Survival Guide for COVID-Forced Homeschooling

Choosing the craziness of homeschooling is one thing, but having it forced upon you is quite another. Thankfully there are somewhere around two million voluntary homeschoolers in the U.S., and they’re ready to WELCOME ALL THE HUDDLED MASSES to their ranks—virtually, of course.

If you are one of the many who have found yourself suddenly homeschooling against your will, I’d like to help. Maybe you will find homeschooling to be a new personal hell, or maybe it will grow on you. In either case, here are some very practical tips for getting through it for the duration of the pandemic.

As much as you might be tempted to give in to your kids’ requests for more and more screen time—after all it does seem comforting and helpfully distracting during this crazy and stressful time, and there is your sanity to consider!—still the evidence shows that too much screen time increases anxiety rather than alleviating it. So limiting tech time and sticking with a loose routine are key to maintaining a positive and productive home environment.

This is great time to remind kids that screen time is not a right but rather a privilege that can be earned or lost. By creating a daily checklist for each child, you can allow them to direct their own time and earn screen time, or some other reward, by doing so. For this to work, you’ll need to be sure to set screen time controls to limit children’s access to your devices and home computers. Lock all browsers and other apps on any devices that students will use for audiobooks and math review so that students can avoid temptation to get distracted with other activities during listening/math time.

Here’s a sample checklist for grade-school students through highschool which you can copy, paste, and modify to fit your family. The embedded, italicized comments are notes for the parent which you’d delete from your personalized student checklist before printing it for your kids. After the list, there are a few notes and further suggestions, especially audiobook suggestions! (Note: There are links to other websites and resources in this post, but I do not benefit financially from any of the links or content of this post.)

Sample Daily Checklist

Dear Student, you may earn up to one hour of screen time by completing everything on the following checklist of activities by 4:00 p.m.:

  • Complete any required assignments from your regular school (if applicable).
  • Practice your musical instrument (if applicable).
  • Listen to a pre-approved audiobook for at least 20 minutes (Use a longer minimum if your child can stay focused!), and tell your parent or caregiver what happened in the story or passage. (For the importance of telling back, see an earlier post here.)
  • Play outside for at least an hour; wear sunscreen and/or a hat! Take a drawing pad or notebook and draw something interesting or beautiful that you find outdoors. (Consider incorporating additional aspects of nature study as well.)
  • Read out loud with a family member—you can read to a sibling, listen to a sibling read to you, read with a parent, and/or FaceTime/Skype/Zoom with a grandparent or friend. (This is a great way to both build family connections and also work on oral reading fluency through practice. Make sure students read from a book that is at or near their level of reading ability so they don’t get too frustrated.)
  • Spend 5 to 10 minutes copying lines from a poem or classic literature in your best handwriting—be sure to copy the punctuation, spelling, and capitalization correctly, too!
  • Help with chores around the house.
  • Do something creative such as building with LEGOs, baking, or crafting.
  • Spend at least 45 minutes doing something active such as going for a walk or bike ride, stretching, doing crunches and such, doing an exercise video/Just Dance/etc.—or just put on music and make your own moves!
  • Listen to an approved audiobook for another 20 minutes (or longer minimum!) or more, and tell your parent or caregiver what happened in the story or passage.
  • Do at least 15 minutes of math fact drill and show your results to your parent or caregiver. (This is for elementary students or other students who need to review basic math facts. Try this app: Math Fact Master: Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, and Division; you can set the app activities to each child’s ability. For older students, or for more math topics, consider the ALEKS online math program, or Art of Problem Solving, especially for Algebra and above.)

Bonus Challenges: (Set a special prize that can be earned only by completing some or all of these extra accomplishments.)

  • Memorize a poem and recite it to a family member or friend. Then memorize another, and then another! Try to remember the first ones while learning the new.
  • Learn to diagram sentences. (Best for middle school and up, maybe advanced upper elementary students as well.)
  • Learn touch typing and/or increase your touch typing speed. Set a words-per-minute (adjusted for accuracy) goal.
  • Memorize the 70 basic English phonograms and their corresponding sounds. (For more information on the phonograms and best ways to teach phonics, see here and here.)

If you do nothing else, quality audiobooks and outdoor time are incredibly valuable and would provide a wonderful education.

I recommend that every parent, homeschooling or otherwise, check out this free talk by Andrew Pudewa, “Nurturing Competent Communicators“—he explains just how essential read-alouds and audiobooks are to students’ linguistic development and communication skills.

