Tag Archives: homeschooling

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.

Suddenly Homeschooling

Due to coronavirus, millions of parents across the country (and around the world) are suddenly homeschooling their children. Some may feel prepared (they’re teachers!), some may have all the resources they need at home, but many of us are under-prepared, under-supplied, and also trying to figure out how to manage that along with all of our other responsibilities in this new era. We’re all faking it together and figuring it out on the spur of the moment!

For us, school suddenly disappeared. One afternoon we found out that at the end of the school day, they were closing for two weeks, then the next day that became six weeks. We took a few days off from being responsible. For the first four days, we let our son do whatever he wanted to (well, we limited his screen time to two hours a day, but otherwise he was flexible). But we told him we were just doing that for a few days, and he should expect that on Monday, we’d start homeschooling. That gave me a few days to come up with ideas.

I turned to homeschooling parents for advice, and I’ll share with you here the plan we’ve put together for our nine year old.

But first, let’s say:

Go Easy on Yourself

Don’t put a ton of pressure on yourself! Don’t feel like things have to be perfect!! Don’t worry that this will cause them to fall behind and never catch up. We’re all just going to do the best we can. Luckily, kids are resilient, and they will bounce back from this experience! If some days, you’re exhausted and swamped with your own burdens, don’t feel guilty about using screen time. If you feel like you should be making your child do math homework, but you just need to get the laundry put away, then today becomes Life Skills 101 instead of math, and you teach your child to fold laundry. It’s all OK.

And if you know that trying to homeschool your children would make you miserable, would make them miserable and turn every day into a battle, then don’t do it!! We never want kids to resent “school” so much that they decide they hate learning! I believe that love of learning is the biggest key to success in school and life, so do whatever works for your family to preserve that. Feel free to run with the Free Range philosophy and do whatever whim strikes you for the day, letting your child self guide their learning – reading books all day, doing Lego all day, whatever!

Many parents find that unstructured spontaneity works well for their family, many recommend having a bit more structure than that, so the rest of the post offers some structure and routine in case that is what is helpful to your family, as it is for mine.

Making a Plan

I’ve seen a variety of advice, but this is the one I find the most helpful summary. It’s from Mary Oemig, President Boom Learning (former homeschooler).

Each child should write a plan for the day each morning. Younger kids might need a little help with ideas. Older kids should include open items assigned from teachers.

All kids should include:

1. A reading activity
2. A writing activity
3. A math activity (games are great for younger kids)
4. A science activity (for youngers can be observations about spring during a walk – note changes each day, observe weather, online videos)
5. A social studies activity – history of plagues is relevant, lots of great educational videos on YouTube. 🙂
6. A PE activity – walks and bikes are good. Playing on playground equipment not so much.
7. A plan for playtime/free time.
8. Life skills / chores

Develop a system for family members to communicate to each other “Do Not Disturb” and “Available for Play”. Reinforce respecting whichever system you come up with.
Parents should have a set time during the day to review the plan with each kid to help them learn time management. This is a great opportunity to develop self-management skills.

I suggest that you do not dictate the schedule but rather guide children on developing their own plan.

For those who care: The research source for this approach is Tools of the Mind. They use this method with children as young as pre-school.

The idea of creating categories to complete was really helpful for me. (I’ve been teaching this idea for years when talking about how to choose toys and activities for babies, toddlers, and young children, using the theory of multiple intelligences – read more here.) I decided to build a system of cards for my son.

For each card, he earns either a full point or a half point. He’s not allowed to have any video game screen time before noon, no matter what. After noon, WHEN he has completed 5 points (~2.5 hours) THEN he gets one hour of free choice screen time. He then has to complete 3 more points to earn another hour of screen time, and that’s the maximum for the day.

My husband and I are both working full time from home, so his activities needed to be things he can do mostly independently.


Each card has criteria for what could qualify for completion – sample activities he can choose from. Here are his cards. The first 4 cards are required to complete every day. The others are options to choose from.

