led experiences. This is where education is heading. I’ll write about this in a future post; however, click those links above. I think it’s game-changing.

Homeschool Moms I have to take a moment to honor all of you homeschool moms out there. You are ROCK STARS. I want to be like you when I grow up. I have learned so much this week. I admire all of you and truly appreciate the resources you offer. I am deeply grateful.

Do what works for you and leave the rest. This is A LOT of info. Please don’t get discouraged and do not feel compelled to engage your kids in every single resource listed here (like me, Type A mom). It’s just too much! It was exhausting compiling this, but I felt it was important to share.

Finally, I want you to write on the top of your daily planner, agenda, schedule or ToDo list, in REALLY BIG FONT, your most important task:

Connect With My Children

That is your priority during this time. Keeping them safe, healthy and happy. 🌷

The Geek's Wife

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6 COMMENTS

  • Slagjana Ilievska

    Great job Annette! You have a fan already. Good luck.

    • Annette Dariano
      AUTHOR

      Thank you Slagjana! Hope this article helps, even a little. ☺️

  • Jill Kokinda

    I love your blog! You are a natural!
    Miss you all!

    xo

    • Annette Dariano
      AUTHOR

      Thanks Jill! We miss you too. 💝

  • Grandpa

    Hi Annette. When did you work for SAG-AFTRA?

    Storyline Online Celebrities read children’s books out loud! This brainchild was launched by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, which also happens to be my former employer back in the day.

    • Annette Dariano
      AUTHOR

      When I first moved to LA 🙂 One of my favorite jobs!

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