The Hendersons Are Homeschooling… On Our Own (Here’s The “Plan” Or What We Really Hope Will Happen)

We truly didn’t know where we are going to live this school year since we are trying to move to Portland (clearly we are lucky/grateful that we have options). Charlie was still enrolled at the public school in our neighborhood in LA, but the Zoom learning did not go great last time (because of obvious reasons, the teachers did their best to adapt quickly but not ideal for anyone – especially teachers). So Brian basically took over and just taught both kids the basics. Then we thought well if we are going to be doing some screentime learning why not have my mom who is a teacher of 40 years homeschool while she’s homeschooling my sister’s kids that live with them in Portland, via the Portal. Just piggyback on that situation. Then once we decided to stay in the mountains for a while we decided a week late to enroll them in the local public elementary school HOMEschool program to have more flexibility, but it was full. How can a homeschool program be full? Well, because there is a teacher that does once a week check-ins and can only manage so many kids. Then all the charter home schools that we were eligible for were full, too. We felt like such idiots. So by late August, they were enrolled NOWHERE and we quickly enrolled them in the local elementary school’s distance learning (for those of you who don’t know the difference – “distance learning” is daily Zooms on iPads with the teacher you would have at school, “homeschool” is on your own time and with parent supervision/guidelines and likely some sort of online curriculum). Charlie started the distance learning program on day 4 or 5 which we felt pretty terrible about, but even worse Birdie isn’t updated on her vaccines which she needs to go to public T-K even though it’s all done remote this year! So she wasn’t even allowed to Zoom in on her classes which both the school and us knew was ridiculous this year but it’s the law (not ridiculous to have vaccines, ridiculous to require them in a pandemic when its remote learning). And get this – there are no pediatricians in our town and everyone drives down the mountain to get even basic vaccines. We felt like GREAT parents. No school and no doctor. We made an appointment but couldn’t get in for a month to our LA pediatrician. We made a lot of responsible excuses like “well, isn’t TK optional anyway?” and, “I mean, won’t everyone be behind next year?”.

Back to Charlie – he started his Zoom classes and despite the REALLY great job that the teacher was doing, 1st grade via an iPad is not ideal as every parent and teacher knows. We felt like we were just babysitting our kid while he looked at a screen and watched youtube videos.

I want to do a quick rant right now. Working parents and teachers are being put in an impossible position in the cities that are still doing remote learning. If you are in a family where both you and your partner work either inside or outside the home, I am here to say “I see you. I hear you. And just by trying you are doing an incredible job in an impossible situation”. I am not complaining for me due to my extreme privilege of having a flexible job working for myself and a husband who’s work has slowed down extremely due to the pandemic – we are grateful and going to manage fine. But I am still very outraged at this situation on behalf of all families right now – my friends and family, I see how they are just barely surviving this, emotionally. You are not alone. You are not set up for success. I want to give you a massive hug for even trying. YOU ARE A GOOD PARENT FOR EVEN ENROLLING YOUR KIDS IN SCHOOL! It’s more than we did…

Oh another rant – if you are in a leadership position at a company with working parents, think about showing some extra grace. I feel so badly for my friends who have 8 am Zoom corporate meetings that aren’t urgent. If you have any control over this kind of managing please step up and give working parents a bigger break than you ever have before. Ask them how they are doing and what your company can do to help. Give more time off and if your company is doing well, extra bonuses. Everyone is struggling to survive AND scared to lose jobs. So if you are in a leadership position go to bat for your colleagues who are trying to manage this impossible position and are likely crying a lot at home in between Zoom calls.

So what are we, the Hendersons, doing????

Homeschool. No, like, by ourselves. Not distance learning and not a pod. I realize how privileged this is, trust me, and I also know that many people might be in the same position of having one parent not working and able to stay home, so I’m hoping to have a conversation about it and share some ideas and resources AND ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS SO WE CAN HELP EACH OTHER.

But first, why are we homeschooling?

