My career in teaching and education ended on Sept. 4, 2014, when my daughter was born. Fast forward five and a half years later and I found myself in the same position as many of you – about to enter the unknown and daunting world of homeschooling. On March 16, 2020, I laid out our first-grade lesson plans (our school and teachers were amazing) and a rough idea of how to keep my preschooler occupied. Did I mention I had already been up for a few hours working from home as a writer/editor and had many more hours of work ahead of me?
Everyone woke up to different lives that day and we all tried to make the best of it. Like all of the memes out there, I was prepared to be Mary Poppins, complete with fun ideas, a list a mile long of virtual experiences, a colorful clip-up chart just like school, and a mostly positive attitude. The first day went well and actually, the first week, though exhausting, was a success.
And then reality set in.
Sometime during week two, I had a breakdown. I was overwhelmed by working full-time from home (my husband was “essential” and left for his job every day) and trying to be the same high-quality, involved, and creative teacher my kids were lucky enough to have at school. I worked in education for over 10 years – I should have been able to do this! But then at about the same time, I realized that I, in fact, couldn’t do it, I also realized that I didn’t have to.
During week four of learning from home, I took a different approach. I made a list of the tasks my first grader absolutely had to accomplish that day (specific things from his teacher) and grabbed a few skill-appropriate activities for my 5-year-old. After breakfast, we got to work and typically finished these things in an hour, and even within that hour, we had to take quick breaks to run around the house, race up the street, or have a “field trip” to the laundry room to change loads as a “class.” After that, I did something that felt very unnatural as a former classroom teacher… I let them do whatever they wanted to.
No, I did not let them draw with sidewalk chalk on my living room walls or eat an unlimited about of M&Ms (I wish I could say the same for myself…), but I did let them do whatever they felt like doing. And you know what? They shocked me with what they did with this newfound freedom. I was expecting endless TV/Kindle time and fights – and while there was definitely plenty of this – I would say that about 75% of the time was spent just playing, creating, and collaborating.
They transformed our playroom into a “Doggie Store,” complete with a check-out lane, cash register, dog food, leashes, and puppies available for adoption. My daughter (admittedly after watching an episode of Caillou) decided she wanted to plant a garden, so she spent hours making little vegetable and fruit signs, writing the names, and then digging in some dirt in our backyard. My son has drawn countless obstacle courses in chalk on our driveway and creatively come up with Dude Perfect-esque challenges we could do as a family. They made messes, argued but then worked together, cried when they felt sad or frustrated and managed to teach themselves more in one week than I could’ve taught them in months.
I am not an expert in homeschooling and I have made PLENTY of mistakes in those 4,583 (I mean 5) weeks. My kids still bugged me when I was working, popped into my Zoom calls, and fought with each other. But, when I changed my outlook on the learning from home thing, we were all more relaxed. They were reading, writing, doing math, exercising, and learning manners (thanks again, Caillou), but also learned how to be bored, patient, organized, how to compromise, cooperate, and much more.
I continued to work at letting go of the guilt that I was not sitting down, teaching them five subjects a day, five days a week. Moms are experts at piling on the guilt, but I urge you to let that go if you decided to continue on the homeschooling journey even after schools re-opened in the months and years that followed.
And at the same time, let your kids go. Every family and child is different and some may thrive with a more structured schedule, and that is totally fine. For us, and I’d expect for many other families, learning became a natural part of playing, interacting, and simply living through the global pandemic.
What did your kids learn during those weeks at home that still apply to their education today? What did you learn? My daughter may finally have remembered how to write the letter “K,” but I hope she also learned that opportunities for education are everywhere and that Mommy was a wonderful teacher who tried her best.
Andrea Limke is a lifelong resident of the Cincinnati area and currently lives in Northern Kentucky with her family. After working in education for 10 years, she chose to spend more time at home and then pursue a career in writing. Andrea has written for Cincinnati Mom Collective, Cincinnati Parent Magazine, published a children’s book, and currently writes and edits full-time for Only In Your State. She enjoys sharing through words, spending time outdoors, reading, and looking forward to the next adventure, big or small.