“Workin’ It:” 5 Ways To Be An Amazing First-Time Homeschool Parent

COVID-19 and its effects on Americans is unprecedented in modern history. No one denies that. The emotional toll is also at a level unknown before now. Parents have had their kids home for months and most desperately want the schools to have a turn. However, parents have had to ask themselves, “If I send my child to school, is it risking their life?” Unfortunately, the answer is, well, we just don’t know. Homeschooling rates are at an all-time high. You can find an interesting article about that here as well as here.

There now is a host of quality homeschooling curricula from which to choose.

Homeschooling has always been a Christian conservative majority, but now it is seen as a viable option for many families as a way to keep their children safe and parents’ own anxiety down. Here are five ways you can set the right atmosphere to propel your children to academic success at home.

1. Work Those Products (curriculum)

2. Work It with Class

3. Work that Whiteboard

4. Work to be “Teacher Only” During Class Hours

5. Work that “Parent Hat” After Hours

1. WORK THOSE PRODUCTS: Choosing Curriculum

Back in the not-so-distant past, the companies that offered curriculum were sparse in number, and sparse in quality. They were written by good intentioned folks who grew up in the 1950’s when the “Three R’s” were king, reading had only text-based questions, diagraming sentences was grammar, and math was multiplying and dividing without a calculator.

Presently, there are a host of quality homeschooling curricula that gives traditional schools a run for their money. Here are my top four homeschool curriculum I recommend to parents who are finding themselves now in the role of teacher and parent:

I was most impressed with Oak Meadow. Their website is slick and easy to navigate. They have fully developed curriculum in every area K-12 and they are an accredited institution. Parents have the option to buy whole grade level curriculum or just one subject, such as math. They provide online materials, but when you purchase their books, that’s what you get: their physical paper textbooks mailed to you. I believe that there is a special connection when a student is holding an actual book that is engaging without increasing screen time. You can find downloadable samples in every subject here.(even how to play a recorder!)

Oak Meadow also has an extensive free FAQ section which ranges from how to accurately assess to tips on homeschooling through the Corona Virus pandemic.

The Cambridge Academy, a K — 12 accredited private school, knocked my socks off. Their no-nonsense website encourages interested parents to call for a free consultation and comes with a 100% money back guarantee. This is an impressive private school, which means it is not too budget-friendly. There is a non-refundable $99 registration fee. Classes may be purchased individually or for all the main subjects. Prices range from about $100-$200. There are several electives, as well as Christian education classes if desired. Here’s a unique caveat that Cambridge does that I really like: parent can choose classes with a teacher, or without a teacher. Without a teacher is less expensive, but if you have a kid that is self-motivated, this would be a good fit. With this package, PARENTS ARE REQUIRED to interact and assess their children’s progress.

Now, if you choose “with a teacher,” your child has one-on-one tutoring available every day of the school week. That’s amazing, and I think the class prices are quite reasonable, especially with the peace of mind mom and dad will have. Definitely spend a little time here looking around and schedule a consult while you’re at it: https://www.thecambridgeacademy.com/

For parents of children ages two through eight years old, abcmouse.com is the answer to your prayers — and only $10 dollars a month? Yes, please! They have over 10,000 interactive activities in all the major subjects. The bright colors variety of activities are every inviting and engaging for kids of this age range. But don’t take my word for it. See how far your ten bucks will go — that is after your FREE 30 days is up and your initial enrollment that can be up to 49% off. Head over to their home page here: https://www.abcmouse.com.

A well organized website that is welcoming to parents, students, teachers, and schools belongs to https://www.khanacademy.org. There are comprehensive basics for every grade level and the “hard stuff” too. Oh, and the price will surprise you…it is 100% FREE for anyone, anywhere in the world! Dr. Kahn began his website as a passion project to bring education to literally everyone in the world — FOR FREE! “I’ll have a helping of ‘preparing for 8th grade math’ with a side of ‘organic chemistry,’ please.” All I can say is, “Get your yank-dank-doodle over there, pronto!” https://www.khanacademy.org

2. WORK IT WITH CLASS

An important factor that seems logical but often overlooked is to make a dedicated space that served as the classroom. Your children need to know that this, be it converted bedroom, spare room, den, is a designated room to be the classroom. When your kids are in here, school is in session. It may be temping to “do school” in the living room with soft music on and folding laundry, but do not do it! You may have to discipline yourself too in this area to make your special room the classroom in which you also stay.

3. WORK THOSE PRODUCTS

It may be super-tempting to want to into Staples, Wal-Mart or even Dollar Tree and buy all that “cutesy stuff” for your converted classroom. It is okay to get a few things, like a bulletin board and a boarder and even stickers.

Don’t waste your money on all that fluff that ends up being only distracting as well as an unnecessary expense.

But you have to see between needing the “stuff” without the “fluff.” What do I mean?

