Pandemic Parent, #3: Homeschool Wasn’t Built in a Day!

Mar 19, 2020

Over here in the DC-burbs, it is beginning to look like this is going to be a long-game. And while I’m all for some structure AND for lowering the parenting bar, we all may want to consider holding back a little bit before pulling out the big guns of online learning, epic baking fests, and crafting central. I mean, if you can pull it off and it is good for your kids, more power to you. I’ve been watching my own Together Farmer sister homeschool her children for years, and there is ZERO color-coding to be found.

I’m seeing something different happen right now. My mom friends in the medical or research professions are barely holding it together. And my many, many educator colleagues are busting it to set up their students with meals, technology and sample schedules and haven’t had time to stock up on food for their own homes. Those parents in banking, finance and law are going full tilt. Most of us, myself included, are stretched very, very thin.

And this isn’t even considering all of the people getting laid off with large levels of health and economic uncertainty and the insane digital divide that is highlighted. But, right now, regardless of circumstances, we may want to consider pacing ourselves on the homeschool situation. For example, this is my sister’s lesson plans that she shares with a caregiver to implement while she is out working in the barn.

WAIT. Should my sister and I do a webinar called The Together Homeschooler?!?! We are like City Mouse and Country Mouse. That could be very fun! Write me here if that is of interest to you. This could be our webinar photo.

Regardless of your approach, I want us all to give each other permission to take this slow. And if you jump in too fast, there will be rebellion in your midst. I promise. Like that time I removed all weekday screen time without getting buy-in. IT.WAS.NOT.GOOD.

  • Name the next two weeks as Spring Break and make a sample schedule. Most private schools get two weeks off anyway. Set up some basic activities and structure for the day. . . maybe five blocks a day, but also let things run more loosely. My own kids told me that they felt like this was summer vacation on my sister’s farm in Maine. Perfect. Vibe achieved for now. You don’t have it have it all figured out right now. Pick a “school start” date and have everyone start to brainstorm now. Get a basic time chart in place and put a few things in to start a semblance of a schedule. My friend Melinda and her son got a nice little chart going.

  • Stock the supplies and create the reserves. I actually went ahead and HID some of my children’s activities and toys. I figure fewer options are better right now, and I want to save some stuff to pull out for novelty later. Oh, you are missing your glitter pens? The Pokémon cards are nowhere to be found? I’m sorry, we will find them later. And viola – in a few weeks, they will magically re-appear. Sneaky? Maybe. Sanity saving for mom? Probably. Chutes and Ladders is getting a re-boot around here. Even if my children created the “violent version.” Now maybe some metal got put in the microwave while I was on a video call because they invented “marshmallow Rice Krispy balls.” No problem. You want a little more iPad time. Fine. But I’m reserving anything “cool” on the internet (thanks, Mo Willems!) for when I REALLY need it.


  • Sort through the supplies, materials and resources. Between the online dance classes, drawing tutorials, old workbooks I found in a drawer, stuff sent home from school (for one kid, but not the other), my own ideas, my kids’ interests, virtual zoo tours, Ted Talks for kids, Scholastic slides (that now leave my 7-year-old wanting a pet tarantula. . . thanks, Scholastic!), take this week and curate what you have. Eileen in New Orleans keeps a shared spreadsheet with only her favorite curated list – found below. This is much easier than searching through Facebook, Gmail, the letter from the principal, the library log-in and the packet in the backpack each day.

  • Schedule the important stuff. Some families have children who need additional supports, whether speech, OT, or reading assistance. And some of you want to continue with extra-curriculars that matter to you, like music instruction, religious school, or second languages. Take some time to connect with these adults and figure out how you will stay connected, practice it with your kids and make sure the technology works. My dear friend Lindsay described how three kids on Zoom for OT was not quite going to work unless the technology was tested ahead of time and the materials were all in one place. PS Thanks to all the educators doing so much online for kids right now. I, for one, will NOT yet be running my Girl Scout meetings virtually. Yet. It just may set me over the edge.
  • Revisit the division of labor – if you share a home with another adult. There are articles starting to pop on gender equity during pandemics right now. Whether this impacts you or not, consider revisiting roles and responsibilities. One of my favorite authors, Tiffany Dufu, discusses her revelations on dropping the ball. Get clear on what must be done and what can be let go. You can find a lot of templates on the Internet. Or my favorite, co-creation with post-its and paper. But trust me, whatever is happening currently may need to be revisited.

  • Start paying attention to the rhythm, energy, and feelings of your home. Do you all do better when you burn off some energy in the morning? Is it better to reserve screens for the end of the day? Do you and a significant other need full 8-hour work shifts each or is it better to tag team in shorter bursts? End each day by asking kids (and adults) what worked well and why. Kids love to chime in on this! Stephanie K., in Virginia, includes all people in the house when planning the day. It can be easy for kids’ needs to overshadow the entire day, but plan it out together.

  • Figure out how you and your family are staying connected — and schedule it. When screens are used frequently, it can feel like a whole day of G-chatting for my pre-tween daughter. Consider a time slot for virtual playdates, catch-ups, and phone chats. I saw my 7-year-old figure out how to play “the floor is lava” with a friend on Google Hangouts yesterday. The almost 10-year-old is co-writing a story with her best friend in Google docs. At my house, for this week, 3:30 PM is time to connect, FaceTime the grandparents, Google Hangout the friends, and unicorn poop emoji ALL YOU WANT.

The point here is that you don’t have to become The Together Homeschooler in 24-hours. Give yourself a minute. Survey the situation, gather the supplies, curate the materials and give yourself grace to settle into this uncertain time.