Suddenly Homeschooled: Fun & Free Ways to Learn From Home

Many of us have suddenly become homeschooling parents, and that’s frankly quite terrifying! My children have always gone to public school and we’ve always been fortunate to have caring, attentive teachers. And now I realize that the little gifts of appreciation we give them once a year aren’t enough. A $20 coffee card? I should buy them a lifetime supply and a trip to Fiji.

This gig is hard! It’s nothing like the brochures said it would be. If you can’t get your children to sit still and do the work, you’re not doing it wrong. If you became frustrated and everyone cried, you’re not doing it wrong. If you had to put yourself in timeout and sit in a dark closet with a chocolate bar, trust me, you’re not doing it wrong. Homeschooling is hard in the easiest of circumstances. Now we’re doing this with no preparation, piecemeal materials, at a stressful time, while also juggling working from home. Anyone would feel overwhelmed, including the kiddos.

I thought I’d share what I’ve learned from homeschooling, as well as some of the best websites my family uses for online learning.

Online learning.

There are some really great free educational websites out there for every subject. But don’t take my word for it. These sites have been vetted and approved by the experts: my kids.

  • Math: Prodigy and Khan Academy offer the perfect blend of games and education. My youngest likes a site called Xtra Math. It has a feature called “Race the Teacher” in which you have to solve the math problem before the teacher does. It also gets progressively harder as you go through the problems, so your child is always challenged.
  • Reading: Squiggle Park is good for younger kids. Storyline Online streams videos featuring actors reading children’s books alongside creative illustrations. Some of the readers include Chris Pine, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, James Earl Jones, and Betty White.
  • Science: Why do we get goosebumps? Do animals laugh? The answers to life’s big questions can be found on Mystery Doug. These short videos are perfect for K-5 school age kids. National Geographic for Kids also has great videos and games for any age.
  • Social Studies: History for Kids is packed with articles, cool games, videos, and worksheets on many historical events all over the world.
  • Art: If you haven’t already, you need to check out Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems on YouTube. He’s the author and illustrator of the popular Pigeon series. I admit, I get the warm fuzzies from these uplifting, delightful episodes that hit you right in the feels.
  • Music: The Seattle Symphony is holding live broadcasts from their website daily. If you have a child in band, like I do, have them practice their instrument for 20-30 minutes everyday. Just make sure they’re not doing it during your conference call.

Have a great internet plan.

Good internet and WiFi have been especially important, and I’m not just saying that because I work for Whidbey Telecom. Both of our girls have iPads and use them for schoolwork. At the same time, I’m working from home on my laptop, writing this witty and thoughtful blog. Meanwhile, my husband is streaming DIY episodes on his iPad. That’s a lot of devices using a lot of bandwidth at once. Upgrade to the best internet plan you can afford for your home. Your family and your sanity will thank you.

There is no perfect schedule.

Don’t try to copy your child’s school schedule. Everyone will go nuts. Designate a few hours a day for education, rather than the whole day. We have our children awake by 8ish, start their schoolwork by 9ish, and they’re done by noonish. We also try to let them delegate their time and workload. This may be difficult for younger kids, but try to get their input as much as possible.

My kids’ teachers have been providing weekly lesson plans and recommended schedules. This is a really great place to start if you’re having trouble making your own schedule, or as a fallback plan when yours falls apart. And it will.

Your child’s teacher is your new best friend.

It’s easy to think you’re in this alone. You’re not. The teachers are missing their students as much as you’re missing the teachers. Reach out to them. Email them with questions. They want to help. My kids’ teachers are finding themselves in empty classrooms and emailing weekly, if not daily. Don’t be afraid to email them back.

Learning outside the box.

Put down the math and reading assignments and try something new. Any opportunity can be a learning one. Go on a nature walk. You know you can use geometry to figure out how tall a tree is? Have your kids help you make dinner—cut a recipe in half and learn a little about fractions. Let them fold some laundry, yep this is just about folding, quite difficult for us parents obsessed with the perfect fold and angle—it’s a lesson in restraint.

When all else fails, take a step back and breathe. We made it through week one. You gave your child stability and attention at a time when they needed it most. You did everything right.