  • Whiteboard and markers=Stuff
  • Paper frogs to hang from ceiling=Fluff
  • Digital projector, if you can afford one=Stuff
  • Back to school border for your door=Fluff
  • Construction paper and good scissors=Stuff
  • Anything with apples on it!=Fluff
  • At least five single-subject notebooks per child=Stuff

You get the idea. Don’t waste your money on all that fluff that ends up being only distracting as well as an unnecessary expense. (If you’ve ever walked out of Dollar Tree and said to yourself, “How in the world did I just spend 60 clams?” you can easily do that with cheesy school stuff that is unnecessarily junks up your classroom area.)

3. WORK THAT WHITEBOARD

All of us grew up going to school with either a black/green board or a whiteboard. I remember going to my first, “Art for Elementary Teachers” class and seeing a whiteboard for the first time, wondering what it was. Then, to my amazement, the instructor WROTE on its smooth surface! In various colors! “What is this magic?” I muttered out loud. Looking around, I wasn’t the only one mesmerized, only having heard the sound of dry chalk squeak and squawk across a board like an old hen at feeding time.

I remember going to my first, “Art for Elementary Teachers” class and seeing a whiteboard for the first time, wondering what it was. Then, to my amazement, the instructor WROTE on its smooth surface! In various colors! “What is this magic?” I muttered out aloud in awe.

Of course, whiteboards are the norm and classrooms use them fairly exclusively. Depending on your room size, I recommend choosing the largest whiteboard that the room can accommodate. Why? Some of the assignments can stay on the board or you can have a couple of problems on the board for your kids to do when they first come in the room, and you can use a digital projector on it if you have one.

Let‘s get real: Whiteboards are expensive. More than I would pay. However, an extra plus of buying the “real McCoy” is that most are magnetic. If that’s important to you, you can look at one here.

For my thrifty friends, here’s my solution: Go to a Lowe’s or Home Depot where they sell waterproof bathroom boards. I was shocked that one of these boards at Home Depot was only $13.76! Another bonus of this pseudo-whiteboard is that you — or someone you know — can buzz off a couple 12”x16” pieces for each of your kids to use. Sometimes these stores will even make a couple cuts for you for little or no extra charge. Add a thin Expo marker. Put it in an old sock that serves as an eraser, and…Violá! An individual board that can be used for just about any subject. You can see one of Home Depot’s boards here.

4. WORK TO BE “TEACHER ONLY” ON THE CLOCK

A common problem with “green” homeschooling parents is this: separating the role of the teacher and the parent. When will kids know they are also your students? How will your children know they should take school — or you — seriously if they are in their pajamas with a math book and you have your sleep pants on? Come on! Your kids should be dressed as they would waiting for a bus to take them to school. As the teacher, you should dress semi-professionally: not a t-shirt, a blouse. Not shorts; pants and maybe jewelry. Men, please wear a decent shirt, preferably long sleeves, and decent pants. A tie would be great too once in a blue moon.

Why does this matter? Your children will see you in a different light. They will soon think: “This is Teacher Dad,” or “Mom means business now.” You will also take this job more seriously. Yes, this is a job and a dang hard one.

Do not think that if you bake a cake and have the kids measure the ingredients it counts as a math lesson! Maybe a mini-lesson at best.

If you do not believe you can teach when it gets hard — and it will — then you better rethink your commitment. Your kids will smell “mediocre” all over you and make grass clippings out of you mighty quickly. Do not think that if you bake a cake and have the kids measure the ingredients it counts as a math lesson! Maybe a mini-lesson at best.

Your kids should be dressed as they would waiting for a bus to take them to school. As the teacher, you should dress semi-professionally

Your kids — your students — will understand your expectations very soon if you have your teacher hat on as your children with their student hats as they enter their classroom area.

5. WORK THAT “PARENT HAT” AFTER HOURS

Your children need you back as their parent and not their teacher. Changing into more casual clothes will help with that transition for both of you. You may have assigned some homework or what they didn’t finish in class was homework. Your child may ask for help. Now you are the parent assisting, but it will feel much like being the teacher since teaching is such a nurturing profession.

Try to engage your children in “family stuff.” Preparing dinner and setting the table, doing a “real” science experiment, making those crazy-giant bubbles with Dawn dish soap, glycerin, and a wire hanger, playing a board game after dinner, or any outside games that the weather permits. Interacting with your child as mom and dad is a distinction which your children need as they grow up in their school-house.

Make those crazy-giant bubbles with Dawn dish soap, glycerin, and a wire hanger.

You are a homeschooling parent most likely because you believe one or more of these reasons is very best for your child:

  • Provide a more individualized program for their needs
  • Learn at their own pace, often moving faster
  • Flexible schedule is easier on the whole family
  • Strong feeling of autonomy and independence
  • Provide them one-on-one help
  • Homework help is an easy transition after school hours
  • Instill your moral base for their worldview
  • Help them thrive under your tutelage

As well as many others not mentioned.

Yes, homeschooling can seem like a daunting task. You may feel even more so after you are in it for a month because you will realize that you didn’t know what you didn’t know: teaching, well, is just plain difficult.

Good for you, mom or dad, for taking your children’s education head on during this uncertain time! Please consider these five ways to “work it,” and they will help you keep your sanity and family unity. Stay the course, parents, even when it’s hard. Your school-house will bring your family benefits you never expected.

Retired Elementary Teacher who happens to have MS