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.

In which I rearrange

Supposedly the governor is going to be releasing some sort of plan on what’s going to be happening with the schools this fall on July 1, which is– Jesus— next week. I expect two things from this plan: first, that it will, in some way, have us returning to our buildings as scheduled in August, and second, that it will be thrown overboard as things continue to get worse– because one of the iron-clad rules of the last several years is nothing ever gets better— and we will not, in fact, return. Disney World just cancelled plans to reopen, y’all; we’re going nowhere.

This means that I need to start thinking about taking virtual education a bit more seriously than I did last grading period, because we got thrown into that with no planning. I have the rest of the summer to get set up properly for this, and one of the first things I needed to do was set up my office better for recording lots of videos. The desk used to be against the wall that has the diplomas on it, right under the diplomas; as a result it showed the entire rest of the room whenever I was on camera, and I got into the habit of starting any video I recorded for the kids with the words “Welcome back to my filthy office!”

I spent the morning shoving furniture around. The white table behind the desk used to be against the low window to the right of my desk, and used to be against it the long way; in addition, the small file cabinet with the printer on it used to be basically where my chair is and there was a taller file cabinet in the corner. That tall file cabinet is basically immediately to the right of the picture, off-screen.

Advantages of the new layout:

  • It gives me more work space. Even if I don’t have to shoot a lot of videos next fall, all that desk area behind me is going to make things like organizing papers for grading a lot easier. I need to keep it clean, granted, but I’m sure I can do that. Really.
  • The image the camera on my desktop now sees is this:
  • That’s a lot cleaner, and the other advantage of the desk is if I end up using something like a green screen or a stand-up whiteboard to explain things I have the table space for it. Right now the camera is pointed a little lower than I want it to be, but that’s literally just a matter of reaching my arm out to my desktop and tilting it upward. Huge improvement.
  • I can actually reach my Goddamned printer now; with where it was before, the white table and the file cabinets were really tight, and getting to my printer to turn it on or get paper off of it was actually a pain in the ass. So was getting stuff out of the file cabinets. Access to all of those things is now much better.
  • Speaking of access to things, I can actually open the low window now. It was behind the table before; I couldn’t reach it to open it.
  • I could do this before, but I just learned about it: I can stream the PS4 to my desktop. It appears to work pretty damn well, too, which means if I want to I can play games in here without taking over what is basically the only TV in the house. It also means that when I want to play the occasional game that I don’t want the boy exposed to I can do it without waiting for him to go to bed. Again, I could do this before I rearranged, but I just learned about it so it feels like a new thing.

So that’s all a lot better. There are a few disadvantages, but they’re not a huge deal:

  • Lighting. As you can see from the webcam picture, even with the light on in the room and both the windows open, in broad daylight, my current webcam (which is the internal one on the computer) makes it look really dark in the room. I’m not sure what’s triggering this, but it definitely looks darker in here now than it did with the desk on the other wall. Possible fixes for this include a better webcam and a ring light behind the desktop. Possibly both. We’ll see.
  • Putting the white table perpendicular to the wall eats up a lot of floor space in the room. This is not necessarily a big deal, though, as the room is the office and it doesn’t really need to be super spacious. I have plenty of access to the closet you can see back there, and there’s enough room for me to move my chair around comfortably without feeling trapped here.
  • Related to that, though: my wife and I talked yesterday about setting up a small desk as a homework space for the boy, particularly if we’re in a situation where he and I are both at home this fall. Putting that table where it is makes the most logical location for his desk (behind me, on the wall where the flag is now) a little too tight. There’s more room than it looks like in the picture but there’s still not a ton, even for what is just a kid’s desk. Then again, if I do something different with the boxes of comic books that are everywhere right now (that’s what all those white boxes are) I can always rotate the table out when I need it or something.
  • I assume I’ll get over this, but my secondary monitor is now to the left of my desktop, not the right, and that feels really weird.

Yay for accomplishments!


12:41 PM, Thursday, June 25: 2,388,865 confirmed infections and 122,071 Americans dead.

REBLOG: My Gripe with Homeschoolers

I don’t always agree with Atlas Educational’s ideas about teaching, but this post needs some more attention. I DEMAND YOU READ IT.

Lisa Swaboda is Atlas Educational

Learning for me

It’s funny being on both sides of the coin. I think I can envision what bi-racial people feel like caught between two distinctly different groups of people; except I’m in a group all by myself most of the time. As a former public school teacher of 20+ years who attended Catholic school all her life and sent her kids to private school prior to homeschooling, I’ve seen most of the education world and it’s a mass of bureaucracy…..with most of it totally missing the point of learning.

 I like the idea of school. Scratch that.
I like the idea of learning with others. 

