“Homeschooling” during school closures (is it, though?)

"Homeschooling" during school closures (is it, though?)

With Ontario schools being closed as part of the effort to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents (OFTP) has been receiving some new types of questions about homeschooling.

  1. Some parents are asking about how to switch to homeschooling for the long term, regardless of whatever measures the government puts in place for continuing to deliver public education. They may have been contemplating homeschooling for a while now, and the extended break seems like a good time to take the plunge and give it a genuine try.
  2. Other parents are asking about how to homeschool temporarily to keep their schoolchildren “up to date” and receiving “the education they need” or “a proper education” while they wait for classes to resume. What they usually seem to be asking is how to keep school education going without waiting for the school to provide it.
  3. Journalists are asking about what advice homeschooling parents could give parents of schoolchildren in terms of how to provide their children with structure while they’re at home. Some ask about home-based education, others focus on how to keep children involved in a routine.

As an organization, the OFTP doesn't take any stance at all on what approach to education parents should choose, nor how they should organize their children's time or engage in any other aspect of parenting. Our very foundation is that it's up to each parent to make their own choices for their own children. The OFTP's role is to provide parents with information about their options, and support their right to be the ones who decide what to do and how to do it. So it's hard to know where to start, when the short answer is, "It's up to you," and the long answer would be a repeat of everything that's already on our website. Clearly people in the current situation are having a hard time sorting through so many options and considerations, so they're looking for guidance rather than the raw information itself.

While the OFTP can't provide that kind of steering, I as an individual would still like to help. So I'm offering my thoughts below in my personal capacity rather than as a representative of the OFTP as an organization.

First of all:

This is not what homeschooling looks like

Homeschoolers are having to experience the same physical distancing and confinement as everyone else. This is not the normal state of affairs for us either: no outings to the library, museum, park, homeschool group gatherings, field trips, sports events, art performances — not even any regular grocery shopping. No playing with neighbours and other friends, no visits to or from family members. These restrictions and isolation change the face of homeschooling too. "Home" schooling isn't usually about actually staying home all day every day, nor filling that time with "schooling."

Fewer outings, more screen time
More free resources!!!

For some, there might be more screen time than usual, to keep in touch with friends and loved ones when we can't see them in person for so long.

Extra screen time is also sometimes used to help pass the unusual amount of homebound time.

Another thing that involves more screen time is taking advantage of all the online educational resources that are currently being made available for free! It's a bit ironic that this is intended for those whose children's education is paid for with public funds, and it's just a side effect that it also benefits parents who normally have to pay for their children's education out of their own pocket (i.e. homeschoolers).

Call it what it is

The point is, this is not what homeschooling usually looks like. Some people are calling it "isolation schooling" or "quarantine schooling" or "coronavirus schooling" or "crisis schooling." So if, as the parent of a schoolchild, you're thinking you have to "homeschool" now, if only temporarily, the truth is that whatever you'll be doing for your child's education during school closures, will be something specific to these unusual circumstances, not normal homeschooling.

So what should you do?

Don't rush into replicating school at home

Whether or not you intend to keep your children in the school system next year, I’d encourage you not to rush into formal instruction that would replicate what happens in the school classroom.

Everyone's in the same boat

First of all, because the government has not abandoned you, and will continue to provide public education in one form or another very soon. Every family with schoolchildren is in the same boat and just needs a little more patience until the government’s solution is made available. (They do already have a Learn at Home portal on which you can find some online resources as well as updates about any extensions of the school closures.)

These are stressful times

Secondly, the pandemic situation is stressful for everyone, adults and children alike. Even if you think your children aren’t aware of the threat, I guarantee they’re noticing something’s not quite right, are picking up on the stress around them, and are at least a little anxious about it, perhaps even quite a bit. Also, whether or not they understand why they have to stay housebound, confinement itself is stressful.

Well-being is more important than academic progress and performance

Stress and learning don’t mix well, and in any case your children's well-being is more important than their academic progress and performance. Now is not the time to impose school work that is not mandatory, it’s a time to strengthen family bonds, give your children affection, reassurance, and a sense of security and comfort, and to let them relax, play, and do what they feel like doing.

Your children are already learning

Thirdly, your children are already learning, because children learn all the time. This, perhaps more than anything else, is what parents who are already homeschooling realize more easily than parents who are used to thinking of education as school. In reality, homelearning doesn’t necessarily look anything like the kind of institutional, standardized education that is school. Certainly there are homeschooling families who take a very formal, instructional, school-at-home approach, with prepared lessons that follow the curriculum and all that, but it’s not necessarily the most common approach to homeschooling. Because home- and family-based learning is in fact an opportunity to offer an education that is indeed alternative, custom-tailored for each individual child.

