3 Quick Tips from a Seasoned Homeschooler: Simple Ideas for Learning at Home

It was a dark and stormy night (true). After a long day of battling her miniature t-Rex/ empress (toddler), the exhausted superhero (mom) got her to sleep and disappeared to her fancy office (the kitchen table) to write exquisite literature (a blog post).

Well, isolation isn’t really that isolating when you have 7 kids. It’s actually tricky to find a moment alone, so I haven’t found much time to blog. My luxurious hour and a half I used to have each Thursday to write at a cafe is obviously over. So, like everyone else…re-adjusting.

But as a homeschooler, I’ve been really wanting to reach out and share tips on learning at home with your kids, because so many people have been unexpectedly thrown into having their kids home all day, instead of in school. You might be feeling a lot of pressure and stress, but really, you don’t need to. Kids are amazingly creative and resourceful, and are actually able to learn a lot on their own. Here are a few tips and ideas:

Homeschool Tip # 1: You’re not a babysitter or a clown.

In other words, you don’t need to entertain them all day. They are home with you, but you don’t need your eye on them every second. They might make a mess building a fort or a giant LEGO tower, but that’s ok. Creative, unstructured play is great for learning.

Two of my girls made a Coronavirus vs the good bugs board game with play dough and thumbtacks.

Homeschool Tip #2: Boredom is a good thing.

Say what?? Really, many of the most interesting things my kids have done happened because they were at loose ends and needed to find something to do. So while educational shows and documentaries are awesome and helpful, there comes a time to turn them off, and let your kids figure out what to do next. For example, here’s a few things my kids have been up to lately, while I stocked the cupboards and cooked meals:

1. Putting on simple plays. The other evening, the kids put on a hilarious version of Little Red Riding Hood, complete with costumes and make-up. It was so funny that my hand was shaking from laughter while to tried to film it. It was great to see all their personalities coming out in acting.

2. Practicing music. My 9 year old daughter loves to play piano and spends lots of time composing new songs and practicing her lessons. My 11 year old took ukulele lessons for a few months, and taught her 13 year old sister to play. Now they learn new songs together and do duets.

3. Creative writing. Two of my daughters have been working hard on kids chapter books (their own idea). One is on chapter 6 of her island adventure story, and the other just finished her ballet story, which is 9 chapters. After we comb through and do some editing, we are planning to get some copies printed with Blurb, which is a great self-publishing company. The nice thing is, you can just order as many copies as you like; there’s no need to buy 1000.

4. Mini-Marketplace. The other day the kids came up with a fun game: gathering up things to make little stores for their siblings to shop at, using old postage stamps as currency. They had a great time doing it and kept busy for hours. My friend’s daughters spent a morning making a restaurant at home, complete with menus and meal plans.

5. Creating Cartoons. My kids love to do art, and one fun project is to fold a paper into little squares, unfold it again, then use each one to tell a piece of a story in cartoon. Maybe this seems like fooling around, rather than learning, but actually, literacy skills like planning ahead, creating a cohesive story, and self-expression though different mediums are all there.

6. Making an animal habitat. The kids love to make toys and tunnels for their hamster, so he can have a gorgeous home, and the other day used their interior decorating skills to set up a terrarium for a caterpillar we found outside.

7. Dance and move. We are huge fans of living room dance parties, and with two girls in ballet, they like to practice a lot. We also do exercise videos together, even the toddler. It’s adorable to see her trying to do the plank, with her tiny bottom in the air. Another daughter does Tae Kwon Do, so we practice her latest moves, too.

Homeschool Tip #3: Fill their minds with greatness. Read aloud together.

Filling your kids heads with great ideas might seem like a tall order, but the method is actually simple: read great books aloud to your kids and talk about them together. Think about your favourite childhood books, how much those characters stuck with you, how you changed because of participating in their adventures through your imagination. Lucky you! Now you get to experience them again, through the eyes of your kids.

This shared experience helps build family culture and closeness, and gives a frame of reference when discussing life’s problems. For example, “Remember when Frodo was struggling to carry his burden, but Sam really helped him? Your brother is really stressed…I need you to be his Sam right now.”

