The more I read about experiences reopening K-12 schools around the world, the more it becomes clear that things will be chaotic and unpredictable with openings and closings on a dime. I’d love to solicit the wisdom of the Grumpy Nation about whether it is going to be better to stick with local schools this year and expose parents and kids to all of the stress, uncertainty, risk, etc. or to commit to full-on homeschooling and expose parents and kids to the stress and challenges that not-so-voluntary homeschooling will cause. I’m starting to lean toward creating my own curriculum so that I can be in control of what’s happening and not have to worry about what the school district is doing. But although I have plenty of experience with college-level curriculum development and teaching, I have no experience at the K-12 levels.
This is a really great question.
For me, I have too much work of my own to do to fully home-school and when I’m making trade-offs, a year of my career is more important than DC2 missing out on some stuff in fourth grade. This may seem ironic given that both of my kids have skipped grades and they have a full complement of workbooks to do (well, DC2 does… DC1 only has a Spanish grammar along with piano and violin, but zie USED to have a full complement of workbooks) during the summer. But we don’t give them workbooks or have them skip grades in order to optimize them so much as to keep them from bouncing off the walls. Ideally they’d be getting more challenge in school without the skipping or extra work, but they don’t, so we supplement. (An exception being the Spanish grammar which really is for remediation since Spanish III is supposed to be tough and DC1 barely scraped an A in Spanish II.)
So, having decided on having the kids at home, we’re going to be following our district’s online curriculum and will supplement DC2 as necessary. (DH isn’t as steeped in K-12 stuff as I am, so although he could do day-to-day stuff, I would be the one in charge of the curriculum.) We’re in a state where the K-8 curriculum is light so we don’t have any worries about DC2 being overburdened– we would likely supplement, not change. (DC1 is taking a bunch of AP classes, so there’s some potential for difficulty there, but DC1 will just have to lump it– we have no plans for supplementation other than music unless zie needs tutoring.)
But it sounds like you’re in a situation where there isn’t an online option. You either deal with the unpredictability of opening and closing and opening and potentially getting sick or not
Most kids from stable home environments can handle a surprising amount of instability. I wouldn’t worry too much about the stress of popping in and out– unless you have a specific reason to believe otherwise (like your specific kid has difficulty with change), they will probably handle it better than you do with the uncertainty. But the stress to parents and the risk of illness is real.
Plenty of people do homeschooling and many of those who do say it’s only a couple of hours of work each day. This is probably true. There are many pre-made curricula you can follow (be careful though, they lean towards fundamentalist religious/stratified gender roles/anti-some kinds of science– make sure you get a good set aimed at more secular audiences). The trick is that you have to get your kids to be able to work independently. They have to be able to figure things out from reading or from whatever electronic source you’re using. They need to be able to sit down and work on things without asking for help or getting distracted every 30 seconds. This works well with some kids, and less well with others. (Nobody in our family is looking forward to DC2’s constant plaintive and non-specific, “I neeeeeed hellllllllp,” whine when school starts.)
Another caution: One of the things I really hate about one homeschooling blogger is how she almost brags about how she’s passed on her hate and fear of math to her kids (especially her daughters) via home schooling. She doesn’t say it like that. She thinks it’s genetic or something. It’s not. It is 100% taught. If you hate or fear a subject and can’t pretend not to, just don’t even start. Especially if it’s math. If they’re lucky, I end up having to pick up the pieces when they get to college and it’s so sad. If they’re not lucky, then they’re trapped following less lucrative career paths with a lot of competition.
From what I understand all the rich people are hiring nanny-tutors or getting together with other rich people to hire laid off teachers to do “pods” or “mini-schools”. If you’ve got money you could do that or you could buy an online version of whatever grade your kids are in (I don’t have links, but I’ve seen people talking about such things on the internet… I know Stanford Online High School has some stuff for gifted middle and high school students, but I don’t know any details… here’s a list of high schools). We’re not doing that because our main problem won’t be solved with DC2 having an online tutor and I just don’t trust people in my town not to catch Covid at church or a bar enough to let them in my house.
I give you permission (if you need it) to be selfish about your life and your career and being a good role model to your daughters and any future daughters-in-law if you decide not to put a huge amount of effort into home-schooling. I also give you permission (if you need it) to try out home schooling and see how much time it takes and if it takes too much time or causes too much distress at home to try something completely different. Just Khan Academy and SciShow. Just Unschooling. Just whatever keeps them safe and out of your hair. Kids can be suboptimized in order for you to get your things done. We’re talking at most a year here, not a lifetime. And they will be learning many important things even if they spend the year unschooling. You will have books and the internet (though be careful about its potential for misuse) and video games and so on. They will learn a lot of the things we did back in a less enlightened latch-key time about how to entertain oneself so mommy can get some work done.
In terms of online K-8 supplementation: Khan academy is awesome. BrainQuest workbooks are great (not a substitute for K-8, but they do hit many of the major points for K-8). Having lots of books to read around the house both fiction and non-fiction is important. Epic! has access to a ton of great comic books. Youtube has neat educational channels like SciShow and CrashCourse. Minecraft, especially creative mode, is fantastic in terms of developing spatial skills and doing digital art. I cannot say enough good things about the Dragonbox suite of math games (even for your high schooler! even for your kindergartner!). We got DC1 a year subscription to the complete Adobe suites so zie can teach hirself video editing–there’s a student discount for it. Not cheap, but cheaper than a week of away summer camp would have been. There’s a world of educational activities that your kids can do independently of you–even if they’re not getting precisely what they’d be getting in K-12.
Good luck with your decisions, and remember that you can change your mind (and that you’re still a great mom even if you don’t sacrifice yourself for small improvements in your kids’ education)!
Grumpy Nation: What are your thoughts on home schooling? How about supplementation? If you have K-12 kids, how are you dealing with the uncertainty of the fall? Or how are you creating certainty?