How to Homeschool your Children during a Crisis Situation: a Comprehensive Guide for Non-Educators

I was talking with one of my oldest friends the other day, and as one might expect the conversation turned to what my district was planning to do when school opens back up in … uh, less than a month.

“Nobody knows!” I said. “There’s no plan.”

Which, okay, is a slight exaggeration; it is fairer to say that the plan that they do have is grossly inadequate in every measurable way. But it’s a plan! It’s a plan that’s going to fail miserably, but it’s a plan!

She lives in another state, and like most of my long-term friends she is a college professor. (I am very much the uneducated rube among my closest friends, believe it or not.) So she is already trying to figure out how to manage her own classes in the best way she can, and she commented that she just didn’t know what the hell she was going to do if all three of her kids were home with her all the time. While she’s lucky in that she can work from home, that doesn’t mean that she can work from home and take on schooling responsibilities for three kids, who are all at inconveniently different grades and levels of responsibility.

I figure she’s not the only one.

I am here to help.

THE LUTHER SILER GUIDE TO EDUCATING YOUR OWN CHILDREN DURING A PANDEMIC, WHEN YOU ARE NOT A TEACHER, DO NOT WANT TO BE A TEACHER, AND FRANKLY WOULD BE PERFECTLY HAPPY TO LOCK YOUR OWN CHILDREN IN A BOX FOR EIGHT HOURS A DAY IF IT MEANT THEY WOULD LEAVE YOU ALONE FOR A FEW MINUTES

It’s a working title.

Here is how to homeschool your kids until such time as it is safe to send them back to school:

  1. Make sure they read every day. At least a couple of hours. I don’t care what they read. Game guides. Comic books. Nonfiction. Chapter books. Newspapers. Age-appropriateness is probably a good thing; if you have a library nearby, and it’s still open, take ’em a couple of times a month and get a big pile of books. When you have time, ask them about what they read.
  2. Maybe– maybe— go on the internet, I recommend math-aids.com— find some math work from under the grade they are in right now, because you are making sure they’re keeping up basic skills, not reinventing the wheel– and make them do a couple of pages of math a day. Focus on basic operations, fractions, decimals, percentages, things like that. Story problems are good. Yes, I know you hated story problems as a kid. Make ’em do some math once in a while that doesn’t immediately tell them every step to do, is what I’m saying.

That’s it.

That’s the whole curriculum.

Worried about science or social studies? Okay, make some of those books they’re reading be about topics in those departments that they find interesting, and again, asking them about what they read is good. If you’re concerned about them getting some exercise, figure out the safest way to force them to run around once in a while and call that gym class. If they already play an instrument, have them keep practicing that with whatever they have on hand. If they don’t, this is not the time to learn. Call that music class. If they’re artistically inclined, get some books on art and buy some paper to draw on. There’s art class.

My point is, you do not need an expensive fucking curriculum and you also do not need to feel bad about being an inadequate educator when your actual job is keeping the lights on and food on the table (I have enough trouble just remembering to feed my own child, who would only eat once a week if we never made him) and a roof over their heads.

Keep them reading, make them do some math once in a while, and pull in stuff from other subjects that they find interesting. Do not fight with them on anything but the reading. And, again, if it has printed words on it it is reading. Your main focus is to keep their brains from either solidifying into cement inside their skulls or liquefying and dribbling out of their ears. We’re looking for a nice tofu-like brain consistency here, and yes, I just Googled “consistency of the human brain,” and it’s the best thing I’ve done all day.

It’s possible that there are laws wherever you live that regulate homeschooling, but I genuinely doubt anybody’s paying attention to them right now and I’m absolutely certain that if you have to tell the state what curriculum you’re using or some shit like that they aren’t going to come to your house and double-check. If your kid is enrolled in school and is e-learning, and you find the volume of work you’re supposed to keep track of for your kids to be impossible, email their teachers and tell them the deal. Chances are, it’ll be fine. The parents who are worried about it are not the ones we’re worried about.

Breathe.

It will be fine. Your kid will miss some learning and some later teachers will have to clean that up. That’s okay. It will be fine.

It will not keep them out of college. It will not keep them from being able to hold a job later on in life. They’re all gonna miss a good chunk of this year. Once they’re back in school, we’ll take care of it.

Just keep them safe, keep them healthy, keep them fed, and keep their brains at a nice, moist, tofu-like consistency. Everything else is fixable.

An anecdote, apropos of nothing

Every so often, my wife will get into some sort of conflict with my son when I’m in another room. This isn’t something that happens a lot, mind you; once or twice a week, maybe, generally around bath- or bedtime. The details don’t really matter all that much. He’s either doing something she doesn’t want him to do, or he’s not doing something she wants him to do. Sometimes he manages both at the same time.

And my reaction, generally, is to let her handle it. Not because I don’t care, or because I think discipline is her job; we co-parent as much as we can, and on the rare occasion where we disagree on how to handle something involving him we sort it out when he isn’t around. Because here’s the thing: if my wife and son are having an issue, particularly if he’s already upset and not just being a butthead, the second I show up– even if I don’t say anything– I have escalated the situation, just by my presence. Now my son’s not scared of me, there’s no threat of physical violence here– I’ve never laid a finger on him. But if he’s already upset, the second he’s outnumbered he’s twice as upset as he was before.

I have made things worse, simply by showing up. It might be my intention to calm things down or, alternatively, to lay down the law and quell the misbehavior, but what I have done is escalated the situation.

Now let’s imagine that I walk into the room, and my belt is in my hand. I don’t say anything; I’m not screaming or yelling or carrying on. I’m just there, leather belt in hand, perhaps doubled over on itself.