  1. This year we might be taking many road trips (16-hour drives) to Portland to look for our future home and plan our eventual move. So we’d be missing a lot of school (maybe we’ll start flying it if feels safer with the kids). Since our plan is to move when schools reopen (hopefully) it started to not make sense to Zoom school in Lake Arrowhead. If we knew what Portland school we would be in we might have joined that, but we can’t (and don’t have the property to enroll yet).
  2. Our kids are so young (4 and 6) so it’s the age where we might be able to teach them – knowing that as they get older we may not be competent or have the time available. I would not necessarily do this for older kids personally, but at TK and 1st grade I feel like we can’t totally mess them up, RIGHT???
  3. To state the obvious – learning through screens is just hard for any age of kid, but especially this young, before they are competent readers. Our kids truly couldn’t do it on their own anyway, so as we were sitting next to them the whole time helping them with their iPads, we realized that we could be spending the same amount of time actually interacting with them.
  4. Brian was able to do it. With his production work at a big low (a shoot a month at best), it gave him some purpose and almost a creative outlet. He saw this as an opportunity to spend more time with the kids. So instead of sitting near them while they are Zooming, he’ll be interacting with them. We are unbelievably grateful that we are in a position for him to no have work right now. Truly.
  5. Our general education philosophy is pretty, well, casual/progressive …. aka relaxed. We care more about social learning, community building, and self-esteem developing (at this age) than about them being academically advanced or ahead. We want them to enjoy learning (at least at this age) and be challenged by the process, not necessarily caring about the outcome. We don’t really care about test scores or them being the smartest or best in the class. In short – we don’t necessarily care about them getting “The Best Education”. I know that not everyone shares this philosophy and it might change, but Brian and I were both raised this same way and we simply can’t shake it. Your value system is just that – YOURS, and Brian nor I were the brainiacs of our class and appreciated the lack of academic pressure from our parents and focus on other things (being well rounded, kind, happy, a good citizen, creative, hard-working, etc). We are both creatives with untraditional jobs. What can you do?

So what are we doing exactly for this “homeschool”???

Well. We are currently setting it all up and haven’t fallen into a routine yet, but below is the plan starting next week (we started in August, but took a two-week break and are amping it back up next week). Now, we likely will fail at some of these ideas, but here are some ideas we are trying to stick to:

  1. Homeschool curriculum. Apparently the government wants you to, like, make sure your kids learn to read and write. You can do it on your own, but we knew we weren’t responsible enough so we sought out a program. We have downloaded a secular homeschool curriculum called Blossom and Root that is mostly nature and art-based (it was about $100). After doing a lot of research it seemed to be the program that fits best for our family and we really related to the philosophy. It’s pretty loose and more conceptual, less rigid, but with a lot of supplementary projects, book lists, and ways to document it all. Our kids are close enough in age so they are doing the same program, modifying a bit for reading/math. We downloaded it and printed it and had it bound at the local copy shop. We will start officially start this on Monday so I’ll report back! They say it’s anywhere from 1-3 hours a day.
  2. We have been doing a lot of Education.com worksheets – mostly math and writing. We print them out in the morning and spend about an hour on them. This is the most challenging part of the day, by the way. Brian is in charge of this hour… One of our kids doesn’t focus well on seated projects and we are trying to both teach the importance of that as well as not force it too much.
  3. We journal. We will write a daily “I’m grateful for…” journal with a picture and sentence and a weekly “what we did this weekend” journal. They did these at their pre-school so they are used to them. We forget frequently to do this but that’s the intent. We do a daily alphabet challenge where Elliot draws something that starts with the letter and Charlie builds the letter out of legos (and I take a photo of both). Somedays these are easy, other days they are a battle – I HAVE NO IDEA WHY.
  4. LIFE SCHOOL This is my personal favorite and guys, it’s the best parenting hack that no one told me – except every mom in the history of time. Now that the kids are 4 and 6 they are old enough to do everything that we do around the house, for themselves. All the stuff you think they can’t do? They can. I’m writing a whole post about it because I have so many tips and lessons learned already. Stay tuned (you can watch on Instastory, too).
  5. We let them choose crafts and science projects from books in “their library”. This is our favorite science book, this is our favorite craft book. Much to Brian’s horror we keep everything that can be turned into a craft or science – yogurt containers, toilet rolls, egg containers to have on hand (they are all in a big garbage bin in the garage, not organized but in one place).
  6. We are trying to dedicate some time to service and helping others. At least one afternoon they have to either write a thank you/miss you letter or make a craft/food for someone who they want to send love to or who they think needs it – this week we are going to make some cookies for the firefighters battling the fire up here. I’m currently trying to find a way to do a weekly 2-hour volunteer session and have reached out to everyone I know but have not come up with anything that feels safe due to COVID. We might just take a couple of hours a week to make and drop off a lunch at our local elementary school to support the teachers. One of my kids is pretty into this, for the other it’s more of a battle (thus making it all the more necessary).
  7. Scrapbooking. FINALLY. MY #2 HOBBY (behind souping) HAS COME IN HANDY AND IS REQUIRED BY THE GOVERNMENT!!! So in addition to filling out an affidavit saying that you are creating your own home school you have to keep track of everything you are doing in order to enter the next grade and show that the kids are at that level. So I get to document the hell out of this year, our time together, and obviously save every writing/math/science project we do. At first, Brian was like, “we can’t homeschool – You have to document the whole thing!!! Both of us are so irresponsible!!” I agreed and was nervous enough that we almost bought a really expensive “private” homeschool program that helps us do it. But then I reframed it and realized that it’s just going to be a daily EPIC scrapbook!! I have this awesome photo printer that the kids love and they each bought their own binder. Let me be clear – I’m a TERRIBLE scrapbooker. I’m just super enthusiastic about hoarding memories. Our scrapbooks are messy, unorganized and we don’t have those cute soccer ball stickers or anything. I stick to the “done is better than perfect” motto. I have a huge tub in a closet that I throw things in weekly. For this, I’ll just keep them in a binder daily (I think). I’m pretty sure to get into public 2nd grade next year we just need to prove that he can read/write and do basic math and I know we can do that.
  8. Kid Class. They are very excited about this but we’ll see how long it lasts. Basically each kid takes a turn at being “the teacher” and they choose the lesson and gather supplies. Charlie taught “robot school” where he showed us how to build a robot out of recyclable materials and Birdie taught us all how to draw a unicorn (which took 5 minutes). It’s also a great parenting hack because you literally don’t have to do anything. I think this idea came from the LDS tradition of “Family Home Evening” where each child on Monday nights takes a turn coming up with and teaching a lesson to the rest of the family (usually based on doctrine or morality). The kids so far like being in charge and pretending to be a teacher so we’ll see how it goes.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, those are just the ideas. I can’t imagine we will be able to stick to all of them or execute them daily. Yes, they watch too much TV. Yes, they go hours just playing outside. And no, they don’t put vegetables in their lunch (as they are responsible for making their own now – cooking school!). So our expectations are LOW this year for both us and them and I think that’s ok.