Homeschooling? or Stop-Gap Education at home?

So you’ll need to decide whether you want to start homeschooling for the longer term or you’re only looking for a temporary stop-gap way of providing a more familiar kind of education while you wait for the government to deliver whatever form of public education they’ll be providing for the rest of the school year.

Scenario A: If you decide to homeschool for the long term, this period of confinement can serve as a time of deschooling, which is often necessary even under normal circumstances when transitioning out of the institutional system. For parents, deschooling is a deconditioning of one’s way of thinking about education. It involves reevaluating what education is really about, what the learning process looks like in real life as opposed to just the institutional setting of school, what knowledge and skills are important to learn as opposed to just assigned by the standardized curriculum of the school system of mass instruction. For children, deschooling is a time of decompression (sometimes de-tox or recovery) from the school environment they’ve been in, so that they can relax out of their school-related stress and re-discover their natural curiosity and love of learning. When used as a transition to homeschooling, it’s also a time of adjustment as they move into new ways of doing things.

Scenario B: If you’re thinking, instead, of providing extra education at home only as a temporary stop-gap measure because you’re concerned about a possible “loss of learning,” just realize that this unexpected interruption of classes is no worse than summer vacation. You don’t need to make any more of an effort to do school at home than you normally do during the summer. If you really want to implement something more deliberately academic, you can always invite your children to play games that involve elements of language, math, or science at their grade levels, or find some other fun way to review the knowledge and skills they’ve already acquired. Because think about it: if they’re forgetting what they supposedly learned, did they really acquire the knowledge and skills in the first place? Maybe the conclusion to be drawn from "summer loss" is not that we should avoid interruptions in forced education, but rather that forced education may not be the most effective way for children to learn in the first place. There’s a lot of talk and research, these days, about the importance of play-based learning, not just for younger children, but also for older children, teens, and even adults. When learning is natural, there are never any interruptions, because life itself has no interruption, everything in it is grist for the mill of learning. If you're too anxious to trust that, you might find it helpful to read about deschooling as well.

Trust yourself, trust your children, trust the learning process

If you intend to keep your children in the school system, I would just like to repeat this reassurance: the government has not abandoned you, and will continue to deliver public education in one form or another very soon. Everyone in the school system is in the same boat, and just needs to wait patiently for a little longer until the government has a chance to put its solution in place.

If, on the other hand, you’ve decided to leave the public education system regardless of what the government ends up doing, and homeschool your children as you see fit for the longer term, then I invite you to explore our website for all the information you need on how to start homeschooling in Ontario.

Either way, remember that your main job is to be the best parent you can be for your children:

  • Trust your parenting instincts in detecting what each of your own children needs (some need or want structure, others are stifled by it — there is no one-size-fits-all).
  • Trust your parenting resourcefulness in figuring out how to help a bored child learn how to switch gears into self-directed occupation (don't rush to spoon-feed them activities or micro-manage their time).
  • Trust your children's natural curiosity and instinct to learn and grow through play, exploration, and experimentation without formal education.
  • Trust the learning process: you already are your children's life teacher, you don't need to become their class teacher too. You never needed to give them instructions on how to walk and talk, and you don't now need to give them instructions in all the other things they learn from you (even when it's something that might be considered an academic subject).

Most importantly:

Embrace your parenting role: Love your children, reassure them, help them cope and learn coping skills for these stressful and extraordinary times. When, in the future, they look back on this impactful period of history, what do you want them to remember? Bad memories from the way you focused on their academic progress during trying times, compounding the trauma from the pandemic and confinement itself? Or gratitude and joy from the unconditional love and support you gave them and how safe you made them feel? Make sure you are who you really want to be with them. Then education and time management will take care of themselves.

© Marian Buchanan, 2020

Marian joined the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents a couple of decades ago, around the time PPM131 was being negotiated. Her unschooled son is all grown up now, but she remains involved in the homeschooling community through her volunteer work with the OFTP as well as running several homeschool-related websites, including the Canadian Home Based Learning Resource Page, University Admissions in Canada, and the Homeschool Media Network. She also offers a few downloadable activities for children through her Kids and Caboodles site.

Topics: Is This Homeschooling?