At the age of 10, I knew I was going to be a teacher. I mean, c’mon, Spelling bees with chocolate bars as prizes (yes, I won most of them that year), making forts in the classroom to visit when our work was complete, playing on the…

View original post 1,492 more words

On homeschooling

homeschoolFirst things first: go read this.  Yes, the whole thing.  Yes, I know it’s longish, you lazy bum, you’ll be fine; it’s well written and funny and interesting and you’ll learn stuff.  I’ll wait.

An anecdote: I had a (rare) winter birthday party at OtherJob… two weekends ago, I think?  It was weird; there were twice as many kids there as parents, but the families were fun and the kids were cute and I’m pretty sure birthday mom was flirting with me (mentioning my wife and my prominent wedding ring didn’t cure the behavior; I’m not sure if that should change my opinion about whether she was flirting) and all in all I’d rather have had them there than been alone all day.  It was pretty apparent from the jump that all of the kids were pretty bright, and I was keeping half an ear open to the conversations that were happening around the room as the party went on.  Toward the end of the party I actually asked mom where her kids went to school, and she named a school in a neighboring district and then, unsolicited, told me she moved into that district specifically to get away from the one teach in.  Not my school, mind you, but my district.

I winced.  “Ouch,” I said.  “I teach for them.”

She instantly turned massively apologetic, which really wasn’t what I was going for, and I quickly made a point to her that I’ve made to others:  I don’t judge anybody for the educational choices they make for their kids.  Well, okay, sometimes I do; I’ll get to one example later.  But I really try hard not to judge anybody for the educational choices they make for their kids, so long as that choice involves actually trying to educate their child.   This lady made the choice she thought was best for her kid, and given that I’d been watching the kid pretty carefully over the last few hours and wholeheartedly approved of her parenting, I was hardly in a position to be judgy even if I’d wanted to be.

Back to the article:  the author is one of my oldest friends; I’ve known her since college, before any of the three kids or before she even met the husband she’s been married to for ten-plus years.  (I think?  Definitely before they started dating.  I remember when they started dating; I kinda had a crush on her never mind.)

She homeschools her kids, which you’d know if you read the article, I told you to read the article, why haven’t you read the article yet?  Go read the article!  She’s doing a great job; her daughter is smarter than me already.  The entire piece is about why she and her husband made the choices they did in educating their kids, and dispelling some common ideas non-homeschoolers have about homeschooling.

I suspect I can read your mind right now; you’re expecting me to go into a point-by-point teardown of everything she said, punctuated by lots of I love this person, really, but she’s totally wrong about this and here’s why sorts of disclaimers.  Not so.  In fact, I agree with just about every damn thing she says, and on the one place where I’m going to disagree with her it’s to take a more pro-homeschooling position than she did.

I had a conversation with my wife last night about whether she’d be open to homeschooling the boy if it were possible.  She said flat-out that she wanted nothing to do with it.  Me… not so much.  If I’m being honest, I’d homeschool the boy in a second if it were a realistic option.  I’m in love with the Jeffersonian model of education; I am the person I am because I taught myself to be.  Very little of what I know that I think is important is stuff I learned in a classroom, and the idea of getting to spend a few hours a day with my son just exposing him to the world around him is wonderful beyond compare.  However, a lot of the reasons my friend discusses that allow her to homeschool their kids are reasons why I cannot homeschool my own son:

  • As I’ve discussed before, yes, both pairs of grandparents are in town.  But my son has no cousins and honestly I’d be at least mildly surprised if he ever had any; there’s only one uncle with a chance to produce offspring, and even assuming he’s interested, by the time said offspring comes around Kenny will be too old for that child to be much of a playmate;
  • My wife and I are not joiners.  We don’t go to church and aren’t big go-do-stuff people; where socialization is not really a concern for my friend’s kids (and she makes a very good argument for why it’s not) it would be a huge concern for mine.  If Kenny didn’t go to day care he would have barely any reason to know other children even exist.  The fact that we are not at this time planning on another kid is another point against homeschooling; there are literally no kids around for my son to interact with, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.
  • She has some issues (some entirely unrelated to the quality of education available, mind you) with her local schools, both private and public.  By sheer luck I happen to have bought a house in the district of one of the best (public) primary schools in my area, and the local middle schools are pretty good too.  I have concerns with the high schools, but that’s a long way away.
  • If I have a real criticism of her piece, it’s this:  She’s able to homeschool her kids because she and her husband can afford for her to be home homeschooling their kids.  That flat-out is not an option for my wife and I, and it’s not likely to change anytime soon.  If one of us stayed home, it would be me; I make (slightly) more than my wife does, and even a 10-20% reduction in our combined take-home pay would kill us, to say nothing of over 50%.  The economics of homeschooling are a very real and serious thing.  Even if I thought it was the best option for my kid, it’s literally impossible for us.    Note that, in the interest of fairness, I have no idea what kinds of economic sacrifices she and her husband might be making for her to stay home, but the fact that they live in a house and not the cement-board-reinforced cardboard box my wife and I would quickly be relegated to means that they’re still better off than us in this regard.

