Have you fallen into homeschooling, and find yourself feeling lost? As an accidental “part-time” homeschooler myself, I know how overwhelming it can all feel at first. But have courage — there is hope!
I homeschooled my 5-year old daughter once a week before we started the mandatory COVID-19 home quarantine here in France. And I’m not committed to doing any more now, even though we’re home together all the time.
There are so many things we can learn together that don’t happen within the walls of a traditional classroom.
And during stressful times like these, my kids can feel the palpable energy of everything. So, in our house, we’re focusing on emotional intelligence, creativity, sitting with boredom and disappointment, tuning into our nervous systems, having fun, playing hard, doing chores, doing nothing.
It’s so good for my babies. And so great for me. Because it takes the pressure OFF, and turns my presence ON.
If you’ve fallen into homeschooling, take a deep breath. It’s a new challenge — but it’s also a chance to be more mindful and present, allow imperfection, notice your needs, and find joy in unexpected hiding places.
This is what I sometimes call “self-care of the highest order.” Finding that sweet, scrumptious spot that exists when you do what’s best for yourself, and realize it’s also best for everyone you love. And if there’s one thing I want my small people to feel during this unusual, scary time, it’s how loved and safe they are.
I encourage you to be with your children right now, maybe in a different way than before. In an uncomplicated, curious way. In a way that encourages a little less doing, and a lot less entertaining.
Our children don’t actually need us providing all the stimulating educational everything. They need room to explore, create, and come up with their own ideas — balanced within a framework and flexible structure of learning.
To develop your own framework, I’ve compiled my “top 6” virtual learning tools for homeschooling mamas. I use a blend of these resources to create our own homeschool agendas — and use them as backup when I don’t plan in advance.
In addition to my top 6 tools below, I’m also sharing the personal homeschool planning templates I use to keep my head from spinning.
If you want to use my templates, too, you can get them right here:
Now, here are my go-to resources for all things online education…
MY FAVORITE ONLINE LEARNING RESOURCES FOR KIDS
- For big-picture planning, I use a comprehensive homeschool planning system called Time4Learning for guidance and traditional lessons. | I keep our curriculum relatively organic, but I like Time4Learning’s blueprint. Unlike a lot of homeschool + unschool websites, it’s is well-organized and easy to navigate (example: it lets you search by level, lesson and even state requirement). You can use it as a primary, supplemental, or specific skill-building homeschool method. Because my 5-year old goes to a traditional public school right now, we use Time4Learning as a supplement and skill-builder to her traditional public school curriculum. It has a lot of fun ways to learn — which is huge for small people (it does have older kid levels, but really feels geared towards small children). It’s also got a special “Accidental Homeschooler” section — so I feel right at home. If you only want occassional educational activities, I’d recommend using free YouTube options (like Free School or Crash Course Kids). But if you enjoy an organized framework, it could be a good fit for your family. (And for my fellow France residents, the closest solution I’ve found in French — though we haven’t used it yet — is Kartable.)
- When I need supplements like printables, visual aids, and more traditional “school” materials, my two go-to websites are Starfall and Scholastic Teachables. | Both have tons of handouts, worksheets, or other things to support what we’re learning. The biggest differences for us are that Starfall has a lot more free content, but it’s limited to kids in PreK through 3rd grade. Scholastic has materials for older kids, too. I use a lot of child-led learning, and this gives me lots to choose from, based on what my daughter’s interested in at the time.
- My staple for experiential, interactive learning that cultivates curiosity is ScienceKiddo — and their easy home-lab experiments. | Chrystal, ScienceKiddo.com’s founder, is an organic- chemist-turned-stay-at-home-mom, and she gives parents like me simple, creative, thought-provoking, doable experiements. My daughter is a big fan, and we have fun finding new things to try — especially since we don’t follow a strict academic curriculum.
