Six weeks into this strange homeschooling experiment, my family and I have arrived at a tentative détente. My third-grader knows roughly what’s expected of him academically, and I now realize that he’s not doomed for a life of petty thievery if he does’t complete every last Dreambox math assignment.
I asked Jewish parents throughout the area how they’re handling this newish-but-getting-old-fast setup. What makes life easier? What are some tricks, tips, strategies and secrets? Read on for ideas.
“We make a schedule in the morning during our breakfast meeting,” says Jessica. (I’m impressed that she has a breakfast meeting. My kids eat waffles in front of the TV.) “My kids do better with transition to new activities if it’s planned. I also work in time for them to ‘help me’ work. I am running an edible garden and working full-time at a software company, so it’s definitely a lot. I also drink lots of coffee and stay up later than I should.” (Ahhh. Now I feel better!)
Diana has a similar strategy. “Definitely our best trick is writing out our schedule on a big piece of paper and posting it every morning, kind of like the ‘morning message’ at school, but with a schedule of everything we’ll be doing that day,” she says. “I add check boxes after each thing so the kids can check off each item as we go. I also bought them a clock so they know what time it is! We somehow didn’t have a clock in our house pre-quarantine.”
Jackie, meanwhile, lets her twins share a Google calendar, which makes sense as our tots manage schedules that rival a CEO’s. “I have twin second-graders and have shared a Google calendar with each of them on their iPad,” she says. “I add any Zoom links as I get them and they know to click on the calendar icon, tap the meeting and tap the link to enter their Zoom call. It has come in extremely handy, as I’m often in my own Zoom calls at the same time as theirs.”
Cara divides her kids’ days into two-hour blocks with focuses like dress up, computer games, Legos, reading and worksheets. However, her 6-year-old “negotiated taking Passover off from her blocked schedule and invented her own,” she says.
Karen has learned to put her kids to work. “Every week we do a chore draft where all six of us—four kids ranging in age from 7 to 19—sign up for chores, including helping with dinner prep, cleaning up from dinner, setting the table, cleaning the table and counters after meals, emptying the dishwasher, folding laundry, et cetera,” she says. “They can earn a ‘bye’ by helping with an additional task, like cleaning and putting away the groceries when they come home, vacuuming part of the house or some other thing we ask. Every week or so, we are now asking the children to change their sheets and clean their bathrooms—the 7-year-old gets more help than the older kids. Having the kids helping takes a little off our plate; they learn responsibility and are contributing to our family.”
In a similar vein, “I’m having my kids thoroughly clean one room a day with my help. They learn how to clean things and are a little more likely to help keep it clean once they’ve cleaned it!” says Annie.
Indeed, autonomy is a common theme here.
“With our 5-year-old, whose school closed and furloughed all the teachers on day 10, we created a list of things he should do throughout the day,” says Amy. “This list includes some independent things like doing 20 minutes of Khan Kids, or playing with Legos, blocks, et cetera, for 30 minutes, which gives the adults some down time to focus on other things. The list also includes things we do together, like playing two games of his choosing or doing a project of his choosing. Projects have included riveting topics like, ‘Why do we poop?’ and ‘Where do boogers come from?’ Usually the projects last a few days and involve some internet research and arts and crafts. He can choose which activity to do when so he feels like he has some control over the day.”
Andrea, a teacher, has come up with an ingenious way to block out interruptions: “I have three pieces of construction paper folded like a tent: red, yellow and green. Green means you can interrupt and ask me anything, yellow means you can quietly interrupt or write me a note because I’m in a meeting with adults or on mute, and red means I’m in a super important meeting or working one-on-one with a student and no interruptions are allowed.” (I personally plan to don a red caftan from now on.)
And Shira shared perhaps my favorite piece of advice: “Clear out all the noise of social media and school and what everybody is telling you you should be doing. Then decide what’s important to you and your family. Outside time? Family time? Academics? Connections with school? There is no authority who knows the best way to do this. No one knows what’s best for me and my family. It’s up to me, along with my husband and my kids, to some extent, to make those decisions.”
What are your strategies?