Am I nervous about doing this on our own? YES. Here’s why…

  1. Brian battled a lot with the kids last year and that morning fight was a challenge and stressful – AS EVERY PARENT KNOWS RIGHT NOW. I want to be able to share the responsibility 50/50 but simply can’t due to work. Every parent also knows that their kid listens to a teacher/any adult far more than their own parents so we are looking for a part-time teacher or nanny with some experience to help with this a couple of hours a day (or even 3 days a week – literally any time). This would probably help our marriage, too. Despite us trying to make it “fun” they still don’t want to go to “school” and one of my children does not like to focus on anything besides what they feel they are good at, so even getting them to do a “what we did last weekend” journal is a struggle and a big source of daily frustration. There are often tears and voices being raised – by kids and grownups. So yeah, we are navigating that situation.
  2. I’m nervous that our kids won’t be able to sit down and focus next year in a more rigid classroom structure. We aren’t big disciplinarians and don’t parent very punitively. I’m worried that they will HATE school when they go back, be unable to sit and focus on traditional worksheets, and just feel out of place. What I remind myself all day is that everyone will be at different places emotionally and academically next year (or whenever we return) so we’ll all go through whatever challenges as a world community. RIGHT? OUR KIDS WON’T BE THAT WEIRD, RIGHT???
  3. I’m nervous that they’ll be behind on what they are “supposed” to learn and that might affect them emotionally. Don’t get me wrong, I’m far less concerned about what this does for them academically then what it does to their self-esteem. Feeling “behind” can be hard at this young age, so I just really want them to integrate back in with them feeling like they are “dumb” because mommy didn’t teach them what a compound sentence is (because she doesn’t know and clearly doesn’t care about grammar as much as the rest of the world). This is Brian’s biggest concern and why he prints out the worksheets every day. Should two laid back creatives really pretend to be “teachers”??

Finally, I’m nervous that we won’t be disciplined enough to stick to it. I’m a 7 enneagram. I like to have fun and do what I can to create it. I best thrive with a routine, sure, but I also LOVE playing hooky and I don’t like traditional rules AT ALL nor do I like someone telling me what to do. There is a reason I never could have an office job (or maybe why I need one?) The only reason I’m successful is because I found exactly what my brain wants to do and made it a career (and yes, have a very good/hard work ethic thanks to my parents). I’m worried that left up to me we’d just do projects or play all day because they are at this age that is seriously SO FUN to hang out with. When Birdie says, “mama do you want to play spa with me?” when we should be starting our alphabet challenge it will be hard to not say “uh, yea!” (I mean, how can you not? She wants to braid my hair and give me a manicure???)