- For fun, play-style learning development, I love The Mama Notes‘ wonderful, crafty ideas. | You can even prep them in advance as “activity boxes” that encourage independent play. The Mama Notes blog, created by Caitlin Kruse, is a fabulous resource for moms from pregnancy throughout early motherhood, with a ton of topics (including beauty and style). But, for me, where it truly shines is in the learning, development and activities for kids — like their new Activity Shop, featuring tons of age-specific “activity boxes” that you can buy online or DIY at home.
- For virtual community classes and social engagement — especially when we’re stuck inside — I choose Outschool.| Kids can sign up for live classes, so that they are interacting with a teacher and fellow classmates. The classes are both traditional academics like foreign language or math, and hobby-oriented learning, like a class recently about bees.
- To balance out traditional learning with whole body movement and wellness, we use the addictive “online studio” app from Cosmic Kids Yoga. | If you think that a yoga story-telling app shouldn’t be on a homeschool resource list, think again. Self-care (and movement) is an essential life skill, especially for school — because it gets stressful, whether you’re at home or otherwise. I’ve been a trained kid’s yoga teacher for a decade, and my first stop is Jamie and the Cosmic Kids team. They offer exciting, evolving yoga adventures that brilliantly blend movement and breathwork with story, in a way that’s downright addictive for kiddos. It’s user-friendly, cheery, and captures attention of even the most distracted children.
BONUS RESOURCE: As much as I like to keep our resource list short and manageable, sometimes things get stale — and I need to freshen up resources. This is where The Enrichment Activities for Children Spreadsheet comes in. The Spreadsheet is a loooooooong list of enriching, educational ideas for children — and about a billion resources. Though I like the tons of options and ability to “sort” based on your need, what I love most is that it’s a collective effort, compiled by teachers, parents, and other educators from around the globe (e.g., the list has grown from 150+ items to nearly 300 in just the last 2 weeks). Use it as a library, reminding you that there are many things to choose from, but you don’t have to check everything out.
BONUS ORGANIZATIONAL RESOURCE: Asana. I use Asana every day to keep my professional and personal life organized — including my daughter’s homeschool activities. It’s my favorite online tool to keep track of things on my laptop and phone (and even has an easy option to forward all of those school emails to your task list).
QUICK NOTE ON READING: As much as I love online learning, I still tend to rely mostly on good old fashioned paper books for my daughter’s reading practice. Based on the recommendations of a dear friend (who happens to be an excellent children’s literacy consultant), I also recommend live virtual reading events, audiobooks, and other “listening” programs to encourage literacy. Check your local library for virtual events, or larger places like the Brooklyn Public Library’s daily virtual storytime, or The Liv Bits “Let’s Keep Reading” series.
Lastly, I want to share with you some words from the director of my daughter’s French elementary school.
A few days into the COVID-19 crises (and sudden homeschooling that followed), I received an email from my daughter’s directrice here in our French village. She noted how much the teachers have worked to offer fantastic lesson plans for us, but acknowleged how hard it can be for parents to become the teachers… especially overnight.
She said this:
A chacun , j’ai envie de dire “faites au mieux” pour accompagner votre enfant mais ne vous mettez pas de pression supplémentaire. Les apprentissages se font dans la durée et les enseignants savent que toutes les familles n’ont pas forcément les outils à la maison….Le plus important est de rassurer vos enfants, de ne pas les exposer à ces informations qui tournent en boucle et qui sont très anxiogènes pour eux. Retrouvons le plaisir des choses simples comme dessiner , écouter de la musique, et jouer aux jeux de société en famille. Soyons solidaires les uns envers les autres.
Loosely translated, this means:
To everyone, I want to say “do your best” to support your child — but do not put extra pressure on yourself. Learning takes place over time and teachers know that not all families have the tools at home….The most important thing is to reassure your children, not to expose them to this information which runs in a loop, and which is very anxiety-provoking for them. Rediscover the pleasure of simple things like drawing, listening to music, and playing family board games. Let’s be united with each other.
You’re doing great, mama. Just by being “mama.”