Take a deep breath — it’s going to be OK

OKEECHOBEE — Children in Florida are now out of school indefinitely, yet somehow, they must continue their education in the midst of a pandemic and self-isolation. A debate rages over whether what the kids will be doing is considered homeschooling or e-learning conducted at home, but no matter what it is called the children, the teachers and the parents will be working together at home to keep up with their schoolwork, and this will be new and intimidating to a lot of people. The following is a compilation of notes and letters from veteran home educators and teachers to encourage you in your journey.

• I get it! I’m a 20-year veteran homeschool mom, and I understand. Some of you have had the task of homeschooling your children dumped in your lap. I am not rolling my eyes or snickering or gloating about “welcome to our world” or “we do this every day!” I had the blessing of choosing homeschooling, planning for it for years and preparing ahead for it. You didn’t. It’s sometimes difficult for me still, so I can only imagine some of you are feeling overwhelmed, especially if you have multiple children in multiple grades. But let me encourage you, you can do this! You have the one ingredient it takes to succeed: You love them. That’s what they need more than anything. They need someone to set their own needs and desires aside and to come along beside them and help. They need someone who is not complaining about spending time with them, but who can cheer them on and say, “By God’s grace, we can do this!”

• It’s your time to shine as a parent by shining the spotlight on Christ. They need to see that you know He will enable you to do what He has called you to do. Start your day off with prayer and Bible time with your kids … the most important class of the day! Simply pray and read a few verses together. They can’t do that in most schools! Show love and affection through the day. Hugs, kisses, and physical touch are perfectly legal in this school setting!

• Don’t try to re-create school at home. One of the many beauties of homeschooling is the flexibility. No need for rigid schedules, dress codes or hall passes. You don’t even need desks!

• Reach out! If you are struggling, ask a homeschool mom for advice! (It’s a little-known secret that we professional homeschoolers sometimes struggle, too, and often have to reach out. A lot.)

• Get a routine that works for your family. Don’t try to mimic others. Your family is unique. Your children are unique. It’s OK to make your homeschool as unique as your family.

• Treasure this time with them. You may never have an opportunity like this again. — Charity W., missionary/home educator/author

• A lot of my parent friends are suddenly in a position of no longer having their children in school. They are being labeled as “homeschool” families for a while. As someone who teaches as a profession, please keep this in mind: What you are being asked to do is NOT homeschooling. It’s harder and very different. Here is why: Kids in transition are the hardest to teach. When emotions are high, learning is low. Kids out of routine are scattered and their brain is focused on regulating not building. You, as the new “teacher,” didn’t choose the curriculum you are being asked to use. You aren’t familiar with it. Or maybe you weren’t even given a curriculum. Getting used to curriculum can take a whole school year. You also didn’t choose to be a homeschool teacher. That is a mental hurdle to accept. Most homeschool families make careful decisions over a long time before making this jump to homeschool. Likewise, everything you try to implement right now will be new, i.e., trial and error. This is exhausting for even the most experienced classroom or homeschool teacher. The days in my job when I try something new are the hardest days, and I have a lot of educating experience behind me.

• Please don’t look to your homeschooling friends or online posts and think — wow, they can do this every day? I’m failing! Those homeschooling families you are comparing yourself to have been doing this for months, if not years. Their kids are familiar with the process and expectations. The parents likely researched curriculum for months before implementing. They have co-ops and groups that support each other, with established relationships. Also, many homeschool families aren’t also “working from home” a full- or part-time job while they monitor their kids’ education. As much as I love the schedules and ideas the homeschool veterans are sharing, don’t expect your children to fold into that on Monday morning. Maybe they won’t fold into it at all. That’s OK.

• If your kids have been sent home from school because of COVID, you aren’t homeschooling. You are supporting your children during a stressful time when nothing is normal. Kudos for helping them keep up with learning but lavish upon yourself and them lots and lots of grace, please.” — Anonymous, professional teacher

• Hey parents! I know things just got a whole lot crazier, and there are still a lot of things that are unknown, but the one thing I do know, is that you can do this! That 2-year-old climbing all over you, while you’re trying to explain fourth grade math, is just a mild interruption. And if your child says, “That’s not how we do it in school,” just calmly say, “Your teacher told me it’s important to learn multiple ways to solve a problem.” Mic drop. Also, remember teachers will be working and transitioning to virtual teaching as well. We are all in this together! If you have questions, just message a teacher on Facebook. We would be happy to help in any way. — Josh V., K-5 teacher

• Dear Mamas and Dads, Wow … what kind of meteor just hit us, right? One week we’re reminding our kids to spend a few extra minutes each day washing their hands, then within the space of a weekend we are figuring out how to continue to educate a nation of children on our own! Oh … and meals … and toilet paper … and working from home if we are able. My mind is reeling! First, let me say … you got this! Since your children were born, they have learned everything they’ve needed to know living with you. Rolling over, sitting up, eating with a spoon, going to the bathroom, tying shoes, choosing the right clothes for the weather … I mean, admit it — you have been a great teacher! You still are. I have homeschooled my children for many years. One thing I can tell you is they have all learned differently. But the thing that they have all had in common is they have liked being together. OK … maybe not the teens ALL the time. But that’s where the starting point is. My oldest went to school for a couple of years and the first thing we had to learn was how to be together again. So, I encourage you to spend time learning to be together. Cook, clean, plan activities, etc., together. You taught your children so many things with no textbook, no Class Dojo, no gadgets. Now we have those tools and we can use them! But take time to just be together. There is a wealth of resources online. Maybe your child’s teacher is sending a packet of work to you. I still encourage you to read, explore, play games, plan meals, clean together, talk about the future, help neighbors as advisable … work as a team! You may have a teen who is worried about college after all this. Remind him/her that greatness is born from adversity! One key to becoming an adult is how we handle life when things don’t run smoothly. This is good practice! I have a daughter who was a late reader, hated math, hated taking tests, etc. School was hard for her. Today, she is the highest educated of any member of my family going back generations! Hard work and a good attitude when things are difficult are the things that pushed her through. Again … you got this! It will NOT be easy, but you can make this work! Signed, Another accidental homeschooler

One takeaway from each of these writers is that it’s OK to reach out to others for help. Yes, right now you should do it from a distance — Facebook or the phone or email, but reach out. Your child’s teacher wants to help him to succeed. Parents who have been homeschooling for years want your child to succeed, even the ones who joke and say things like, “Welcome to my world.” Grandparents want your child to succeed. Reach out and ask for help if you need it. Take a deep breath — it’s going to be OK.

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