You might think reading aloud is only something for little kids, but no; it’s beneficial for everyone, even your teens. Reading aloud gives your kids a chance to hear words used and pronounced properly, to develop more complex speech patterns and vocabulary and to work on concentration skills. Books are not Twitter or Snapchat. They require slowing down, focussing and being quiet. These are good life skills.

You might think it’s too hard when you have little kids who won’t sit still, but try to not get hung up on that. Your baby and toddler might be rolling around on the carpet, but as long as the others can hear, it’s ok. We got through “The Hobbit,” a few months ago and my four year old loved it. He’s super tough so he was ready to take on orcs with his imaginary sword.

Books don’t have to be long to be good. Poetry, short stories and picture books can be wonderful, too. There’s lots of beauty, truth and wisdom to be found in all of those. My kids and I love the Gregor the Overlander Chronicles by Suzanne Collins. It’s fast-paced and easy to read, but full of interesting content to discuss, from loyalty and betrayal to discrimination and what is just in war. One of the best ways to help kids develop critical thinking skills is to discuss things with them…and since we don’t only want to talk about the news and current events, literature is a great spring board for discussion.

Well, that’s plenty for one day! Soon I hope to make a list of some of my most recommended read-alouds, and talk more about the importance of story in helping our kids learn. Take care everyone, and all the best!

Thoughts on Being Home

We all find ourselves at home, due to the need for social isolation right now. For me as a homeschooler, it’s not that different than usual, with the exception of no play dates and extra classes, but it’s still bizarre to not even be able to invite people into my home. Especially since I’m the kind of person who meets someone new almost every time I go out, and who loves to have potlucks. Even my wedding was a potluck, so everyone could come!

So I’ve been thinking about what it really means to be home. Here’s a few things to ponder as we all adjust:

Is our home merely a parking lot–a place we leave our car between activities, or is it a destination in itself?

Is our home merely a hotel, a place we rest before we go off to live during the day, or is it a place we are truly alive, and most able to be ourselves?

Each person is a universe unto themselves. How much we have to explore!

When you can’t go farther, go deeper. During this period of physical limitations, let yourself grow on the inside.

The plants lay hidden under the snow. And the farmer, the owner of the land, observed with satisfaction: ‘Now they are growing on the inside.’

I thought of you: of your forced inactivity…

Tell me: are you too growing ‘on the inside’? St Josemaria, The Way, 294

While it is strange to not be able to go out, do we realize how lucky we are to have homes to be in, unlike so many refugees around the world? Let’s all pray for each other in these difficult times.

If home is where the heart is…how healthy is your heart right now? What can you do to make it better? For a great and timely read, try Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home.

Home is where our children learn to love…can you learn to love being home with them, at least for now?

Children have such a beautiful way of seeing the world. Being home is a chance to re-enter the magic of childhood with them.

“Oh, look, here’s a big bee just tumbled out of an apple blossom. Just think what a lovely place to live–in an apple blossom! Fancy going to sleep in it when the wind was rocking it. If I wasn’t a human girl, I think I’d like to be a bee and live among the flowers.” Anne of Green Gables

How we can extend the warmth of our home to others when we can’t visit with them? A phone call just to check in, a text, meeting on FaceTime or Zoom, a little card or letter, a surprise parcel, a chat over the fence with a neighbour…these little acts of love make everyone happier. My generous eldest nephew really took the cake when he sent my kids a Nintendo Switch to brighten their days at home. Their old Wii had conked out, and this was, in this time of crisis, actually a solvable problem. Hurrah for those kinds!

Are we open to receiving help and love from others, and letting them be the hero for the day? The other day my younger kids made a surprise breakfast with Earl Grey Tea, my favourite.

Love to you all our there, and despite the struggles, may your homes be places of love and laughter.

Work Clothes

With coffee-crazed hands

I iron the shirts

I make them smooth

I tremble

I iron the shirts

the ones he wears on the skytrain

to the job he still has

to the office that’s still open

I make them smooth

I tremble

The steam rises up

like incense from my hands

I flatten the hills

make smooth the valleys

make straight his path

I work

I pray

I tremble