Homeschool vs. School at Home: What Parents Need to Know

Our world as we know it has changed in the past year in a way that no one could have anticipated. 

It’s left me thinking, how can I help?

What can I say or do during this time to help others?

And the answer was very clear.

I want to speak directly to parents who are worried about their children’s academics during school closures.

Parents are stressing out right now about the additional responsibility of academics in addition to their regular responsibilities. That’s a position and space I know very well and where I can help. 

I have many years of professional experience here, but this also comes from one mom or caretaker to another. 

What do I wish to accomplish here?

That you read this and you walk away from it with your head held higher and your worries fewer. Because you absolutely should.

First of all, let me tell you some truths about a common school day.

While we would like to think that our kids are immersed in hours of instruction each day in the traditional classroom setting, I can assure you they are not.

You have this image in your mind? 

Um, no. If you see a picture like that, rest assured it is staged. 

Teachers are more likely to look up and see this… God Bless Them.

The truth is that a typical school day is full of interruptions and movement that leave a teacher with small pockets of time that he or she can cover a topic.

Think about it. There are announcements, class changes, lunch, recess for younger students, restroom breaks, fire drills, special speakers and events and that’s all considered a regular day.

I can’t even begin to tell you all of the things that can happen outside of a regular day that can distract and take away from instructional time… picture day, school spirit dress-up days, assemblies, and that’s just to name a few.

All… year… long.

Outside of scheduled events, there are stray dogs that run in the building and students who make a poor choice and pull a fire alarm, always in the middle of the lunch. I’m telling you that there are no two days alike during the school year. 

Then there is the wait time. Time waiting to line up, waiting because the teacher is called to the phone or door for a visitor, waiting to start, waiting on others to finish. Lots of waiting. 

If you have an image in your head of your child’s classroom where all those kids are sitting quietly with their heads down reading or writing for hours of the day and soaking up all that knowledge, then just scroll through your old yearbook and be reminded (oh yeah, there’s the snapping random pictures interruptions too) that is just not the case.

Then let’s talk about the end of the school year. Somewhere between the mention of spring break and the final stretch of the school year, everyone in school starts running on fumes (more like exhaust). 

Teachers start ramping up the end of the year review around this time and kids get bored and frustrated easily. Poor behavior choices increase. Attention and focus decrease. We are trying to motivate while we need motivation ourselves. It’s like that final stretch where you just have to muster all strength to finish. 

This picture pretty much looks the way the end of the school year feels. 

End of the school year to-do’s and events start taking over any kind of routine. Recess starts stretching out longer, more videos are shown, and kids work on more “collaborative projects” that buy the teacher time to get final grades and paperwork done.

Parents or caretakers, if schools are closed and you can get 2-3 hours of academic work from your child at home, call it a success.

That is worth repeating.

If schools are closed and you can get 2-3 hours of academic work from your child at home, call it a success!!!

Now, I’m going to help you achieve that. You can do this. We will all do this. 

You can keep your child engaged and learning at home. 

Actually, I believe you will be able to get more out of your children at home by building the day around them rather than the school day being built around your child.

So, let’s start with thinking about your child.

Do you have a young child who needs to get pent up energy out first thing in the morning?

Do you have a middle school student who could use some extra sleep in the morning to improve their outlook for the day? 🙂

Do you have a high school student who rises early and is ready to just be done with his or her tasks?


Think about your child’s day in terms of pockets of time.

Wake up, shower (for those that usually shower in the morning) breakfast… I would encourage you here to keep the morning/night/bath/getting ready routine as normal as possible.

When schools are closed due to other circumstances, it is not the same as summer “break.”

Summer break is often filled with nights spent up way past bedtime, sleeping late and not much that resembles the typical school year schedule (hence how hard those first few weeks are to adjust).

Now is not the time for that kind of schedule. A few extra minutes of sleep is not going to hurt, but just remember that your child’s body is not going to just “shut off” at the regular bed time, so I wouldn’t get too far off from those normal home routines.

Okay, morning routine is done, now what do you do with this kiddo(s)?

Turn your dining room table into a makeshift school/work area.

Put supplies within reach… paper, pencil, laptop or device they may need, crayons for younger students.

Kids will naturally be more productive if they are not having to stop and look for things every few minutes.

For most kids, not all, learning from home is not going to be productive with a television on or music blaring. For some older students who are self-motivated, this may not be true. But if my child has a choice between spelling or Spongebob, I know who is going to win! Turn off the distractions. 

Then, tackle one subject area.

Read the assignment directions and, please, be positive about it. Try hard not to question the teacher’s assignment. Extended grace is needed in these situations for all of us.

If you think it’s a less than ideal assignment, just think about that teacher for a minute. His or her world was turned upside down too. Most likely they had days (at best) or hours to prepare lessons for twenty or more kids, while still teaching and trying to maintain normalcy for those kids.

