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Encouragement and Tips from a New City (Homeschooling) Mom

We asked two of our New City members, Katie Jumper and Abigail Lund, to offer some encouragement to our parents and caregivers in this season of homeschooling. Here's Katie's post.

Katie Jumper and her husband Matt have been part of New City since the beginning in 2009. They’re the parents of four boys and make their home in Oakley. Katie’s been homeschooling since 2016, and enjoys hiking in nature, jogging, crocheting and reading.

We’ve passed the one-week point of having kids home and out of school for the unforeseeable future. So, how are we doing? 

It seems as though many of us started out with optimism—perhaps thinking “I always wondered what it’d be like to homeschool!” Or perhaps you were more of the “I never ever wanted to be my children’s teacher, and now I’m being forced to.” Did you have elaborate lessons? Colorful daily schedules posted?  Perhaps they worked wonderfully! As a child, I know I would have delighted in structure and a schedule for my day—and often made them for myself. 

But maybe they haven’t worked as well as you hoped. There is a huge adjustment happening for parents; we’re trying to run a household and keep kids healthy and fed and remind them again to “Just wash your hands!” Work looks different too; perhaps you’re trying to continue working from home on top of everything else. Or you’re keeping your kids out of your spouse’s way while he or she telecommutes. And the kids are adjusting, too. This feels different for them. They probably miss their friends, their routine, maybe even their teachers. They’re disappointed about sports and activities being cancelled.  They’re worried about this virus that is unseen but somehow changing the world as they know it. And they’re not used to spending every waking hour with their family.

My own life hasn’t changed quite so drastically. I’m already a homeschooling mom. My husband is still going to work every day, normal hours.  It’s a little harder to get our normal groceries.  We’re more limited in where we can go for outings (I’m used to packing up the kids and heading to the zoo or a museum if we’re stir-crazy, and that’s off the table for now!). And the news and the current state of the world adds a new layer of anxiety to our emotional state. But overall things are the same.  For the past few years, while I’ve been teaching my kids, I’ve had a steep learning curve. I’m still learning, and we still have tough days.  But I thought perhaps sharing some things that have helped me might be able to help others too—to flatten the curve, the learning curve that is. 

Rhythm over Schedule

While I prefer schedules and predictability, life at home with four boys is anything but predictable. And having a schedule, but not sticking to it ramps up my anxiety.  So we opt to some anchors in our day—breakfast, lunch, an afternoon snack, dinner, and bedtime— and let the rest be flexible. We also attach an activity to something to an anchor—we listen to a book over lunch, we say the Lord’s Prayer at dinner, Matthew reads the Bible to the boys at bedtime.  Those anchors are predictable and happen every day.  The other parts of our day happen between the anchors where they best fit on that particular day. 

In addition to our daily rhythms, we have a weekly rhythm that we mostly stick to as well.

  • Minivan Mondays—we drive to pick up groceries and listen to an audiobook or kids’ podcast while we drive and wait.
  • Teatime Tuesdays—during our usual snack time we have a special treat and sip tea while reading some poems or a picture book.
  • Wild Wednesdays—we get outside and go for a hike at one of our amazing local parks (which are fortunately still open when this blog is published) https://www.cincinnatiparks.com/ and https://www.greatparks.org/.
  • Themeless Thursdays—we catch up on anything we missed, or maybe do a craft. 

Each “school day” I list what I expect the boys to complete, and those things need to be done before screentime. We keep screens off until 3pm to keep them from asking for a show or game constantly. When it’s not an option, they will find things to occupy themselves. 

Free Play

Mr. Rogers said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning.  But for children, play is serious learning.” So much learning happens when kids are left to their own devices.

One of the biggest adjustments for our kids is going from an adult-run, adult-led structured environment to a situation where they need to occupy themselves.  There may be complaints of boredom.  To help encourage them into this transition, make a list of activities they could try—board games, puzzles, crafting, play-dough, Lego.

I try to keep these things all at their level and within reach. We have an “art cart” with markers and crayons and paint, scissors and glue and plenty of paper. Board games and puzzles are on a shelf. I also keep myself busy—I have things to do (dishes to empty, floors to vacuum, laundry to fold). They know that if they come to me while bored, they’re welcome to help me with chores…and often that’s enough incentive to find something better to do! 

I like to be hands off to encourage free play, but if they specifically ask me to play with them or read a book, I try to be willing to say yes (though they may have to wait until I finish my current task). Check out this article for more help: https://letgrow.org/how-to-entertain-kids/

Tears are Normal

There’s a lot happening in our own hearts and minds and also in our kids’. Learning in a new way, at home, feels strange. Having mom or dad as teacher combines roles in a way that is different. 

If there are tensions or tears, look for the why. I’m often tempted to push through them so we can just get the school work done. But stopping, and seeing our children as sweet gifts—people uniquely created by God—and seeing the tears or the anger as a symptom of something deeper going on helps us to guide them with compassion. 

Asking what they need, giving an encouraging hug, being curious as to why a worksheet problem of 34+67 is causing them to bang the table (not that that’s EVER happened in my home), and loving them through it can go so far. Preserving the relationship wins over worksheets every time.

When everything seems out-of-control, giving your child some control in the form of choice could be helpful, too. Let them choose an activity to do together—play with playdough? Relay races in the backyard? A dance party in the kitchen? Or perhaps, the very best thing you can do for your family is to close up the books and declare it a “fun day.” 

Be Filled

I’ve found that when I’m pouring myself out on behalf of my family, my community, my church, I need to be filled.  Doing the things that bring me life and joy are so important to my own mental and spiritual health.  I spend time in the Word and prayer each morning (New City’s Daily Readings https://www.newcitycincy.org/readings-prayers and Marginalia podcast https://www.newcitycincy.org/marginalia have been so helpful since Bible Study is on a hiatus right now).

I have been trying to limit the time I spend scrolling my phone. I also have hobby that that I enjoy! Painting with watercolors and listening to worship music bring beauty into the every day for me.

So take some time to figure our how you’re going to nourish YOUR heart and mind in this new season. This looks different for different people. Go for a run, take a shower, journal, lose yourself in a novel, text a friend. Clean the house, brew a cup of tea, light a candle, sit on the porch and soak in the sun, take a ballet class online. Whatever it is, find an activity that offers rest from the news and your daily work of schooling your kids.

Don’t Do It All

Before the pandemic, homeschool resources were plentiful and sometimes overwhelming.  Now the resources available have exploded! 

There’s a daily drawing class with a famous author/illustrator Mo Willems.

There’s a daily video from the zoo!

There are museums to tour!

And there are free audiobooks to listen to! 

These resources are amazing and wonderful, but can feel stressful if you try to do everything. If a drawing class would be fun for you and your kids, do it! But if it feels like one more thing to fit into the schedule, let it go. Be willing to cut back, to simplify, to enjoy this time with your children in ways that bring joy and peace. 

These are new and unprecedented times. I’m praying that years from now, when we look back on “that one time when we were confined to our homes”, we would reminisce fondly on the ways we were able to connect with our people.

Thanks so much, Katie, for sharing your wisdom and offering encouragement in this season!