Just 10 weeks from the end of the school year, many parents are suddenly finding out they will be homeschooling their children for at least the next two weeks, and local school district superintendents are preparing for the possibility that school may be out for the remainder of the semester.

On top of that, most parents are also now working from home or are temporarily out of a job while COVID-19 precautions take over the nation, shutting down many businesses.

That’s a lot of shocking information to process all at once, and if being a teacher to your own children was never on your dream job list, I can imagine each day feels pretty challenging.

Many parents like me have been working from home and simultaneously homeschooling multiple children for years, and I have some tips I hope will be helpful in handling the situation. So if you’re struggling to figure out this new normal, hang in there and read on.

First, take it slow and give yourself grace. Sometimes the necessarily structured nature of public school, where teachers are corralling dozens of students at a time, can make it seem like every minute of the day must be educational and scheduled. 

In reality, it takes much less time to get in all the necessary lessons when you’re dealing with just a few kids. Don’t expect the actual lesson time to take more than a few hours, and let your kids rejoice and revel in all the extra free play time they suddenly have.

Speaking of free play time, one of the open secrets of homeschooling is the freedom to utilize experiences and play for learning. Public school teachers would probably be envious of all the opportunities homeschoolers have to teach through leisurely experience when dealing with just a few students at a time.

Learning opportunities abound, for example, in cooking meals – not just because it’s important for kids to learn how to cook for themselves, but all the measuring and mixing is a great math lesson and science experiment. You have to make the meals anyway, why not require the kids to help as part of school?

It’s spring! Plant a garden using seeds and watch the food grow right before your kids’ eyes. It’s biology, it’s outside time, it’s hands-on work, it’s not something you can do sitting at a desk.

And on that subject, don’t box yourself in about where and when the kids need to do their lessons. The world is your classroom, and even if you have to mostly stay at home right now, the kids don’t need to sit at a desk or table to learn. The weather is pretty great right now, so we have been doing most of our schooling on the trampoline or our covered patio. 

In fact, changing things up can be one of your best tools when a kid gets stuck, bored or just plain frustrated about a concept they are trying to grasp. As counter intuitive as it may sound, distraction from their problem might be just what they need. Sometimes just having a snack and drink break can give their brain the space to refocus and try again. 

For some kids, going outside for a nature break, playing with the pets, or watching a short, fun video can shift their mood and help them feel understood. Right now your kid can move at their own pace on the schedule that works best for their learning style, so take advantage of it and let them enjoy little brain breaks whenever they need.

But what if they are frustrated because they can’t figure out the answer to that question, and you realize with dread that you don’t know the answer, either? Don’t panic and don’t be afraid of what you don’t know. Homeschooling in the age of the internet has made the gig so much easier than it was for previous generations. I have been able to find an answer online to almost every question my kids have ever asked. 

YouTube, used carefully, is your friend. Sometimes sixth grade math has me stumped, but Khan Academy’s got your back. They have explanatory videos for almost any math problem you might encounter. As a bonus, they are currently offering free daily schedules during school closures.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind about homeschooling and experiential-based learning is that sometimes it may be hard to quantify in neat columns or checkmarks how much the kids learned on a particular day, and that’s OK.

Adjusting to this type of laid-back, non-structured schooling will certainly be easier said than done for certain personality types. I’ve been there and understand, so I will just reiterate that now is the time to take it slow, be patient with yourself, and don’t stress about checking boxes. 

If they have truly missed out on some crucial concept, there’s always time to catch up next year or over the summer. Personal upheavals in our own family, such as moving, have created the need to play catch up later, and it’s not as scary as it sounds. 

We are living through truly remarkable, historic times and things will get back to normal soon. So try to enjoy the forced slowdown and the extra time with the kids, and don’t let concerns about them being on grade level cause any unnecessary stress.

Here are some of our favorite resources for boosting learning in fun ways that don’t feel like school:

  • Wow in the World is a podcast from NPR that’s funny, educational, made-for-kids science.
  • PBS Kids has some of the best kid shows – programs that are hilarious and fun, while still educational. We love Peg+Cat, which teaches math for younger kids, and Odd Squad teaches math for older kids, while Wild Kratts is packed with animal facts.
  • ABCya offers free learning games for every elementary grade level.
  • Coolmath has a variety of math learning games.
  • SciShow provides short, quick video lessons on science topics.
  • It’s Okay to be Smart is a PBS show hosted by a guy in Austin. The short science videos are funny and educational. 
  • Brave Wilderness is an educational YouTube channel all about nature.
  • Scholastic is offering free daily lesson plans during the coronavirus-induced school break.
  • Khan Academy is offering free lesson plans and schedules during school closures.
  • Easy Peasy All-in One Homeschool‘s entire curriculum of daily lessons for every subject and every grade level, written by a homeschooling mom, is available for free, though donations to keep the site running are welcome.

Jennifer Norris has been working in journalism since 2005. She's a native Texan, but a new San Antonian who is excited to get to know the city.