My Family Quit Homeschooling a Year Before the Pandemic & Now I'm Reminded Why Every Day

The coronavirus crisis has forced my family to resume homeschooling, even though we know it doesn't work for us at all.

Single mother working from home with children
Photo: martinedoucet/Getty Images

Last year, when the world was still a normal place and everyone knew what the next day would bring, I quit homeschooling my son. It wasn't what I hoped it would be, stressful and chaotic for both of us and driving a wedge in our relationship. But now, thanks to the coronavirus crisis, I'm right back in it.

My family already knew pandemic-school wasn't going to work for us. I didn't go into this with a packed, optimistic homeschool schedule and I didn't fall for the color-coded daily learning routine that made the rounds on social media when schools first started closing. I went into this with eyes wide open and a profound sense of dread, forced to resume a lifestyle that wasn't good for anyone involved–even when we wanted it to be.

From the moment my first son was born, I knew I wanted him to be homeschooled. I spent countless hours researching education philosophies and homeschool systems. I stockpiled materials, lessons, and educational toys. I read everything I could get my hands on about homeschooling and how to make it work. I was determined: We would be a homeschooling family.

As soon as he could hold a crayon or pick up a block, we worked on our daily rhythm–not a schedule, more a predetermined flow to the day. We did crafts, Montessori-inspired manipulatives, and lovely Waldorf-inspired projects. And when he was older, we transitioned into more structured lessons. We worked on handwriting and spelling, addition and subtraction, we did co-ops and went on field trips–and I reveled in the way homeschooling allowed my husband and I to freely plot the course of our son's education.

Then it got harder. The co-ops and field trips were the only part anyone enjoyed. Sitting down for table work every day became a tear-filled trial. So we tried different things, different methods, different styles of homeschooling.

Nothing worked, nothing helped, nothing improved.

Homeschooling became something we dreaded. After staying up half the night to do my job, planning out the week's lessons and educational opportunities left me with a pit in my stomach and tears in my eyes because I knew it would be met with resistance at every turn. And I was worried that all the struggles we were facing would leave my son with a distaste for learning, that his loss of excitement would be permanent. Instead of creating a joyful, curious, and excited learner, I worried we were really ruining it all.

So we made a tough call. Despite all the years of prep work and research and desire, we enrolled him in public school. It was, without question, the hardest decision of my entire life. I was wrecked. I cried every day and felt like a failure–the one goal I had for his education was a disaster and I just knew, deep down, that it was my fault.

But after a few weeks, the guilt lessened. He was making friends, he adored his teacher, and was thriving in a classroom environment. His younger brother went to a local preschool and I had the whole day to focus on work, which was something I hadn't experienced in many years. Things were great.

Yet here we are, one year later, in the middle of a pandemic being forced to homeschool again. Only to make matters worse, it's not really homeschool, it's isolation-school. All the things we did before to make it even kind of work are not allowed. Social distancing means no co-ops, field trips, library classes, or museum tours. It's just us doing all the worst parts of something we already knew doesn't work for our family.

My son's teacher is sending home virtual assignments, which means the onus of the lesson-planning is not on me. But that's only a small comfort when it's still me who has to actually try to teach the material while working full-time and caring for his younger brother.

Last week, one of the assignments was to spell a word using picture cards. It seemed like the student should take the first sound from each word to spell out the answer to the puzzle. I tried to help but I was at a loss: "Is that a chicken or a hen? Maybe a rooster? If it's a chicken, is it 'ch' or just 'c'? Is that a clock? This doesn't spell anything! There's not even a vowel!"

He wasn't sure either. So we skipped the ones we couldn't figure out and moved on. But now that chicken/hen/rooster haunts me. I'm doing my best to help him learn but forcing him to do lessons that neither of us understands isn't helping anyone. Can't he just read a book instead?

We're all wondering how assignments will be graded, if pass/fail is really a reflection on our ability to teach our children, and if our kids will move on to the next grade. But when you open your child's lesson plan and nothing is familiar, you can't help but wonder if you're doing more harm than good.

Our situation is not unique. Parents across the country are in the same sinking boat–balancing work, teaching, housework, and all the other logistics of life during lockdown.

But we're trying. We're stumbling through virtual lessons and Zoom after school activities. We're struggling to find the time and motivation to figure out Common Core math in between work meetings and deadlines and worrying about toilet paper and getting sick. We're doing our best. And that's really all we can do. If he's at grade level when schools open it will be a miracle, but I guess if any students are at grade level when schools open it will be a miracle. Until then, we'll just be over here, at home, waiting for better, brighter, less chaotic days.

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