My wife home-schooled our children for many years, at different phases in their lives. Our oldest were taught at home from middle school through high school. Our youngest, from grade-school through middle.  (Like the ‘Shake N Bake’ commercial, I can say ‘and I helped,’ but she was the true architect of their home educational experience.)  Jan has an undergraduate degree in Parks and Recreation and a Masters in counseling from Marshall University (We Are Marshall!).  All of this came in handy as she is learned, articulate, patient, organized, capable of keeping children busy and productive, and also possessed of a keen understanding of the human mind and its development.

There were those who viewed this adventure of ours as somewhat suspicious.  After all, Jan has no degree in education.  However, she is a quick study, and learned to tap into incredible resources in the community and also online. She purchased study guides and books.  She even took Latin at Clemson University so that she could marinate our progeny’s brains in that incredible language for a season.  Once she applied for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and received an incredible, enormous folder of laminated, full-size copies of great artistic masterpieces.

Along the way she helped teach co-op classes with other families, just as our children learned from other parents as well.  They had math from math teachers, English from college English professors, chemistry from engineers and once, had physics taught by a former Blue Angel.  The engaged in dance, art and music, one son even learning to play the bagpipes to the constant sorrow of our assorted hound-dogs.

Since the great anxiety expressed to us was always ‘but how will the socialize,’ I can safely say that they socialized with cousins, with church groups and with the home-school world at large.  They did not turn out to be feral or antisocial.  In fact, they ended up being remarkably…well, normal may not be the right word.  Wonderful, kind, creative and intelligent would be better descriptors. In this world, sometimes those are not at all normal traits; but they have them.

Along the way we have produced one professional fire-fighter in addition to his siblings, three university students finding their way through assorted studies of biochemistry, mathematics, philosophy and other disciplines.  (Given tuition these days, feel free to hit the Tip Jar on the side of the page!)

I say all of this to reassure those who find themselves home-schooling their children thanks to the unholy thing known as Covid-19.  It has really put a dent in everyone’s plans, across the state, the nation and the world.  Our three college students are ‘quarantined,’ as much as possible short of manacles attached to their bed-frames. Occasionally they take a drive, but have been very good about avoiding parties and other large gatherings.  They labor away at online lectures, papers, quizzes and tests, despite our unimpressive rural Wi-Fi (which still feels like dial-up) and the fact that they feel like they’re under house arrest.  Thus far, two weeks into solid confinement, we have had no angry or violent outbursts, there is still food in the house and nobody has been dropped off at the Marine Corp recruiting station.

Fortunately for Jan and I, the ‘children’ are mostly on auto-pilot at this point.  But many parents of primary and secondary students are suddenly home, 24/7, with people who are usually at school all day, even as their parents are at work.  As such, they are in the odd predicament of living as human beings lived for hundreds of thousands of years, in constant proximity to one another.  But with the benefits of television, consistent food and water and the Internet. Oh, and facing a ‘predator’ that lacks large teeth but is nevertheless somewhat dangerous and has forced them into their air-conditioned caves for safety.

I say this to reassure parents everywhere.  You can do this. Hopefully, the school has provided what you need in terms of lessons and lesson plans, much of it transmitted to tablets in your homes.  Still, aside from the Herculean efforts of teachers to rise to the occasion, there are things that parents and children can do to make this entire adventure useful, enjoyable and memorable.

Make a schedule and build in frequent breaks.  Children, like adults, ‘zone out’ after a short period of time and need to exercise. Ample evidence has suggested that our kids do not run, walk, play or create nearly enough. There’s nothing in the Covid-Code that says they can’t run around the yard or down the side-walk, can’t create games, can’t just sit and talk with their parents and be silly.  Remember, tired children sleep.  Sleeping children are quiet.  You get it…this is why wives give husbands projects.

Eat meals together.  There aren’t games to go to, after-school lessons to take or any other things to do. Just be.  Turn the lights down. Our daughter used to ask for ‘ambiance’ as a little girl, by which she meant candle-lit dinners. Tell stories; children love stories of their own lives, their parents, their ancestors.  Create stories!  Create songs and poems.  And if your children are receptive, read to them.

I cannot begin to describe the joy I experienced when reading to my children. When they were small they took turns on my lap, as I read scripture, silly poems, epics, classic short stories and novels.  We sang songs and had prayers.  I would do all of it over again in half a heart-beat.  Even older children can enjoy this; the human voice teaches not only in words but in its melody, in the emphasis of words and phrases, in pauses for explanation and commentary and even in demonstrating new words and pronunciations.  Since the rigid schedule of the school year has been blown out of the water and sent to the bottom of the river of time, take the freedom to love learning together.

Learn with your children!  Let them see you read books, listen to pod-casts or online lectures.  Refresh your memory of the things they are learning.  Instill in them the belief that learning begins at birth and ends at death; that school is not the only time when it is either necessary or joyous.  Further, that learning can be tactile.  It can involve building, repairing or any other number of things.

Despite the limitations on travel and activity, let the children experiment.  Look up simple science activities. Encourage them to build, pain, sculpt, write, create.  These are not things that require school or teachers. These are deep in the human tribe, deep in our ancestry.

Finally, since you will be with them…and I mean a lot…write things down. Keep a notebook and write down the things they say, the stories they tell, the funny and poignant activities that make up life.  Develop the habit.  Keep these for them later.  These times will leave indelible marks on human history. If we ask ‘where were you on 9/11,’ how much more will we ask ‘what did you do during the coronavirus pandemic?’  Teach the children that they are living out history in ways they do not yet grasp. And odds are, changes will come in society, politics, technology and their own minds and personalities that will echo down the years.

When they go back to school, hug their teachers.  Bring them gifts of cards, food, money…vodka. Whatever you think they deserve.  Teachers are wonderful and essential individuals who do important work.

But as you will see, they are not the only ones who can teach, not the only ones who can manage the kids and that school in the traditional sense is far from the only way to learn.

Good luck and God speed!

Edwin

 

 

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