Suddenly homeschooling

April 6, 2020
Alice Mendelson

A friend recently commented that social distancing and isolation these days is a reminder of maternity leave… the chaos, the stress, the pajamas.  For those of us who have experienced parental leave and now find ourselves homeschooling, the comparison rings eerily true. 

Pinned by the needs of a newborn or by state-of-emergency orders, our days look the same. Endless cycles of feeding and mess, with a walk around the block seemingly the only respite.  Long days filled with meeting the needs of others, while our needs and our former lives shrink to a near invisible speck on the darkening horizon.
Just as when our children are small, these are the days plagued with worry and uncertainty.  Days where we doubt ourselves while simultaneously marveling at the growth and resiliency of our children.  These are the days that can be both scary and sacred.
How can time feel both endless and over too soon?   When you have a baby, everyone tells you how quickly the time passes.  Yet this realization often only comes when we go back to work, when we re-enter the world we have taken a hiatus from.   Looking back, we remember the sleepless nights and maelstrom of cluster feedings - but we also remember the magic.  And so, in the midst of this covid madness, I tried to remember to make magic whenever I can.
This time will end. We may not know what awaits us but most of us sense that sometime soon, we will look back and wish for the days when our only worry was how to fill the time with our children.  Our kids are growing with every minute, they are living in a world we could have never predicted for them, coming to terms with a radically different life.  What happens when we take away band practice and ballet, trips and sleepovers? What happens when life is distilled to just us and our kids?  It is messy and loud,  stressful and chaotic - but can it be magical as well?  
Here is my list of how to find magic :
1. All together now: Choose projects the whole family can do together.  By now you have seen the family of 6 recreate their song from Les Misérables.  I have not figured out a way to get meaningful, engaged work form my kids unless there is a shared purpose to it.
2. You’re great: Think of what you are good at and teach them how to do it.  You are definitely good at something.  Now is the time to show your kids how amazing you are. 
3. Cook and Bake:  You have to eat. There’s not much to get at the stores so it is time to get creative, making do with what we have on hand.
4. You don’t have to be an expert in anything.  Teachers will tell you that learning works best when we act as facilitators rather than instructors.  This means that you can learn right alongside your child, modeling how to analyze, interpret and synthesize the information you gather and explore.  Let the kids figure out what they are interested in – and focus on that (unless you hate it, then don’t do it)
6. Don’t feel guilty  Take that meeting and let the kids veg out.   Any teacher will tell you much of the time our kids are in school, they are not sitting in structured lessons. Behaviour interruptions recess, assemblies and social dynamics take up huge chunks of time.  Not every minute of the day needs to be structured.
7. Don’t sweat it. Learning is happening – life is learning.  My kids complained that I was yelling.   So I asked them how many times their teachers yelled and promised that I would yell less than that.  But what was the right number for comparison? Tada! Math problem! Should it be the # of times each teacher yelled divided by the number of students in the class? Mode, median, mean?  PS I yell less 
About me
I have switched from teaching college students on campus to  teaching them online while my own children making deafening bedlam beside me.  I sit through meetings muted and with video off so colleagues cannot see our uncombed hair, flour splattered pajamas and paint speckled hands.