That’s gonna be even worse, right? Even though I haven’t actually done anything. I’m just standing there, with my belt, and I’ve made things more frightening, more violent, more alienating, more dangerous. Just by standing there.

Funny how that works.


8:34 PM, Monday, June 1: 1,809,109 confirmed cases and 105,099 Americans dead.

On the limits of my principles

I’ve mentioned that my wife broke her foot the other day. She does most virtually all of the grocery shopping. While I am perfectly capable and willing to step in and handle that job, the simple fact that I don’t do it means that it will likely take me twice as long to get the job done because I don’t know where everything is, and I’ve discussed my (getting better) issues with panic attacks while wearing masks a couple of times as well. So as soon as we discovered that we could do curbside pickup for our groceries for just $5 extra plus the tip, we decided that at least for right now that’s how we were going to handle things.

Now, they allow you to set general rules for what to do if something you want isn’t in stock. I’m not sure what the options are (she did the ordering) but basically it boils down to they pick substitutes or they don’t. Our son has some allergy issues so she decided that the best move was just to go with no substitutes, and if for some reason we’re denied something that we feel like we need I can always make a run tomorrow for a couple of things.

You may recall also that I wrote a Comprehensive List of Things I am Currently Boycotting a couple of weeks ago. One of my friends mentioned Papa John’s in the comments. Papa John’s is another sort of edge case for me; I generally avoid eating there but that’s as much because my aging digestive system can no longer handle their garlic sauce (which is absolutely essential to the Papa John’s experience; do not insult me by suggesting that I can eat their pizza without drenching it in garlic sauce) than it is because of their politics.

That said, I’ve been craving the damn place ever since reading that comment. It’s a terrible idea, so we haven’t caved, but it’s been lurking there in the back of my head.

We decided on the way home from getting groceries that we’d have pizza for dinner, as there were supposed to be two pizzas in our order. Then we got home and discovered that one of them wasn’t there, presumably because they were out of stock on that specific kind of pizza.

Damn. We briefly discuss other options, and Papa’s comes up, and I shoot it down, because it’s a terrible idea. And then I interrupt the conversation to go use the bathroom, and while I’m in the bathroom I hear my son yell for my wife from our other bathroom. And when I come out, she tells me that I have something I need to deal with in the other bathroom.

And, well, a minute or two later, after seeing what I had been summoned for, I sent this text:

If you’re thinking “Okay, this sounds like that happened, but the size of a baseball? It has to be something else.” No, it doesn’t. That’s what happened.

I have about an hour to get my affairs finished off for the evening before I begin paying for dinner.


8:45 PM, Friday May 8: 1,283,846 confirmed cases and 77,178 American deaths.

A thing that just happened

A trifle too long for Twitter, so a second short blog post on the day it is!

The boy is working on some language arts homework, and he’s occasionally coming to ask me some questions (I’m in the office) when he hits something he can’t immediately figure out. The theme for this particular assignment appears to be words with double letters and opposites, so we’re trying to find words that have both. I try to give him indirect answers so that he has to figure the words out himself, and his vocabulary is generally pretty good. For example, the first time the initial word was alike and he needed to come up with different.

So he comes back into the office a bit later and this time the task is to find a word that is something to wear. So, dress. I tell him it’s something that is usually worn by girls.

“Boobs?”

Suddenly I have a headache.

“People don’t wear boobs, dude. That’s a body part. They’re attached.”

He thinks about it for a second, and then, while rubbing his chest, asks what the things that “cover the boobs” are.

“That’s a bra. Three letters. No repeats.”

He thinks for another minute or two and comes up with the word dress, and I send him away.

The end.

A brief thought concerning corporal punishment

I basically forgot to blog today. I’ve done an astonishingly good job avoiding the Internet across the board beyond what was necessary to get my last little bit of grading done before Spring Break– yeah, I’m on Spring Break, somehow– and other than the couple of hours it took to do that I’ve basically either had my nose in a book or been sitting in front of the PS4. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday where I can’t leave the house, mind you, but I seriously just had a sort of “internet? what?” moment a bit ago.

We have decided to watch the entire Fast and Furious series while I am home, by the way. Right now we’re about 20 minutes into the first one and literally every object on the screen looks like it was filmed separately on a greenscreen. I don’t understand why this movie looks so terrible. I may end up having to livetweet a few of these, we’ll see.

Anyway.

Something occurred to me tonight as we were putting the boy to bed, and this is going to be one of those lead-ins where the lead-in is longer than the actual point of the post– but I swat my kid on the ass as a joke all the time, right? I’ve never spanked him, literally never laid a finger on him in anger, and neither has my wife. But I swat the kid on the ass as a joke all the time, particularly as I’m putting him to bed. Most nights end with a hug and a swat on the ass. And tonight, for no particular reason, I swatted him a little harder than usual, to the point where I noticed it. Did he? No. Not at all. He squealed like he usually does– it’s part of the game, basically– but if he had any idea that I’d swatted him any harder than I usually do he didn’t react to it.

Now, again, I’ve never spanked him and never hit him with the intent to hurt him. Not once. And the thought that floated through my head and triggered this piece is that if I did decide I was going to spank my kid, with the intent of it being painful and in some way theoretically modifying and/or punishing his behavior, I would have to hit him harder than I have ever hit anyone before. Which, okay, isn’t saying a lot, as while I’ve broken up dozens of fights over the years I haven’t been in one since fourth grade– but …

Yeah. I’m not doing that to my son.

That’s all.