Homeschooling during the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be an exercise in agility. As a working mom (with a working spouse), the initial odds of homeschooling my 2nd-grade daughter and preschooler son did not look good. While my daughter’s school provided organized weekly lesson plans and Zoom experiences, I felt a gap in resources for my son’s learning at the onset of the pandemic. While I served as a teaching assistant in graduate school, I’m not an educator by trade. What I’ve quickly come to learn in my new role as headmaster at Mendel Montessori is that being an at-home educator requires a variety of skills. Over the last few months, I’ve found that merging creativity and critical thinking into activities is a solid formula for keeping my five-year-old engaged.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, each day presented new challenges of juggling kids in between work calls, project deadlines and finding time to make meals. Almost overnight, I felt inundated with online resources, craft ideas and storytime with celebrities. While all these are effective tools, I found a few tactics along the way that have helped me on my journey to being an instant homeschool teacher.
Making Use of Household Items
While cleaning out my basement, I found a tub of buttons I used eons ago to decorate homemade jewelry organizers. I brought them up for my five-year-old to use for counting, numbers, and even a little addition and subtraction! For example, I put three buttons in one cup and eight in the other. Using different colored stickers, I asked him to write out addition, subtraction, and greater-than and less-than symbols. We put the stickers on pieces of paper, and he worked to apply the correct symbol to each problem. I’m a believer in teamwork, so I asked my eight-year-old daughter to get involved, helping to track the outcomes in a graph on my whiteboard. This exercise allowed her to flex her math muscles while introducing my son to basic math. The same applied for a sink or float exercise, again involving household items like a glue stick, rubber toys, pencil and spoon.
Overall, we’ve definitely seen an uptick in creativity at my house during the pandemic. For Mother’s Day, my kids put on an “off-off-off-Broadway” show, complete with costumes and props. It’s been wonderful to watch their collaboration and creativity come to life.
Being An Active Player
My goal with homeschooling was to create a balance between learning and having fun. We typically take daily family walks, and I decided to enhance our strolls by printing nature walk bingo templates I found online. I printed two charts out, and my kids had a blast reviewing the list and stopping along the way to point out various animals, flowers and other parts of nature. Taking an everyday activity like a walk and turning it into an adventure requiring participation proved to be an easy way to engage their cognition in a not-so-obvious way.
Like many parents, I spent a good deal of time sifting through a barrage of free resources from friends, family, and edtech companies. With a focus on engaging content, I wanted to find something that worked for my son and my schedule.
A family member recommended a Facebook group one day, and there I found a link to teach@home from hand2mind. I visited the site, which was intuitively laid out, and easily found age-appropriate, daily video lessons and supplemental activities. I knew instantly that these resources would work for our family. After kicking off week one, I found the tools to be a perfect bridge for my son’s learning. Dedicating about 30 minutes each day, we both enjoyed our time together learning math and literacy lessons and concepts that will set him up for success in kindergarten.
Throughout this journey, I’m working to make room for patience and offer grace—for myself and my kids. A colleague of mine offered a great analogy of “landing the plane” when it comes to managing each day. For me, that means not losing it when a lesson wasn’t completed, or if the kids had chicken nuggets for the second night in a row. We are all in new territory, and acknowledging what you can (and can’t) control is important.
With family and friends in the education field, I’ve always had great respect for the profession. That respect has deepened tremendously since the pandemic, and I applaud educators everywhere for their passion, tenacity and patience. I’ve found that structured learning and free play leads to organic development of problem-solving and confidence-building. Every spat over a snack choice, TV show selection or outside game presents an opportunity for growth. Thanks to some creative use of our resources, my husband and I have been able to navigate this experience and provide enrichment for our children. It’s not always rosy, but for every frustrating moment there have been laughs and memories made. I’m thankful for it all.
Dori Mendel is president of TotallyPR, an Atlanta-based communications and public relations firm. She resides in Atlanta with her two young children and husband.