Homeschooling for the First Time This Year? We Asked an Expert How to Make It Easier

2020 has been anything but an ordinary year.

With a pandemic continuing to prevent business as usual around the world, many schools have been impacted in big ways. While some have already opened their doors, others are turning to online learning this year. On top of that, many parents have withdrawn their children from the system entirely to try a hand at homeschooling for the first time.

If we learned anything talking to Jen Garrison Stuber, advocacy chair for the Washington Homeschool Organization, it's that we had a lot of misconceptions about what homeschooling actually entails. We asked her to share some of her top tips one making the most out of a new homeschooling situation, some of which might work just as well for all-around socially distanced learning.

Sweety High: What do you think is the most important first step when it comes to adjusting to homeschooling?

Jen Garrison Stuber: The first thing you have to do when you start homeschooling is something called "de-schooling," and that's both for the kid and the parent. That's the process of getting out of a traditional school mindset and getting into a new rhythm of what works in the home. Generally, de-schooling takes about a month per year that a student was in a standard school.

In that classroom setting, you get accustomed to someone telling you what to do at every point in your day. When the bell rings, you're on to the next thing, and that's whether you were bored and it's a welcome relief, or you were really into what you were doing and now you're bummed. That's not the case with homeschooling.

Shutterstock: Woman working on computer with tablet and mentor

(via Shutterstock)


SH: What misconceptions do people usually have about the process?

JGS:  A lot of new homeschoolers believe they're going to create a tiny classroom in their homes. They transform their family room with a big desk for mom, a bunch of little desks for the kids, and with a big flag and whiteboard. The truth is that literally no one uses that space that way after week one—not even the most Type A people.

You have to know that learning at home doesn't look the same as learning at school. You can learn under the table, in bed or in a treehouse, because homeschooling isn't an institution. Parents don't have to manage 30 kids, accommodating some who are way ahead, some who are way behind, and some right in the middle that fit the lesson plan. That means that even if you're going by a big box curriculum—some companies who will sell you all of the subjects you need for an entire year—teenagers probably aren't going to be spending more than two or three hours on homeschooling every day.

It doesn't take six hours because we're not waiting on a whole classroom to get on the same page. There aren't traditional field trips, pep rallies, assemblies and nurse's checks. All of those things take up a lot of the 1,000 hours that schools do over 180 school days. When you strip back lunch and recess and all of those other things, actual instruction time is a lot shorter than people think it is. It's even shorter when you only have one kid per grade at your house.


SH: In your experience, what do those homeschool days typically look like?

JGS: The schedule depends a lot on the family and the student. I tell parents to do the three R's—a little bit of reading, a little bit of writing, and a little bit of arithmetic—with their kids, no matter the age. Then, kids should follow their interests, because they'll discover all sorts of things.

This is also a great time for homeschoolers because so many places, like museums and zoos, have opened up all of these resources that weren't available before the pandemic without a subscription or membership. A lot of streaming services are also reducing their fees. Netflix has tons of documentaries and YouTube has lots of information on so many subjects, depending on your interests.

Parents quickly learn that in homeschool, their children learn in spite of their efforts, not because of them. I tell them to get out of the way. Like fish are meant to swim and birds are meant to fly, humans are meant to learn. If parents just get out of their children's way and let them at it, they'll be amazed by the stuff their kids soak up.

Parents learn alongside students when they're little, but then it's about facilitating. Parents are better researchers than their kids, at least for a little while, so they should help them find people they can connect with, and help them find resources to feed their interests. Students end up learning an incredible amount, and parents wonder where they got it all.


SH: What do you wish you'd known about homeschooling from the beginning?

JGS: I realize that what I'm saying can be absolutely terrifying to anyone reading this, but that doesn't change the truth in what I'm saying. It's homeschooling's dirty little secret that we're all terrified, and anybody who tells you anything different is either a bold-faced liar or a second-generation homeschooler who already knows how it works. We worry that our kids are going to end up jobless, friendless and homeless, and it's just not true. Homeschooled kids are doing great.

Unsplash: Girl working on computer at coffee shop

(via Unsplash)


SH: What are some public school ideas that parents should really leave behind?

JS: A lot of parents think they should be getting their kids up really early, but they really shouldn't if they have junior high or high schoolers. Their circadian rhythms aren't build for that. It's one thing if you shove them on the bus every morning, but you see the impact when they're at home all day and you have to deal with them. It's smarter to let them sleep until they're ready to get up, around 9 or 10,  and allow them to do stuff until late in the evening, because it's just what their bodies are doing. They can't help it.


SH: How else is homeschooling unique from what they might be used to?

JGB: The world is crazy right now, and people need to regroup as families and figure out their rhythms. If a parent who normally works outside the home is now working in the home, we have to figure out how to give them the peace and quiet they require.

For families who are new to homeschooling, I recommend that they bake and cook together, clean the home together, and come up with fun but engaging things to fill the time. And that can mean just hunkering down and watching something enlightening on Netflix.

We've got 1000 hours of school we have to do. At public school, it's 180 5 1/2 hour days. With homeschooling, those 1000 hours are spread out over a year. There are 5840 waking hours in a year, if you sleep eight hours a night. Assuming a 16-hour waking day, you could literally work two jobs, homeschool and still have 840 hours left over.

Don't think of homeschooling as sitting at a table with a book. Think about it more profoundly. It happens throughout the day, in the car, at dinner. When you look at it like that,  you suddenly realize how many many more hours you're actually doing things that enrich your mind and can count as
"school."You'll have these fantastic discussions where you're able to share your world views regarding these subjects, and they will inevitably happen just as you're falling asleep and someone crawls into your bed asking you questions, or in the car, where you can't look at them because you're driving, which is where half of ours always happen.

Shutterstock: Woman outside looking at and typing on laptop computer

(via Shutterstock)


SH: With such a loose definition of what is and isn't school, how can students and their parents keep track of their education?

JGS: Don't plan, and at the end of the day, write down what you did. After about a week, look at your list, and suddenly you'll start seeing how much learning is actually happening without you having to do anything. You don't necessarily have to sit time and dedicate time to English, or math or whatever subject.


SH: What else makes this a unique time for homeschooling in general?

JGS: If there's one nice thing about this time in history (if you can call it that) it's that it's accelerating the process of the de-schooling mindset. You can't necessarily hang out with friends or go to the park. However, that's one thing that's tough for homeschoolers right now as "home" schooling is a bit of a misnomer. The homeschool community is all about frequent field trips and park dates

The homeschool community is very welcoming of folks right now who feel a little bit lost in regards to schooling. Your local homeschool group will be happy to have you. I will say we do tend to have some fun at the expense of public schoolers because we've taken so much ribbing for so many years over socialization. They seem to think our kids live in basement cupboards. Regardless, most homeschoolers are happy to share their tips and what they've been up. If they need help with anything, you'll get some great information.


Struggling with a certain subject? Click HERE to find out about the four learning styles, and how yours can improve your life.