Pudewa’s program, the Institute for Excellence in Writing, is also responding to the COVID-19 crisis by giving away free curriculum. I especially recommend their Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization course. They are giving away the downloadable teacher’s manual, student pages, and the MP3 audio for the entire first level of the course!

Audiobook Lists!

I recommend giving your students a list of pre-approved audiobooks to choose from for the assigned audiobook time. Audible is offering free audiobooks for kids as long as schools are closed, and many audiobooks can also be found for free through public libraries using Hoopla and/or Overdrive/Libby. Below are my personal recommendations by age bracket based on what is available digitally for free through one or more of those three sources. (Scribd has even more audiobooks, and they have a 30-day free trial; check out The Hobbit, The Lord of Rings, and other books by J. R. R. Tolkien there!)

There are so many great and good books that are not on these lists, but it’s a start! Also, many students would benefit from reading books both below and above their age bracket; these are fluid categories.

Preschool and up:

  • Winnie the Pooh and other A. A. Milne books
  • Beatrix Potter stories
  • Edward Lear poems
  • Dr. Seuss books
  • Stone Soup
  • Aesop fables
  • Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales
  • The Boy Who Drew Cats
  • Arnold Lobel books
  • Thornton Burgess stories and books
  • Other folk tales and fairy tales

Elementary and up:

  • The Birchbark House and The Game of Silence by Louise Erdrich
  • Charlotte’s Web (via Overdrive/Libby)
  • Trumpet of the Swan (via Overdrive/Libby)
  • Stuart Little (via Overdrive/Libby)
  • Penderwicks series (via Overdrive/Libby)
  • Pippi Longstocking (via Overdrive/Libby)
  • Narnia series by C. S. Lewis
  • The Princess and the Goblin and other children’s books and fairy tales (e.g. The Wise Woman) by George MacDonald
  • Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Heidi
  • Jules Verne books
  • Anne of Green Gables books
  • Lewis Carroll books
  • The Children’s Homer
  • Robin Hood
  • Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
  • The Swiss Family Robinson
  • The Secret Garden
  • The Little Princess
  • The Wind in the Willow
  • Misty of Chincoteague
  • James Herriot’s Treasury for Children and other animal stories
  • Black Beauty
  • King Arthur and his Knights by Howard Pyle
  • The Little Duke
  • Edward Lear poems
  • Fairy Tales and Folks Tales (They’re for all ages!)
  • Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb

Middle School and up:

  • The Reluctant Dragon
  • Perelandra and Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis
  • Jack London stories
  • The Witchcraft of Salem Village (nonfiction)
  • Letters of a Woman Homesteader (nonfiction)
  • Robinson Crusoe
  • Edith Nesbit books
  • Sherlock Holmes stories
  • Stephen Crane stories
  • Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl (nonfiction)
  • Men of Iron by Howard Pyle
  • My Antonia
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel
  • Watership Down
  • The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (nonfiction)
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
  • The View from Saturday

Highschool (and advanced middleschool readers):

  • The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis and other books by C. S. Lewis
  • Flatland by Edwin Abbott
  • Shakespeare’s plays (select unabridged, full-cast) and sonnets
  • Beowulf
  • Charles Dickens stories
  • Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries
  • Classic American Short Stories
  • Edgar Allen Poe stories and poems
  • Jane Austen novels
  • Ivanhoe
  • Jane Eyre
  • Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
  • Washington Irving stories
  • Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
  • The Crucible by Arthur Miller
  • The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
  • James Fenimore Cooper novels
  • Plays by Aeschylus
  • The War of the Worlds
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
  • Wuthering Heights
  • G. K. Chesterton’s ficton and non-fiction

E-Books Students can Read Aloud

  • Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel (early readers and up)
  • Books by Cynthia Rylant (early readers and up)
  • Biscuit books (early readers and up)
  • Fancy Nancy books (early readers and up)
  • Magic Treehouse series & Fact Trackers series—read in order on Overdrive/Libby! (first chapter books)
  • The Boxcar Children series, book 1 through 19 (first chapter books)
  • Erdrich’s Birchbark House series—Listen to book 1 first! (more advanced chapter books)
  • Charlotte’s Web on Overdrive/Libby (more advanced chapter books)
  • Any e-book version of books from the elementary and middleschool list (for confident oral readers in upper elementary through high school)
  • Any e-book version of books from the highschool list (for advanced high school readers)

For more ideas for homeschooling in a crisis situation, you might checkout Ambleside Online’s Emergency Learning Plan. Their curriculum is always free.

Education isn’t limited to schools; some folks learn better without them.

image credit: