Prior to the pandemic, the idea of homeschooling never crossed my mind. As a busy working mom, I depended on school not only for the educational and social development of my children, but as a basic necessity for me to be able to do my job. I’m an advertising and editorial photographer, and my days are normally spent flying from my studio to the State House to House of Blues and everywhere in between—photographing athletes, politicians, musicians and world-changers.
And school, for us, was about so much more than childcare. School was our community. It was the hugs from my mom-friends at drop-off. It was my son’s kindergarten teacher who, whenever she saw me in the hallway, used to whisper in my ear, “You are doing such a great job with the kids, Diana,” giving me that so-needed parenting confidence boost. School was packing up two cameras and three lenses for every concert, performance or carnival because, while I love my job shooting magazine covers and ad campaigns, there’s nothing like photographing my own kids as I kvell at the confidence and independence they’ve developed at school.
I had it all figured out. My job, our house, our community, our school.
And then in March everything changed. Within a few days of COVID-19 becoming a national emergency, every single job I had booked for 2020 was canceled. For the first time since I began my career in 2007, I looked at my calendar and saw nothing.
At the same time, I found myself having to implement remote school for my 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son. As a freelancer, my income dropped to zero overnight, and as a result, we soon realized that the most logical plan was for me to implement their schooling while my husband worked around the clock on his company.
Their teachers were rock stars. Overnight, they switched their entire classrooms to the digital world, and it was wild to see how they turned the entire school day virtual. We loved the continuity of seeing their teachers online and hearing the voices of their sweet friends.
As the weeks went on, however, it became more and more challenging for my children to stay at their computers throughout the day. Remote schooling was also a challenge for me as a caregiver. My mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2006, and as her primary support, there are days I need to drive her to doctors’ appointments or take her on errands. On those days, it was difficult to keep the kids on track with their remote classes.
After a few particularly challenging weeks this spring, I decided to order some workbooks, board games and a piano keyboard—and I dipped my toes in the water of homeschooling.
I found, to my surprise, that it was pretty fun! Prior to the pandemic, I was always in a rush. School, work, groceries, birthday parties, travel, deadlines. For the first time this spring, I didn’t have any of those to manage. I was able to play with my kids. We started reading more. We started to…enjoy it!
And yet I couldn’t wait for the pandemic to get under control so I could send my kids back to school in the fall. I dreamed of running in slow motion to hug my mom-friends at school—to put on the kids’ backpacks and send them to their classrooms. And I dreamed of being back in my studio—back to work.
But as we all know, the virus didn’t go away. Sadly, I started realizing that my wish for things to “go back to normal” before fall was not going to happen.
I found myself having to make a difficult decision. As the primary caregiver to my mom, we simply cannot social distance from her. As much as it pained me to realize, we couldn’t take the risk of sending our children back to school.
I was left with two options: try remote schooling again or take the big, scary leap into the unknown—homeschool.
I started by joining a few local homeschooling groups and reading “The Brave Learner” by Julie Bogart. With every chapter, I found myself falling head over heels in love with the concept. I could barely finish a chapter before I found myself running around the house, creating educational corners, book nooks and art stations. I started a Google Doc with a thousand ideas for the school year: tree journals, art projects, math games—and dove headfirst into learning about curriculum.
I connected with other local homeschooling and remote schooling parents. At first, I thought there would be just a few of us. But by August, it was clear we were far from alone—hundreds of families in our town chose remote schooling or homeschooling, and together we have grown a tight-knit community, supporting each other in our search for curriculum, outdoor classes and setting up social distance playdates.
The biggest bonus of homeschooling is the flexibility. As a freelancer, I can book shoots (outdoors, with distance!) on my own schedule—I can leave the kids with my mom and we can work on their academics later in the day. Or, because we are homeschooling five days per week, I can choose to add a homeschool day on Sunday and then take Tuesday off from school to work.
I felt a weight off my shoulders when I submitted our education plan. After a year where I felt so out of control, I finally had a plan I could depend on. A flexible, exciting, vibrant plan for my children. It wasn’t the life I envisioned for myself one year ago, but as it turns out, I was really looking forward to this adventure.
Fast forward to today—we have been “official homeschoolers” for one month! We’ve settled into a nice schedule, but it’s flexible enough that on a whim, we can go apple picking, visit a farm or take my mom to a doctor’s appointment—and it doesn’t affect the kids’ schoolwork. We are sleeping more, reading more, playing more, painting more and snuggling more.
We have found ways to incorporate social time while still maintaining social distance. We signed the kids up for outdoor ballet and martial arts. We have classes in our driveway with “guest lecturers”—my dad, an attorney and history buff, is our civics teacher! We mask up and ride scooters or bikes with friends.
We’ve connected with two brilliant tutors from Tufts University via GoPeer who work one-on-one virtually with our kids—teaching them math, science and reading. I’ve found a curriculum that covers the nuts and bolts of kindergarten and second grade, which leaves me the time to get creative with our extracurricular projects.
And the best part? My kids play with their Bubby every day. When I walk into the room and see the three of them playing chess, pretending with dolls or, my mom’s favorite—teaching them about economics—I’m reminded of why we made this important decision.
Will we be homeschoolers long-term? I doubt it—I still dream of those slow-motion reunion hugs and seeing my kids back in their classrooms. But for now, at a time when so much feels uncertain, I’m staying in the moment and appreciating every book, game, dance, laugh and snuggle as we continue our adventure in homeschooling.
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