Suddenly at home with the kids all day? Here are some tips from a homeschooling pro

14-year-old Jack Roberts reads in his home. His mom Jamie homeschools him and his 16-year-old sister Renee. (Courtesy of Jamie Roberts)
14-year-old Jack Roberts reads in his home. His mom Jamie homeschools him and his 16-year-old sister Renee. (Courtesy of Jamie Roberts)

With schools closed statewide until at least May 1, many parents have been thrust into the unexpected role of being guiding their children’s day-to-day education. But parents who homeschool their kids have been doing this for years, fine-tuning the intricacies of the complex and important task. We spoke to one Jamie Roberts, a mother of two, to get some tips.

Her biggest piece of advice? Let go of the wheel and be kinder to yourself.

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Roberts has homeschooled her two kids for 11 years now. Along with working at the pool, she’s the full-time parent and teacher for her daughter and 14-year-old son Jack. When the oldest was ready for kindergarten, Roberts wondered how to get Renee to and from school. It would have been for just a few hours of instruction anyway. Plus, she still had a toddler at home.

“My philosophy was I’m not waking a sleeping child,” Roberts says.

So, staying at home made sense. And every year since, it’s still the best option for her family. She likes the flexibility, being able to travel and fit in different activities.

“It allows my kids to do extra things without being super sleep deprived,” she says. “So they can, you know, take music lessons, they can be swimmers and travel for swimming and not feeling like they’re stressed to fit it all in.”

But Roberts has worked out the kinks over the years. She feels for parents who are suddenly having to spend all hours with their kids and be in charge of their education. Knowing it’s an adjustment for the kids, makes it even more difficult.

“As a kid, it’s like, their whole schedule just got disrupted,” she says.

Staying home from school is one thing, but having the whole family cope with this COVID-19 pandemic is another.

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“ I think about young kids, it’s like, how do you explain to them? Yes, sorry, you can’t go to school and no, you can’t go out and play on the playground. And if it’s your birthday, no, you can’t have friends over,” she says.

So yes, things are chaotic, on you and your kids. Roberts says give yourself and your kids some slack, everyone deserves it.

Not in the goal of being perfect, but making things easier, Roberts does have some advice. Let’s start with letting go of control.

She’s struggled with this. As self-described recovering control freak, she says she believes if you’re too rigid, kids will be resistant to adapt.

“It usually doesn’t end well. Someone’s going to cry. Someone’s gonna say something they didn’t, you know, mean to say,” she says.

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Instead, let the kids help decide on the schedule and activities.  Roberts says they’ve figured out together that it’s best to have a snack before tackling math. Kids need to have their opinion heard, and it lets them buy into that day’s goals.

Socializing is just what teens do. But now, 16-years-old Renee Roberts has few opportunities to connect with peers. She’s missing out on swim practice and youth group. She texts her friends to stay in touch.

But Roberts is not missing out on school as she knows it. She doesn’t walk the hallways of Wrangell High School and sit in classrooms. Her mother Jamie has always homeschooled her two kids.

Jamie is interviewing Renee for this story using her cellphone. Jamie asks Renee’s advice for kids who might not be used to staying home as much.

I think just to focus on the positive things,” Renee says. “Instead of focusing on the fact that you have to stay home and possibly missing out on things that you had planned.”

Second tip, do not compare yourself to others. Maybe that’s other parents. For Roberts, it was the public school system.

“They go to school for a set number of hours a day. And I was thinking, Okay, that’s the number of hours we have to focus on doing work in our home. And if my kids got done with all of their work for the day, in two hours, I kind of felt like we’re not doing enough,” she says.

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She reasons that teachers spend so much time corralling 20 to 30 students in one session. Of course, it’s going to take longer to meet individual needs in that setting, than it would at home.

Roberts also recommends a few resources. She loves this one podcast from producer Julia Bogart, who just released an episode titled “Suddenly-at-Home Schoolers.”

While it’s unclear just how long the current scholastic situation will continue, it’s likely to be a matter of months, not years. So Roberts says to remember that your success as a parent doesn’t really ride on the next few months, it’s also about what you’ve done over the years and what you will do in those to come.