color photo of a family reading togetherCountless parents are being presented with the enormous challenge of having to decide how to go about homeschooling their children and teens during the COVID-19 pandemic.  This article provides a list of options to consider, and the pros and cons of each one.

  1. Option #1:  Do Nothing.  This alternative suggests that you just take a laissez faire attitude and proceed on a ”business as usual” plan, letting kids decide for themselves how they want to use the time formerly taken up by school.
    1. Pros:  There’s nothing for you to plan, purchase, or teach.  Your kids might end up making good use of their time in learning some new things.
    2. Cons:  Then again, your kids may not use their time well at all and spend innumerable hours playing video games, watching videos, or wasting time in other ways.  Your child’s or teen’s brain is going through a very sensitive time of pruning and rewiring, and the experiences they have during this break from school will imprint themselves on the brain in a permanent way, so it’s good to use this time wisely.
  2. Option #2:  Follow the School’s Format.  This option suggests that you turn to your kids’ school(s), for direction on what materials should be used, what sorts of tutorials or teaching sessions they’re making available online, and so forth.  Depending upon where you live, this option might be the only one you have if the school insists on your child’s following their program.
    1. Pros.  The responsibility for your child’s formal education remains with the school, meaning less pressure on you to come up with something substantial.  You would be involved more in the way of a facilitator, making sure your kids are doing their assignments, attending online classes, and making good progress.
    2. Cons.  Your child’s school may not have a program like this ready to go, or have only a partial or even spotty online presence, making it difficult for your child to participate in this virtual school. Also, being a facilitator sounds easy, but it may not be, requiring your active participation in helping your child or teen with his/her lessons.
  3. Option #3:  Find a Structured Homeschooling Program Online.  I suspect that many parents are combing the Internet right now for programs designed for at home learning at specific age/grade levels.  Unfortunately, I’m can’t offer you guidelines on which ones are better than others.  I should tell you, however, that there is a continuum of homeschooling programs extending from those that are highly (and even overly) structured, or possibly religious in nature (schooling kids at home to protect them from secular education) on one end, and those that reflect more of a progressive educational point of view on the other (e.g. guidelines for doing project-based learning, independent investigations, learning from the community etc.).
    1. Pros:  Having a specific program with clear structure will make it easier for you to administer it (i.e. teach it) to your kids.  Most of these programs are now online, making it even more user-friendly for the home.
    2. Cons:  Many of these programs cost money (in some cases hundreds of dollars), and you could always get stuck with a program that doesn’t meet your real needs, or those of your child or teen.
  4. Create Your Own Homeschooling Program From Scratch.  This might seem like an impractical solution, given your lack of credentials as an educator (although a parent is a child’s first teacher), but this option holds the greatest promise of all the options in setting the stage for learning adventures with your kids that unlock potentials that the school wasn’t addressing.
    1. Pros:  You can turn your home into a total learning environment, where virtually everything going on can be a topic in the curriculum (e.g. learning about fractions through cooking, learning about perimeters and square feet by gardening, learning about social science by following the news, learning reading by ordering favorite books from Amazon, exploring virtually any topic in the universe on the Internet, etc.).  There are some very good books out there that are designed along these lines.  Two examples are John Holt’s (one of the pioneers of the homeschooling movement) book Teach Your Own, and Homeschooling for Excellence by David and Micki Colfax (they homeschooled some of their kids into Harvard many years ago). I’ve written a blog post providing 10 tips for creating authentic learning experiences for your child at home, and many of my other blog posts are similarly practical for homeschooling parents.
    2. Cons:  Even thinking about this option may exhaust some parents, who already are busy full time with household responsibilities and working-from-home duties.  It does take a substantial amount of time to do this, and without educational credentials you might worry that you’re leaving something crucial out of the program.

In looking over these four basic options, a parent might be attracted to certain elements in each of them. You can certainly combine the best components of more than one option to make a solid learning program for your child.  You might purchase a homeschooling curriculum to provide your child with a basic structure, and then extend their learning with some high-interest learning projects that your kids can themselves initiate. Or you might want to use the school’s program (such that it is) and augment it with an online learning site like the Khan Academy, which has thousands of free video lessons in virtually every academic subject.

Perhaps the best advice I can give you, having been an educator for almost fifty years, is to trust your own intuition about how to structure your child’s time at home during this crisis. You definitely don’t want to be adding to the stress that’s already there (e.g. badgering your child to do the assigned book report), so think in terms of a solution that your child or teen is willing to get behind, and then launch your program with a big fanfare (e.g. maybe a special dinner, or at-home party).  And best of luck to you and your kids!

To find out how your child learns best, and then understanding how to design learning experiences based upon their strongest capacities, see my best-selling book In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences.

cover of In Their Own Way

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About the author

I’m the author of 20 books including my latest, a novel called Childless, which you can order from Amazon.

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