Even though I personally have had to make the difficult decision to take my kid out of school for the sake of his (mental) health, I cannot fathom how parents are dealing with the decisions that are looming overhead this coming fall. I love my child, I love our time together, and I love our life. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t know the sacrifices involved intimately or think that anyone should have to make them. What I do have is some experience and an idea of things that have made it more bearable for me personally. I don’t suggest them as a bandaid, a cure all, or with any sort of confidence; just as a mom– a human– who is doing her best with the hand she’s been dealt and offering them as food for thought for others.
A while ago I tweeted that I’m not thankful for the privilege to homeschool my child, but that “I’ll be thankful when his right to an appropriate education is met by the institution that is supposed to provide it for him.” Now, yes, I have privilege. But it’s a privilege that I believe that everyone should have– the ability to provide for our children and their needs. There are so many people who may not have a choice this September, and if we have the privilege of time and knowledge we need to listen and advocate on their behalf. Smaller classroom sizes, expanded budgets, real measures to protect children and the people who work with them from this pandemic. A child not going to school can mean a loss of income, a loss of special needs services, a loss of free lunch and breakfast programs. Schools serve a very real and important purpose and we need to fight for them even if they don’t meet our children’s needs. So even if you decide to homeschool your child, please, please, please do not forget the families who do not have the luxury of a choice. (And believe me when I say I understand it does not feel like a luxury. Only in a broken world would it be one. It’s fucked. If I had a better word I’d choose it.)
Okay but I’ve already chosen homeschool/distance learning/ something that isn’t physical school. How the fuck do I survive?
Here are some of my thoughts as a part of a two parent, single income household. (Disclaimer: I know these tips are not going to be doable for everyone, and I’m really sorry. My perspective is what it is but I am conscious of the fact that it isn’t everyone’s and I’m sorry that these decisions are a lot harder on single parent households for example.)
Buy curriculum. Ask for curriculum from your school/ school board/ ministry of education if you can. There is no way to homeschool in a crisis and wing it as I’ve learned– as someone who has winged it every single year until recently. If you want my recommendations, I suggest Oak Meadow for science, history, and English, Beast Academy/ Art of Problem Solving for math. But there are so many choices. You can spend hours researching. Now! You might spend money on curriculum and it’s not perfect for you. That’s OKAY. I promise. Use what you can of it. Nothing is going to be perfect. That’s why for younger grades I am such a fan of just reading every book you can, getting out of the house (difficult in a pandemic so ha, thanks for the useless advice, Tiff), and baking! Baking is a disaster but there is so much learning involved. But even still, having a set curriculum for those early grades where you have weekly suggestions of things to learn and activities to do is going to take so much of the mental load off of your plate.
You don’t need to plan every waking minute
If your child is used to school they are likely used to high stimulation environments. It will take time but I promise you can train them to play by themselves. It. takes. time. A few tricks I use are strewing, patience stretching, and interrupting. Strewing is leaving crap out around the house and letting your child come to it naturally (because no one wants to do what they’re told to do.) An extension to this is say, writing your kid’s math problems on slips of paper and hiding them like a scavenger hunt because hey, sometimes the math has got to get done but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Patience stretching is not always responding to your child’s needs instantly– it’s okay to say, “I’ll help you once I’m done drinking my hot coffee.” I promise. Interrupting is disturbing your quietly playing child. I KNOW I KNOW WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT. Because if your kid is quietly playing LEGO and you’re like “hey, want to do a puzzle with me?” they’ll probably say no. And they’ll probably think hey, my parent thinks I’m pretty awesome and wants to hang out with me. And also it puts some power into their hands which is a very cool thing for anyone.
Set expectations with your partner NOW
Even if you’re already a stay at home parent, it’s important to recognize that you’re no longer a stay at home parent. You’re now a homeschooling parent. Which means that your job is the homeschooling and your spouse’s job is their job, and the rest of your responsibilities– cleaning, cooking etc are split. Now, I’m not saying 50/50. But I am saying that there is no such thing as a day off. I use to think I had to have the house pristine for my husband’s day off which was fucked. Now I think of my husband’s days off as time as a family that we can help each other out. Maybe I can finally plan that specific lesson or look for curriculum while he cleans the kitchen. Maybe we can divide and conquer the disastrous house. Maybe he can take time to hang out with our kid while I escape to the bath. If it’s not a team it’s never going to work. Often I feel useless because I’m not contributing financially but my husband is quick to point out that he is able to do his job because I’m home with his spawn, which is also why he contributes to an RRSP in my name since I have no income to contribute to it. TEAMWORK.
Remember that it’s not about falling behind/ getting ahead
The whole purpose of keeping a child home is because it’s what’s best for them. That means spending extra time exploring passions, coming back to things that aren’t sticking later, and making sure that they have their needs met rather than trying to check off items on a checklist. Some units might take a day. Some might take three weeks. That’s okay! There’s no need to stick to the pace of thirty other children. It’s about your kid and their needs and that’s a fabulous gift to give them.
Find a hobby
I specifically learned to crochet and knit when my child was an infant because I didn’t have the energy to go out and do things but my brain needed stimulation. I sit and knit while reading to him and it’s lovely because I’m keeping busy and engaging myself while supporting him. Maybe you go for a run every night when your spouse comes home if you’re a two parent household. Maybe you lock yourself in the car in the driveway for an hour to stare into space. Maybe you dedicate time every day to read, write, or take a free online class. Even if there isn’t a career goal in mind, it’s important to find time for you even if it means giving your child some screen time. I know it’s cliche to say you need to secure your oxygen mask first, but it’s cliche because it’s true.
More than anything, it’s important to find what works for you, your family, and your kid. Needs change. If something isn’t working do what you can to make life less miserable. I’m not saying every day will be roses and rainbows, but don’t be afraid to make decisions that make life easier!