You are trying. They are trying. 

Teachers are masters of setting the tone for an assignment and you can borrow the script. 

It goes something like this for younger kids…

“I am so excited about this story today. It’s about a girl and her dog and y’all know how much I love my cat, Socks… I wish Socks were here to hear this story.” (Much rumbling follows with hands raised or kids who just shout out what they are thinking about their dogs… or cats… or the turtle that was crossing the road that morning on the way to school… remember those distractions referenced earlier.) “Ok, now you’re going to read the first part and I can’t wait for you to find out what happens…” 

Oh, the suspense.

And yes, dramatics are welcome!

Parents, you can do that. In fact, you probably even have Socks right there beside your child… even better! Your child can actually READ to your pet, that is awesome.

board game

For older students, they have probably caught on to the dramatics, but you can still be supportive and encouraging as they start their assignments. 

You do not need to sit by your child and watch them this entire time.

Although some kids would really like that, it’s not realistic or good for them. Get them started and then tell them you will be folding clothes, working on your own paperwork/business, etc. and will check on them in a little while. 

For awhile, you may have to do your own business or work close by your child until they understand this is a time of learning from home. It’s new but our kids are resilient and they will adjust. 

Here’s another teacher trick that you need to know.

You know how you don’t wake up a sleeping newborn…ever?

You don’t interrupt if your child is reading or working past the time you may have mentally set aside for them to do this assignment!

Embrace that time of engagement and flow for what it is in the classroom… treasured!

Something else you can do during this time that will help your child is to keep the work environment as quiet and as positive as possible.

If the t.v. must be on, turn it on in a different room, use ear buds, and set your cell phone on silent. 

Once you’ve accomplished a pocket of time spent learning, give some down time.

What activity does your child enjoy that you can build into the day?

For younger kids, it could be riding a bike, jumping on the trampoline, coloring, crafting, any kind of play time. For older kids, it may be taking a walk outside, playing basketball, skate boarding, listening to music, throwing a football or just hanging out in their room. 

You want to know the truth?

Here’s a little not-so-secret truth that all teachers know that makes them pretty sad because it’s frowned upon in today’s classroom.

Kids need to play more.

They need to create, explore and get outside more. Sometimes the constraints and policies of today’s classroom make that pretty difficult, but at home… bring on the play time.

Especially in times when schools are closed and anxiety levels are higher. Let them play. 

Kids are going to feed off of your energy. Same thing happens in the classroom when a teacher gets to school late and has already had a rough morning. Kids feel it and it often sets the tone for the rest of the day.

Let’s all make the best we can of the situation we’re facing. Our kids deserve no less. 

Back to our learning from home day.

The kids have finished a subject and now is a good time to work in one more area of their assignments before lunch.

Here’s another trick… lunch is a motivator. 

“When you get done with your math, I’ll start fixing some lunch.” Instant motivator, especially for teens. 

Side note. You want to bring some comforts of school into the home environment? Add some whole kernel corn with that pizza for lunch. We don’t get it either. 

After lunch and some down time, get in one more assignment.

Younger students may be finished with their work already and this would be a good time for some safe and fun computer games for younger students.

Older students may need some help with pacing their assignments, especially if they have been given all assignments at once and it’s overwhelming at first. 

In my opinion, here’s the best benefit of learning from home. Once they are done for the day, whether it’s morning, midday or afternoon, don’t feel pressured to fill the time with academics or that your child constantly needs to be engaged in some type of activity. It’s unnecessary. 

If they help you with chores, cooking, or other home tasks, they are learning. If they’ve got their eyes on the clouds or hands in the dirt, they are learning. 

If they are able to go outside and play, they are exploring, exercising and reducing stress.

If they complain of being bored, give a reassuring smile and use the classic teacher-parent statement of “would you like for me to give you some things to do?” They usually change their mind quickly. 

What else can I tell you, parents? 

Let me address students with ADHD and learning difficulties.

In addition to the things mentioned above about building the day around your child, rewards and reassurance are going to go a long way for helping students who are easily distracted or take longer than most to complete their assignments. 

I won’t lie. It is hard for them at school and it will be hard for them at home. Here’s my advice for kids with ADHD. Maybe you can find a tip or two that makes the day a little easier. 

Mom, Dad, Caretaker… Take care of yourself. Eat as healthy as possible, get some rest, get some exercise and please, take some deep breaths right now.

The “I’m not a teacher” is causing unnecessary anxiety for you and your kiddos. You have been teaching from day 1 and, yes, even though the subject matter may look a little different, this is a moment in our time and history where many things look a little different.

And the best we can do for ourselves, our kids and our world, is to support one another and come out the other side stronger.

You can do this. We will do this. 

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