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Wisdom from Homeschool Parents

Many parents in Central Indiana have taken on a job that we never thought we would have: that of a homeschooler.

With schools closed indefinitely, parents are scrambling to help their students with e-learning assignments and scouring the internet for ways to keep their kids learning — all while working from home and doing the various other things that parents do on a day-to-day basis. To be thrust into the role of a homeschooler can be a little (OK, a lot) overwhelming. Questions like “How do I schedule my child’s days?” and “Am I doing enough?” run through our head constantly.

To get some advice and words of encouragement, we reached out to some local parents who have been homeschooling their children for many years.

  • Courtney McCracken lives in Carmel and has five children. She has been homeschooling for 2½ years.
  • Kara Parsons lives in Indianapolis and has three children. She has been homeschooling for five years.
  • Kelli Stahler Yeater lives in Indianapolis and has four sons. She has been homeschooling for over six years.

Let’s start off with some comforting words. I think there are a lot of parents right now who are struggling — they were thrust into this position that they were not prepared for. What do you have to say to them?

Kara Parsons: First of all, you are not alone! Not only are there plenty of other parents who are unexpectedly thrown into this role for a short time, there are lots of homeschooling parents who are struggling just as much without their normal routines and resources in the community. 

Secondly, have lots of grace on yourself and your kids. We are all a little scared, stressed and unsure right now. Even if you accomplish only the bare minimum of work these next few weeks, your child will certainly not suffer in the long term! 

Finally, realize that just being with them is enough. Spend the extra moments at home to read lots of books on the couch, do a Mario Kart tournament, make a big bowl of popcorn and watch Frozen 2, or build a massive LEGO kingdom. They probably won’t remember that you were clueless trying to teach them fractions or couldn’t even begin to explain their chemistry homework, but they will remember that rainy day you were all trapped at home and played every board game in your house with a cup of hot cocoa. Our connection to each other and our emotional health is the most important thing we can maintain during these next few weeks.

Kelli Stahler Yeater: I want to say that right now, more than ever, your kids need you. And you need them. You need more hugs and sweet snuggles and stories they might not have heard before. Or maybe they want to hear for the 50th time. This is the time to reconnect and bond on a deeper level. School isn’t the priority. These kids need to be poured into. They know and feel a lot more than you might think. 

Nobody needs more stress right now. If your day stinks, stop and try again tomorrow. What’s the worse that could happen? They have a delay in finding out how to find the perimeter of a square, but their hearts are full and they are comforted in this crazy time? I don’t think that’s a bad thing. And even though e-learning and homeschooling are not the same, we are all in this together. Find ways to serve one another under the current guidelines that we have. Get creative and have fun.

Courtney McCracken: Parents have been teaching their children since the beginning of time. School started only a couple hundred years ago. Children aren’t “taught,” they learn, and they learn developmentally appropriate concepts very easily when they are relaxed, having fun and have a connection with their teacher. So, focus on the relationship first in the coming weeks and you might be amazed at how learning works differently than you thought it did.

I keep reading that parents should not try to recreate the school experience at home, because we — and our kids — will just become frustrated. What do you think about that?

Kara Parsons: The most important thing is knowing your children and what works best for them. You will probably not need the normal amount of school hours regardless of how you set up your day. My 4th grader finishes all his work in no more than three hours and likes to knock it all out in a row, but my youngest likes some time to herself before she starts her school day. 

Some kids really do need at least the structure of a more traditional school environment, while others really thrive on frequent breaks and flexibility. I think knowing that it will be unique to your family’s needs can help many parents have grace on themselves and prevent them from feeling like they are coming up short if it doesn’t look exactly like what their kids might experience in a traditional school environment.

Kelli Stahler Yeater: I totally agree. The point is to teach them through life and experiences, not bring the brick and mortar type schooling home. That defeats the purpose of all the freedom that is allotted through homeschooling and can cause unnecessary stress. It’s best to think outside the box and make it your own.

Homeschooling seems overwhelming to a lot of parents. What are your tips for making the best of it during this time?

Courtney McCracken: I think if I were in your position, I would get the required work done as fast as I could and get on to having fun with my kids the rest of the time. Basically, treat it as homework.

Kara Parsons: First of all, less can definitely be more. This is a stressful time and you don’t need to be perfect at this to “get it right.” This is a great time to take advantage of learning core concepts in unique ways! Cooking is a great way to work with measurements, board games can be a fantastic way to improve language or math skills, and even the bathtub can be a great resource to learn about density. Try doing spelling practice with sidewalk chalk, have them create a boat with tinfoil and see whose can hold the most pennies in the tub, or do your addition with a relay race. 

Start your day with the hardest work when their brains are fresh, have lots of grace on yourself and them, and be willing to adapt as needed. Some kids can work great as a group with siblings while other really need one on one attention to focus. We often will set up sensory stations (think shaving cream on a cookie tray, dried pasta with some scoops, or finger paint) to keep the younger ones entertained while we work on my oldest son’s toughest subjects.

Kelli Stahler Yeater: I would start by taking a break and just breathe. Take it easy. Enjoy one another. Make it fun and personalize it. Let them make a cover for their notebook or print off something they love and put their name on it. We had a personalized Minecraft notebook a few years ago. Whatever works. You really have the opportunity to lay a great foundation of loving to learn in a laid back, fun environment.

Many parents are trying to adjust to a new normal right now, and trying to establish a routine for their kids. What does a normal homeschool day look like for your family? 

Courtney McCracken: We do not have a typical day! We do follow a routine but definitely not a schedule. We have five kids, one of whom is still a baby, so we start our day slowly and each of the kids does what they want to do independently for the first couple of hours. We then try to get everyone fed, dressed, clean up their rooms, and help with their personal responsibilities for the day. Then we all meet at our table to do some “table work.” Then we eat lunch, maybe play some games, and go outside or do big projects they are interested in. Our kids often play outside 3 to 4 hours a day. The early mornings and afternoons are when we get our work done. We eat dinner as a family, clean up, older kids hang out while we put littles to bed and they also usually read a long time at night.

Kelli Stahler Yeager: We have four boys ages 15, 14, 12 and 2. We are at easier ages now as most of them are pretty self-sufficient and independent. I allow them to sleep in because I believe you learn better if you are well rested. We eat breakfast together and I go over what they are to do that day per my planner/checklist. They always start with the Bible and then they choose in what order they want to work through it. They are usually don’t by the time we eat lunch together.

After that, I put the baby down for a nap and we do a group read. Then we have some free time and then chores. It doesn’t always look like this, but that’s the gist.

We’re all searching the internet right now for educational resources for our children. What are some that you have personally found very helpful?

Kara Parsons: We love our KiwiCo subscription, and their website has lots of craft ideas and other resources to supplement the boxes. My oldest son enjoys Tynker and Scratch to work on coding skills. I utilize Pinterest more than anything for a great collection of kid friendly crafts, STEM activities and supplemental activities. Education.com offers a great selection of worksheets that can go with every grade level.

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