I don’t know how it’s going to go. Here’s what I do know – that most of us dealing with schools shut down, we all have to give ourselves a break and know that our kids will be fine, filled with love from us, and an extra dose of grit and flexibility. I’ll get to hug them more this year, and make a lot of soup together. And if this homeschool doesn’t work then we’ll go back to distance learning or join a pod. WHO KNOWS.

So that’s us. When we were doing distance learning I gathered some tips from you guys – some of them really surprising. Lauren Gibbs is a teacher that sent through a lot of them (thank you!) and we added a few more to the list from others.

Helpful Ideas for Distance Learning and using Zoom from Teachers:

  1. Routine – After 14 years of teaching in the classroom, in the homeschool setting, and as a virtual reading intervention teacher routine is beyond helpful! Create a routine that students can count on. Discuss the routine as a family, write it somewhere everyone can see, and set timers! Something like wake up, breakfast, get dressed, play outside, start Zoom, and so on. As a teacher, it took about a month to teach the routine but then after a month, the classroom worked in a beautiful flow. Try this out at home. 
  2. Set up a personal space for your child to work and go to each day. Have them help you set it up. Think through the following – Is this space quiet and distraction-free as possible? Are there supplies ready – paper, pencils, markers, notebooks, textbooks? Setting it up with your student can create excitement and ownership. Add personal touches to help the student feel at home and comfortable, a picture or a stuffed animal can really help. It doesn’t have to be a big space, but a space that helps them feel like when they are there it is time to learn and focus.
  3. Headphones with a microphone are so helpful and relatively cheap. They make a big difference. 
  4. Practice Zoom as a family. Discover together where the tools are and talk through troubleshooting problems. Making a list of what to do if… the internet goes out, the Zoom turns off, etc…
  5. Students are going to get fidgety and often not engaged after staring at a computer screen. Set a timer for students to simply orient to the room they are in: look around the room and name 5 things you see, hear, feel, etc.. Provide optional seating: standing, yoga ball, flexible seating. Also, fidget toys like a stress ball or silly putty can be helpful for their fidgety hands. Some students do well with a weighted blanket or something with weight around their necks. Even a reminder to simply wiggle their toes is helpful. A small trampoline next to their workspace can work wonders for a quick 1-minute jumping break. 
  6. For the younger grades sit next to your student for the first couple weeks (or more if possible). This way you can help them troubleshoot and get used to what to do. This is a big commitment but after that you can be sure they will be more independent. For the upper grades be nearby to help when issues come up. Remember students do great with gentle reminders, a hand on the back can help redirect them, and ask intentional questions about their lessons. They will not be getting a lot of that in the virtual setting. 
  7. Don’t have kids in a bedroom on a bed or in a bathroom and they need to have a shirt on. A few male teachers gave this suggestion specifically which was surprising but totally made sense!
  8. Take a breath! You do not need to do this perfectly. If you or your student need a break, take it! An organized regulated nervous system in the middle of a potentially traumatizing time trumps school.

Lastly, I know this is a long post … A couple of weeks ago Sara’s mom, a kindergarten teacher in a low-income neighborhood outside of LA, gave us a wish list of supplies that she was buying for her underserved families and you guys stepped up and helped SO MUCH. The idea that teachers who are already underpaid IMHO in this country have to use their own money to buy school supplies is just shocking and upsetting. Thank you to all who supported Sara’s mom. Here are more teachers who are struggling to cover school supplies in their districts – if you can support please do.