  • Reading – 30 minutes. 1 point. Lexia app from school, reading packets from school, or reading a book. To count for school work, it must be a book with a plot. Fiction. Not comics. Paper or ebook is fine. (He loves reading and would read all day, so this is the easy one.)
  • Writing – 20 – 30 minutes. 1 point. Practice on Edutyping app. Journal, write a letter, email, write a book report to share with a family member (we might also start writing Amazon reviews), write reflections on science homework. (He hates writing, so this is our hardest one.)
  • Math – 30 minutes. 1 point. Can use Dreambox or Xtramath – online programs from school district, or complete math packet from school. He can also use apps that drill him on multiplication facts. Sudoku, Numbrix, or other math puzzles. Math heavy board games or card games with parents.
  • Physical Activity – 30 minutes. 1 point. Could walk, bike, roller blade, play catch, etc. (This is a good time to rummage through your garage or closets for that sporting equipment you never use… we’ve got roller blades we hadn’t used in a decade!) He could do Wii sports to count for this, but he must spend a half hour outside every day, so if he does Wii sports, has to plan another outside activity, even if that’s sitting in the sun while reading. (Note: yes, you can still go outside now! Just minimize touching anything others have touched, so no playground time, and keep your distance from others.)
  • Science – 30 minutes. 1 point. Can include an educational video (there’s lots of great science content on video!) or a podcast. Could be a book. Must include something hands-on / active learning. (I teach hands-on science classes, so this one is easy for me… if you’re looking for resources for science learning for kids age 3 – 8, check out my other blog, www.InventorsOfTomorrow.com.)
  • Social Studies – 30 minutes, 1 point. Can include video, podcast, or book. Can cover history, other cultures, social/emotional skills, and so on. (We’re thinking of podcasts like Short and Curly – an ethics / philosophy podcast from Australia, or Dad and I Love History, or Forever Ago. Let us know what else you like!)
  • Call his grandparents. Half point. We haven’t seen them in person for two weeks because we don’t want to risk exposing them to anything (they’re in their 80’s), so it’s nice to connect via Skype. His grandma is teaching him some Spanish as they talk.
  • Play recorder for ten minutes. Or make art. Half point.
  • “Life skills” – like folding laundry, cooking, cleaning. (One of the things we can all do with our coronavirus break is bring back Home Economics and shop / Industrial Arts classes! Whatever work you need to do, have your child do it with you! Half point.
  • Social Time Online – Zoom or Skype calls with friends, family, church members, and so on. Half point.

At the beginning of each morning, we have a stack of cards. He gets to decide what activity to do first. I flip the card over, and write when he started doing that activity. When he reports back, I write what he did so I have a record. I’m not super strict about the 30 minutes – anywhere in the 20 – 45 minute range counts. He can combine some activities: for example, if he plays recorder for his grandma on Skype, that counts for two half point cards. If he draws while he listens to a podcast, that counts for art and social studies. If he writes about science, that could count for both. (He has to ask permission to double count before starting the activity.)

So, you’ll notice that if you add up all those cards, it does not add up to maybe 4-5ish hours, not 6.5 hours, which is how long his school day was. (And if he doubles up activities, it’s less than four hours.) Parents might worry that they’re not doing “enough” if it’s not 6.5 hours of school work. Here’s the deal – at school, they’re not getting 6.5 hours really! They’re eating lunch, having recess, walking down the hall to music class, waiting for their turn with the teacher, and so on. You can get more done in 3 – 4 hours one-on-one. And they (and you) will have time off from worrying about “school.”

Having the flexibility to decide what order he does things in has been super helpful to him. And if he’s enjoying a science show and wants to watch two, he can do that, he just knows it will take longer to get through his points and longer till that screen time, but he can make that choice himself, which he likes.

So, I’ve created the structure and the requirements, but give him a lot of freedom of choice within that structure. So far it’s working well for us… hopefully it continues to.

And if you think it sounds super hard and time consuming, I promise you it’s not! I literally have been working 8 – 10 hours every day and squeezing management of his “school” in and around that, and it’s just some quick check-ins every half hour. And if you think I must have an angel child for this to work, I should say that my son is diagnosed as autistic, and suspected ADHD, and we know the principal at the school very well, and the resource room teacher very well, because he spends a lot of time with them! But, for him having this structure, with the freedom of choice within the structure is exactly what he needs.

If you have advice, suggestions for resources, or questions, just add them to the comments!