Schools closed and suddenly you're homeschooling? I'm Jim, and I can help.

All Memphis-area schools are officially closed through April 24 in compliance with the state governor, but the date to reopen is likely to push back. Shelby County Schools has already announced it's schools are closed "indefinitely."

Schools are doing their best to keep kids learning with virtual classwork and class sessions for many students, but someone still has to guide the bulk of the lessons.

For many of you suddenly-stay-at-home parents, this will be your first attempt at homeschooling.

It likely feels daunting and you feel unprepared, especially starting off your new career in education at the end of the school year. 

As a six-year veteran of homeschooling, I can help.

My name is Jim. My son, Hunter, is 10 years old and in fifth grade. Together we're a homeschooling team. I hope I can offer here a few helpful insights, tips, and resources we've found for distance learning.
 

Starting THE (Home)school day 

Let's start with a positive for you.

One of the great things about homeschooling is that it offers you a flexible schedule to get your work and household duties done. 

That said, routine is a homeschooler's best friend. Kids thrive on routine. When you start is less important than keeping a predictable day. 

To kick off Hunter's day, I like to get his blood flowing. We do a little physical education work like calisthenics. A good stretch with Yoga with Adrienne (for older kids) and Cosmic Kids yoga (for younger kids) is also a good way to jump start the day.

Next, I have him read for 20 minutes from a book or other reading material, not on a screen. This helps him mentally focus in the next few hours. 

Now, we’re ready to start the day’s formal curriculum.

For most students now learning virtually amid school shutdowns, their curriculum will be provided by their respective school systems. Most Memphis-area districts have downloadable curriculum available on their websites and hard copy pickup locations.

WKNO is also partnering with the Tennessee Department of Education and Shelby County Schools to offer in-home educational instruction. The programming airs weekdays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on their WKNO 10.1 television channel. Kindergarten through fifth grade instruction is available daily at 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. Middle and high school sessions begin at 2 p.m. on alternating days.
 

THEY're Done Already?! 

One thing that may surprise you is how quickly the day’s work can be completed when working with a child one-on-one. Even teaching siblings at varying grade levels is unlikely to take the 7-8 hours most kids spend in a classroom.

Some days my son completes his work in under three hours, leaving a lot of day to fill.

To supplement, we've ordered workbooks in line with our grade’s coursework.
Hunter Coleman's homeschool workbooks sit beside him as he works on other tasks. Workbooks are a good resource to enhance the core curriculum with extra practice time. Completing workbook pages are good tool for helping kids earning special rewards. (Jim Coleman)
There are also online resources for parents to supplement curriculum, reinforce learning, or just expand their imaginations. Khan Academy is a great resource that includes relatable, step-by-step videos for math covering kindergarten through calculus.

I’ve found it a good idea to have a plan for supplemental work lined up before the school day starts. Try to work that material into the day’s schedule as they're studying a given subject rather than heaping it all on the end.

A google search will help you ferret out a number of other supplemental options that suit you and your child, but my top recommendations are included in the list below.
 

BUILD YOUR OWN CLASSES 

You can also supplement curriculum with lessons and practical skills many schools no longer prioritize. 

Remember home economics? Make cleaning, yard work, planning meals and cooking, sewing, caring for younger children, and managing money a part of your curriculum. 

Want to cover civics, government, and oral communications? Ask your child to help fill out the U.S. Census online and discuss its importance. It's an election year so talk about how elections work. Discuss how and why governments make decisions around public health issues like COVID-19—age appropriately, of course. Ask your child questions, listen to their answers, and engage them in discourse.

Maybe ask them to write a short report on what you discussed and present it to the family, either in-home or by phone or video chat with other relatives. Grandparents eat this stuff up.

Listening to and talking with kids also helps them feel more secure and less fearful in times of crisis. Healthykids.org and Psychology Today are great resources for talking to your kids about tough stuff like COVID-19.
 

BEYOND THE 'BOOK WORK'

Enrichment activities and hands-on learning are also important to a child’s education.

Art projects and science experiments are always fun. And don't forget about field trips! Everyone knows they're the best part of school.

Being stuck at home doesn’t mean a child can’t explore their city and the world.

A walk outside to collect leafs for etchings covers science and art. A drive around town is rife with opportunities for lessons in architecture, engineering, and geography. Just stay in the car for proper social distancing.

Many museums have begun offering virtual tours, including the Van Gogh Museum and the Guggenheim. Zoos have also followed suit. 

There are also a lot of local options.

In April, Opera Memphis will stream “30 Days of Opera.” Snapshots of the Brooks Museum’s temporary exhibit “Native Voices, 1950s to Now: Art for a New Understanding” are available on its website. You can even see how the animals at the Memphis Zoo are getting along during its closure via social media. Which, coincidentally, is a great way to work in a science lesson centering the zoo's flora and fauna.

Whatever approach you take, try to have fun with homeschooling. The day will be much more enjoyable for your and your student.

With the vast resources available, distance learning is only bound by the limits of yours and your child's imagination.
 

Some Favorite Homeschool Resources:

Setting up your homeschool space? 
Check out this video series from 360 Homeschool

Math Games:
Science Stuff:
Virtual Field Trips:


Podcasts & Audio:


Extracurriculars:


Find more resources for parents in our Memphis Area COVID-19 Resource Guide, updated daily.

Read more articles by Jim Coleman.

Jim Coleman is a freelance writer, covering a variety of topics from high school sports, community news and small business. He has written for different news organizations over the past 20 years, including The Commercial Appeal, Community Weeklies, Lexington Herald-Leader and The Albuquerque Journal.
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