Parents share ideas on how to make sudden onset of home schooling work

Children in Detroit, Mich., help prepare a family meal at their home Nov. 14, 2019. Longtime home-schooling parents say suddenly having kids at home for class work can be a rewarding family experience that allows more one-on-one time with children. (CNS photo/Melissa Moon, Detroit Catholic) 

CLEVELAND (CNS) -- With kids at home because schools are closed and online education on tap for at least several weeks, parents are wondering how to ensure that learning continues.

For Catholic home-schooling families though, having kids learn at home is the norm.

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Longtime home-schoolers told Catholic News Service the current moment gives parents the chance to spend more one-on-one time with their children while teaching skills and creating memories to cherish for a lifetime.

"You have to look at this as a blessing of the gift of time and opportunity for (parents) to reclaim the responsibility as primary educators of their children," said Aimee Murphy of Holy Family Catholic Homeschoolers in Orange County, California. She began teaching her children at home 11 years ago. Two daughters are in college while sons, 6, 12 and 16 years old, are home-schooled.

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Murphy and other parents in the Orange County group acknowledged that as rewarding as home schooling is, it still requires "petitioning for the grace from God you need to carry on," as well as patience and perseverance.

Murphy, Tomi Carroll, of the VERITAS Homeschool Support Association in Bedford, Indiana, and Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur of Western Massachusetts Catholic Homeschoolers in Springfield, Massachusetts, recommended that parents step back and realize that there is no need to recreate the classroom at home.

And while teaching kids at home can be challenging, Fagnant-MacArthur said, "it's an enjoyable challenge."

Kids of all ages can learn through everyday activities, said Fagnant-MacArthur, who writes the Today's Catholic Homeschooling blog. It's important to recognize, she added, that even though a student's school may have set requirements to complete certain assignments, learning is not limited to a computer screen.

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Creativity is important, the parents also stressed. For example, younger children especially can learn by joining in just about any home activity; they can learn about fractions by following a recipe or can better understand biology by observing wildlife in a backyard or a park.

The three mothers offered a series of suggestions to make learning enjoyable for the entire family:

-- Prayer and faith formation. For students in public school, there is no chance to pray during the day. Murphy's family starts each day with prayer. Short breaks are built in for the Angelus prayer, Chaplet of Divine Mercy or to read about a saint whose feast day is being observed.

-- Establish a routine. "Don't let it be ad hoc" without specific guidance for a child, Murphy said. "But also be flexible. It's a learning curve for you and for them."

-- Reading. Reading is an important part of schooling at home. The families read aloud with children by their side and silently. Any reading time can then be followed by a discussion that reviews what was read, the message an author was trying to convey, or to build anticipation for the next part of a book. It's also a good time to explore a new genre that might not be part of the regular school curriculum.

-- Experiences. Some kids learn best through experiences, observing or creating art. Murphy encouraged parents to provide plenty of new experiences outside of book or screen learning to their children. "You cannot put them into a mold," she said.

-- Writing. Children can compose a story or a play. For young children just learning to write, have them dictate a story a parent writes it down. Kids can illustrate the story or act out a play. Costumes can be made from old clothing and materials.

For older children, lengthier reports can stem from a child's own topic of interest that he or she researches, illustrates and presents. A report can be written or oral, allowing for the development of public speaking skills as well.

-- Virtual museum tours. Although museums and other public buildings are closed, many continue to offer virtual tours highlighting displays and exhibits. Carroll encouraged parents to take advantage of such offerings because they are rich in information and are free.

-- Nature study. As warmer weather approaches, plants are budding, insects are emerging and birds are building nests. Fagnant-MacArthur suggested a simple biology project that involves describing what is being seen or simply drawing an insect or a plant and identifying it in a handbook.

-- Build in breaks. Children are active and keeping them tied to a desk for hours on end is unproductive. Allow children to move around, especially outside.

-- Routine skills. Carroll suggested involving children in household tasks such as cooking, doing the laundry, cleaning and even light yardwork once the schoolwork is finished. It's all a part of daily life that kids will have to navigate, she said.

-- Take up a new hobby. Sewing, knitting, crocheting, woodworking, gardening, creating art or other activities can be educational and rewarding.

-- Outdoor activities. Fortunately, outdoor activities have not been curtailed. Family walks in a park or on a nature trail can help build deeper bonds and an appreciation for life, Murphy said. "That's about all we can do right now."

Each of the parents said their choice to home-school was life changing for their families, but one from which they would not step back.

"I remember when I first started home schooling, I felt like I was jumping off a bridge. It can be very intimidating," Fagnant-MacArthur said.

"It's not such a bad thing. I encourage everyone to take a collective deep breath. You're going to be OK."

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