  • Ally Lam: “Hi I’m a 6th grade math teacher in a public school for newcomers and I and my school could really use some help 🙂“. Here is Ally’s wishlist
  • Adriani Leon: “Hi! We are a small public charter school in Altadena with just over 100 students. We are a tight-knit community with a focus on entrepreneurship! Creating a socially distant environment has many challenges. While we are incredibly lucky to have enough space to host our students, we don’t have enough furniture to provide for them! Social distancing means group tables and alternative seating are out of the question, so we need your help to get more tables and chairs for our young entrepreneurs. Our students are mainly Latino and Black. We are about 70% Low Income, and just over 20% Special Needs! Your help means that we can use school funds for direct services like tutoring and counseling! Thank you so much!” Here is Adriani’s wishlist
  • Lauren Colley: “Hi EHD team! I saw your post about teachers needing help and I wanted to pass on information about an amazing organization right here in LA that is busting their butts providing FREE tutoring to underserved kids from all over LA county. Dynasty’s United Youth Association – www.dynastysyouth.org normally operates out of our public libraries and schools but given COVID, all of their programming is online. They are doing a fundraising campaign to currently to continue funding their free services for this school year. They have raised 35% of their goal of $115k for the year and need help. The founder Dynasty Taylor is an amazing woman in her community, a counselor in 3 schools and also runs two non-profits. She is incredible. Would love the help! Can provide any info you need! Thank you!
  • Ali Mente: “I am a third-grade teacher in a very poor area in Baltimore City. We are finishing up our first week of 100% virtual learning and it has been quite an eye-opening experience. Our families are doing as best as they can but it is very difficult for many of our students to focus because they do not have headphones. We were lucky enough to get laptops out to every family but most of our families have children in multiple grades and everyone is learning in the same room in their homes- which has proven to be very loud and easily distracting. I teach 60 students and would be extremely grateful if I could receive some help fulfilling this wish!Here is Ali’s wishlist
  • Sam Eason: “I wanted to send you my friends gofundme for her students. She’s a first grade teacher and recently set up a gofundme for her birthday, saying that all she wanted for her birthday was to help buy supplies for her students. Her name is Desirae, a native Hawaiian working here in WA. She’s so passionate about her students and I’d just love to surprise her with some additional help. Thank you for your support and considering her!” Here is Desirae’s GoFundme page
  • Reba Cunningham: Please help teachers get the supplies they need most. Support an Elysian Heights Elementary School classroom and make a difference for their students today. Here is the link
  • Lauren Merceron: “I work in an underserved public school in Atlanta. I am an art teacher. I have been sending packets for the students who don’t have supplies. Many of the students don’t even have crayons or paper. So crayons, paper, watercolor sets would be a GodsendHere is Lauren’s wishlist
  • Samantha Deitch: “My friend Ashleigh is a teacher in Houston for underserved and majority Latinx/black high school students – she says half of them can’t connect to her classes because of tech/lack thereof, and half don’t attend in any meaningful way because they are working to support their families or supporting younger siblings in THEIR online schooling. She’s been working round the clock for the past month to try to help her students. They would benefit SO MUCH from donations!!Here is Ashleigh’s wishlist
  • From Rachel Pepin: “I’m responding on behalf of a teacher (and an entire school really). The school is a low-income school (title one- which I always confuse with title 9 -but this means nearly all students qualify for free meals). It’s a very small school and they share facilities and resources with a school for the visually impaired. Most of the kids are Latin or Asian (my kid is the only white kid in his class). Most kids have devices from school which are extremely old and not all of them can run all of the platforms for distance learning. This probably is too big of an ask for a gofundme. So on a smaller scale, our first grade teacher let us know last week that her wish list includes ziplock bags, ink toner cartridges, reams of copy paper, and glue. Thanks so much!Here is Ms. Lee’s wishlist
  • Cheryl: “I’m a kindergarten teacher in Long Beach at a title I school! I currently have a gofundme for an iPad to use for this whole ordeal while teaching from home…using my iPhone as a doc camera but know I can use an iPad plus use it to write and simulate what they’d see at school. If I can share more, please ask. There is so much we can benefit from but these two items would change everything! We are online until January 28Here is Cheryl’s DonorsChoose page and student wishlist
  • Katelyn Knowles: “I teach in a small rural school in southern Illinois. Our school serves students in 3 counties with some over 30 minutes away from the school. Most of our students live in small towns or in the country. Sadly, most of them do not have access to libraries. Our school works to provide them with books but funding is always an issue. I would like to grow my classroom library to incorporate more books for my students to enjoy. Plus I would be able to share them with my students during our online meetings. Most of the books I have paid for myself or they were leftover from the last teacher. Now more than ever, access to books is so important.” Here is Katelyn’s wishlist
  • Rachel Coldewey: “We return to in-person learning on 9/14! This presents fun challenges like teaching a new reading intervention, and weird ones like making PPE fun. If you have the means to help, I would appreciate it!” Here is Rachel’s wishlist

These teachers and friends of teachers are amazing and we hope that along with us, you can help to support them in some small (or big) way. Brian and I are very aware of how lucky and privileged we are to even have the option to have options when it comes to our kid’s education. But with privilege comes responsibility to help and we are committed to doing just that. We have to support teachers and their students so that everyone can get the education they deserve!

So let’s talk about ways to help, books and programs your kids are using and loving and if you are a teacher with a wishlist please put it in the comments. xx

Fin Mark

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