I have been a proud member of the homeschooling community for as long as I can remember, first as a child and now as a parent. Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, we have suddenly seen our ranks swell and now all children in the United States can say that they too are being educated at home. These are certainly strange times for everyone including those of us that have been homeschooling for years. People may think homeschoolers don’t get out much and that we are “unsocialized,” but most of us have plentiful opportunities to see friends and interact with others on a daily basis. Many, including myself, have to purposefully schedule time at home for rest and family connection. All this means that this period of isolation is very different and difficult for homeschoolers as well as those that send their children to more traditional schools.
As a second generation unschooler, I was raised to believe that learning takes place naturally without lesson plans, testing, and top-down mandates about what constitutes an education. Unschooling is a branch of homeschooling that focuses on a child’s individual strengths and natural curiosity with little to no structured school work. I was unschooled all my life and ended up completing a bachelors degree as well as a masters in education before deciding to unschool my own two children. Before COVID-19 knocked us all off kilter, my children and I balanced our time at home with frequent library visits, trips to parks, museums, nature centers, and especially meetups with our homeschool community. Needless to say, times have changed and as homeschoolers are keen to point out, none of us are homeschooling right now, we are quarantine schooling.
While this is certainly a challenging time for all of us, I’ve found myself surprised by the gifts that this situation has offered me.
This time at home is the perfect opportunity for reflection, togetherness, love and family bonding. I’m trying to look for the silver lining in all this, and just like any type of conflict or difficulty I see this as an opportunity to learn. Here are my observations and what I’ve learned so far.
About my homeschool:
Having days that stretch into weeks at home has really reinforced my feeling that in order for unschooling to work best, your kids need time. Long stretches of beautiful, unstructured, unrestricted time. Kids need time to get bored, to figure things out for themselves, and to really delve into their interests without being rushed off to the next activity. I initially worried that my kids would be bored or unhappy at home but in reality they have been happier and busier than ever. They are thriving at home and having lots of time to explore their many interests. Boredom often leads to deep questions and in depth exploration. Unschoolers are probably better prepared than anyone for self imposed quarantines. We are comfortable with our own company, self directed learners, and extremely resilient.
I’m very lucky that I am fairly introverted by nature, so being stuck at home isn’t that big of a deal for me. I enjoy puttering around the house, baking, gardening, reading, and sewing, all things that are well suited to social isolation. Of course I still need and want to connect with my loved ones and I am finding ways to do that, but having lots of solitude helps me understand myself and my needs better which is one positive of this situation. Believe me, I understand that not everyone has the luxury of having such a positive quarantine experience and I am humbled and grateful by how lucky I am. This whole situation has really made me notice and appreciate all the wonderful things in my life. I practice gratitude daily by looking for all the things, big and small, that I feel thankful for.
About my community:
I’m in awe of the homeschool community right now. Homeschoolers have collectively stepped up to the plate and are providing plenty of resources and tips during this unprecedented time of isolation. I want to emphasize again that this is not normal for any of us! It has really warmed my heart to see homeschoolers supporting each other as well as those who are suddenly finding themselves with kids at home even though they never planned on homeschooling. There are plentiful Zoom classes, virtual field trips, video chats, and suggested projects and activities for any subject or interest you can imagine. I’m so proud to be a lifelong homeschooler at this time. I have seen an outpouring of love and support from my community towards parents of all kinds, all over the world.
About my kids:
I’ve been so impressed with how resilient, curious, active, and happy my kids have been during this time. Sure they have their squabbles, and sure they miss their friends, but overall they are thriving with all the extra free time and extra attention from me. They spend their days playing board games, climbing trees, working in the garden, doing science experiments, drawing and painting, and working on their new math books. They are also learning how to video chat and use new (to them) technologies. We are probably all worried about our kids to a certain extent right now but try to remember how flexible and adaptable children are in general. They will be just fine! As for my kids, I am seeing new levels of cooperation and creativity emerge during their time at home.
My parting words to parents everywhere are to be kind to yourselves and try not to stress too much about your kids (easier said than done, I know!). While all the plentiful online resources can be a gift they can also be overwhelming, only do what you feel like doing and don’t feel guilty if you don’t fill your children’s days with quality enrichment activities. This is a great time for them to learn how to be comfortable with themselves and enjoy their own company. Not only is a lack of structure unlikely to hurt them, they will probably benefit from free time with no pressure filled expectations.