All that said, this is the part I actually want to talk about, and to offer some support on.  Forgive the lengthy quote but I know your ass hasn’t clicked on that link yet:

Naysayers say: I’m not sure I know enough to teach my kid

There seem to be two different types of people who make this response about homeschooling. First, there are people who maybe are not college-educated or are for some whatever reason just concerned about their own lack of elementary knowledge. In these cases, I’d say the parent should go with their gut feeling. If they feel like they are able to guide a student through with the help of a curriculum, then they probably can. If they feel like they cannot, then they probably shouldn’t, because even if they would get along much better than they think their lack of confidence may prevent them from enjoying it. And there is no reason a person should take on a job that pays no money if they’re not going to enjoy it.

The second kind of person is usually a person who is comfortable with their own pool of basic knowledge, but is concerned that educating a seven-year-old requires special skills that their own branch of graduate school (or whatever) didn’t cover. I really don’t think this is true. I spent some time in education programs myself, though my degrees are in other areas. Education programs don’t prepare a parent to teach their own seven-year-old nearly as well as parenting their child for the first six years of his or her life did. I don’t mean to knock teachers, or the value of training in pedagogy in particular for upper grades, and I am incredibly grateful for the support and advise I get from my mother, who is a retired elementary school teacher. But I don’t think my homeschooling friends who don’t have my mother or specialized education training are ill-equipped to teach their own children. There is a great array of materials and advice available to homeschooling parents, and it can be sufficient. There isn’t any special kind of magic that gets sprinkled on schools so that learning can only happen In That Designated Space, and only by Licensed Teachers. People get so used to our culture of licensure, specialization, and lack of do-it-yourselfness (is that a thing?) that they believe it’s countercultural or scary to teach their own child when people did it with no training or second thoughts for a zillion years before our current educational system became standard.

I’ll go further than that:  any parent who is a) possessed of the basic skills that we expect of, say, a high school student and b) actually invested enough in the education of their kids to want to homeschool is probably perfectly qualified to homeschool their own child, at least through the elementary years before things start to specialize.  And I say that as a fully licensed teacher, one who, if he had his way, would live in a society with no options other than public schools, because the public schools were so good that no one even considered any other option.

Here’s the thing:  I’m trained to teach classes, not individual kids.  I’m ferdamnsure better than most people at managing and educating twenty-six kids at a time, of balancing the needs of Julie the Genius against Jimmy the fetal alcohol syndrome kid with a 60 IQ. I can differentiate my instruction like a motherfucker; I can navigate curriculum, I “speak teacher” in a way that somebody who doesn’t teach simply can’t. 

Doesn’t mean shit for specifically educating your kid.  Under most circumstances, parents should at least in theory be better for educating their kid than I would be as a teacher of classrooms of twenty-six.  But we have schools because that model doesn’t work for most people; we specialize our jobs in this country and I teach your kids so that you have time to do something else that need.  If you can read and comprehend the curriculum in front of you, you can probably do a serviceable job of teaching your kid.(*)  Just don’t get the idea that that means you can teach my class.  It’s a very different set of skills.

There’s about to be a very long parenthetical, and I’m already at 2000 words, so lemme bring this to a close: do what you think you need to do with your kid, but have the flexibility to change your mind if your circumstances change.  Just make sure your decision making is reasonable and realistic and think your way through everything you can before you make the decision.  That’s all.

(*) Probably.  And “if.”  I can think of at least two families from my current school who have pulled their kids for “homeschooling” or who have threatened to do so who I would happily report to DCFS for child endangerment in a second if “these cretins are trying to homeschool” were actually legal ground for said report.  Every teacher knows the stereotypes, and in this case I think the stereotypes exist for a reason; all the homeschooled kids who ended up back in school I’ve ever met were either brilliant wunderkinder whose parents economic circumstances changed or clearly should have been removed from their families years ago– I had a fourth grader come in in my first school whose “homeschooling” had involved using the library for a babysitter for a year.  The kid couldn’t do basic arithmetic– like, at all– could only barely read, and at one point was revealed to have no idea what a “planet” was– but was clearly socially well-adjusted and had no learning disabilities.  He’d just been entirely without education for most of his life because his parents didn’t give a damn.

And yes, I’m aware that every parent who does make the choice to send their kids to school has at least one horror story about a teacher.  Fully aware.  Some of those stories are about me.  I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to imagine what they are(**) and whether they’re true or not.(***)

(**) He tried to eat my kid!!!

(***) Only a little.