Making School-from-Home Work

Like millions of parents around the world right now, I’m learning how to support my child in “attending” public school from home. (Note: I call this school-from-home rather than homeschooling, because  it’s a very different experience for those who are  doing it due to the pandemic, versus those who chose it for a long-term path.) I’ll share here the system that is working for us, in case it is helpful to others, but there is no one right approach that will work for everyone.

What the School Gives Us

My son is in the third grade in the Lake Washington School District (in the suburbs of Seattle). For 3rd grade, they’re supposed to do about 150 minutes a week of reading, 150 minutes of math,  60 minutes of writing, one “library” activity, one music and one PE. Plus, if time, 30 minutes science and 30 minutes social studies. It’s supposed to add up to 1 – 2 hours a day, or about 8 – 10 hours a week. We find it takes about 2 – 2.5 hours a day to complete the assignments.

It is primarily screen-based, with apps and online learning platforms that guide the kids through the activities. They can do the activities at any time. Twice a week, they have a brief class teleconference on Teams where they mostly check-in – sharing what they’ve been up to. Weekly schedules are sent each Monday, and every Thursday teachers check if the kids have done their work.

Here is a sample weekly schedule.


Do you feel overwhelmed looking at that? I sure do! We haven’t even shown this to our son, because he would overload just from imagining all this work hanging over him.

On Facebook, I’ve seen some parents say they’ve set up a schedule, where they do reading from 9 – 9:30, math from 9:30 – 10, and so on. That would not work with my son. Forcing him to do something when he’s not in the mood is really a battle – if he can choose when to do something, it goes much better. At least most parents built in recess / free play blocks into their schedules, and that would make it better!

Some parents sit down one on one with their kids all day – as a working parent, I can’t manage that.

Our System

Our school system did not offer the online learning in the early weeks of the closure. But we needed to do something… my husband and I work full-time from home right now, and we need ways to keep our son busy! If it were up to him, he would be on video games and YouTube all day long, and barring that, would read all day long. He needed to have more balance than that, so we invented our Suddenly Homeschooling system. When the school district added in distance learning, we adapted our system. It works great for us, as it gives him a lot of flexibility and choices, while also providing a lot of structure and routine (very important to our son, who is autistic) and communicating what our expectations are for him to accomplish.

cardsWe have a system of cards, each representing a piece of his work. He has to complete 8 cards a day. When he has completed 4, he earns an hour of screen time. When he has completed 8, he earns a second hour of screen time. Then, he is done with his work for the day, and done with screens for the day.  Each day he has 6 cards that are required (morning check-in, reading, math, writing, science/social studies, and physical activity – he needs to burn off some energy for all our sanity!) The others are flexible – practicing playing recorder, calling his grandparents, helping with extra chores, etc. Click here to see all his: Cards.

We keep the cards on the desk where my husband and I work, and whenever our son finishes a task, he comes over and we check it off, and help him figure out what he wants to work on next. If he needs help, one of us helps him, and then gets back to work. If he wants a snuggle, he sits in our laps and we work around him. We work breakfast and lunch in around the schedule he chooses – he often eats while listening to a read-aloud or watching a video for school. Or he takes a break and we eat socially – it’s up to him.

Having the cards rather than a checklist works really well for us. The tangible nature of being able to sort through the cards, put the completed tasks in one pile, put the next task on the top of the pile, and see the required task pile dwindle as the day goes on feels much more manageable for us than looking at that checklist of all the week’s activities all at once.

Some days, he stays really focused, and he whips through the first 4 points by 10:30 in the morning, and done with all his work by 1:30. Other days, he dinks around, or chooses to read for fun instead of doing his school work, and it takes till late afternoon. When he’s dinking, we remind him of the impact of that choice, but sometimes he decides that’s the way he wants to balance his responsibilities and his relaxation, which we think is good learning, as that’s how things will work in college and much of adult life.

And if he’s done his work, which has allowed us to complete our work, then we have the shared reward of evenings that are relaxed social time for all of us. Movies, walks, and games.

I’m not saying it’s perfect. We have certainly had some big battles! (I feel like i need to post a sign to my neighbors saying “If you hear screaming from the house, don’t worry… it’s just that we said screen time is done for the day.”) But all in all, I feel like we’re on the right track for our family.

* Not One Size Fits All

I want to be really clear that I know different things work for different people -different kids have different skills, temperaments, and challenges in their environments – different parents have different skills, temperaments, and challenges in their environments – there’s never one right answer!

I also totally get that not everyone has the same resources available to them – we are lucky to have the devices we need for online schooling, good internet access, reliable access to food and safe housing, and the ability to work from home and maintain our income, and we’re two parents with one kid (we have two other children, but they are adults and are not living at home), so truly, I have no judgment for other people who are having a hard time making things work.

I think it is a fair and reasonable thing for some parents to choose to opt out of schooling from home. Doing school is mostly a soothing routine for us. If it creates tons of stress for your family, and trying to get through it is feeling stressful or even traumatic for you, you might make other choices. I hear (on Facebook – haven’t verified) that you’re not required to school children under age 8. (And I believe in the power of play-based learning for young kids! So you might be able to create a play-based system that works for you). I suspect that for older kids, you could do some paperwork to transfer over to “homeschooling” which has looser requirements.

Or many parents are just communicating with their schools and teachers and saying “here’s what our family is doing for school” (e.g. ‘schoolwork in morning only – we don’t do any in the afternoon’, or ‘we’re doing the math and the check-in, but we’ll do our own reading and writing lessons’) and there seems to be a lot of flexibility in the responses to that. The LWSD website says “During the mandated school facility closure… teachers will [track] students who are not participating in remote learning or responding to communication. This information will be used to help us reach out to students and families who may need additional support. This information will not be included in students’ official records or used for enrollment or penalties.”

Find the path that works for your family as we move through these unprecedented times.

As a parent educator, when parents ask me “is ____ a problem?” I always come back with: “is it a problem for you or your child, or is it working well for everyone in your family?” If you have found something that works for you, hurray! If not, then hopefully my post gives you some insight into one possible option.

Postscript… LWSD system

This is just for anyone who wants more info about what the programs are that our school is offering.

Starting last week, they are offering remote learning resources, and kids are required to submit schoolwork that will be graded.nThe work is all organized in an online platform called Power School Learning. So, they log in to PSL and most other things are linked from there. (Note: one thing that makes us crazy is that all the different sites have different user names and different log-in info! We’ve created a document in One Note that we can see on all our devices, so it’s easy to look up the passwords anytime / anywhere we need them.)

They have a morning check-in question they can all add a comment to, Wonders vocabulary, Lexia reading, Envision math, Dreambox math, Edutyping, plus materials developed by the teachers: writing activities, science and social studies, listening to a class read-aloud book, and doing activities provided by the music teacher, PE teacher, and counselor. They’re having a Microsoft Teams meeting with their teacher twice a week – these are mostly social check-in times. (Some parents have complained about this, wishing their teachers would teach, but as a teacher myself, I would argue that what the kids need out of this time is the thing that no online app can possibly replicate, and that’s the social-emotional aspects of connecting to their teacher, their classmates – people outside their home.)

For kids who are strong readers, who enjoy screen-based activity, and who don’t need lots of social interaction with peers, it’s a workable program for this public health crisis. But it’s not as good a match for many.

1 thought on “Making School-from-Home Work

  1. Pingback: Low Contact Parks on the Eastside | More Good Days – Parenting Blog

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