I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
August 17, 2020
My Facebook feed is overflowing right now with adorably filtered pictures of your kids’ first days of school-at-home. You’re all so sweetly optimistic; it truly warms my heart. You’ve repurposed your breakfast nook into a cozy learning haven! You’ve decorated your walls with maps and alphabet letters! You’ve replaced the stacks of magazines, old mail, and Little Debbie wrappers (because quarantine) on your desk with a brand new laptop! You are ready to CRUSH remote learning and you want the world to know it!
I applaud your peppy spirit and your hearty can-do attitudes. But as someone who’s currently embarking on year five of homeschooling, I feel the need to give you all one very well-intentioned piece of advice:
GET READY FOR A SHITSHOW.
I typically don’t use strong language on this blog because I live in the South and profanity causes some of my more delicate readers to spontaneously combust. But today, we are going to be really real and call things by the names they deserve. Shitshow is, I’m almost positive, is officially listed as a synonym for ‘homeschool’ in Roget’s Thesaurus… and if it isn’t, it should be.
I’m being relentlessly honest with you right now because someone was kind enough to do the same for me (using slightly nicer words) when I decided to homeschool my daughter six years ago. Although my girl is legally homeschooled, for her this has always included a two-day-a-week academic tutorial with teachers who set the curriculum and grade all her work. My job is simply to oversee things, make sure she’s got the handouts she needs and is turning her work in on time, and add to her education as I see fit. My daughter is a good independent worker and very easygoing. Given all these things, I just knew homeschooling would be a piece of cake. My friend, a homeschooling veteran, assured me I was wrong.
“Homeschooling is hard, even in the best of circumstances,” she told me. “It’s definitely not for everyone. It’s going to be a struggle for your daughter to treat you like her teacher, and for you to think of her as your student. It’s a totally different dynamic and it takes a while to get the hang of it.”
I wanted to shrug off her advice, but I joined a few homeschooling groups on Facebook that summer and heard more of the same. The moms in these groups all seemed to agree that the transition from traditional school to homeschool was tough for nearly every child, and many of them advised spending the first month or two of that first year just letting the kid decompress and adjust, without any major expectations.
Hard no on that, I thought. That’s what summer break is for. Instead, I enthusiastically redecorated our playroom, turning it into the most appealing place to do schoolwork that you can possibly imagine. I painted the walls the soothing color of a dove’s wing at daybreak. I created an adorable reading nest out of a papasan chair topped with an impossibly soft, furry white cushion and surrounded by a gauzy canopied curtain. I put a small stereo on a shelf in the corner and played Mozart CDs. I placed a large desk stocked with every kind of school supply in front of a window with a serene view of lush green trees outside. I hung paper flowers from the ceiling. The room was totally Pinterest-worthy and social media approved, which meant there was no possible way we could fail. We started our first August of homeschooling full-steam ahead.
And that’s when the shitshow began.
My daughter quickly discovered she preferred our dining room table for her studies, and the homeschooling room I’d slaved over was all but abandoned. The expensive shelves I’d bought for her schoolbooks also went unused, since it made more sense to keep them in the kitchen where they were easily accessible. This wasn’t that big of a deal compared to the toll homeschool took on our relationship. Now that I was her teacher, we had to talk about her schoolwork a LOT, and whether or not she had read this or completed that — and she didn’t like it at all. Neither did I. When I scheduled her assignments or tried to help her with a concept or problem in her work, she often questioned my judgement in a way she wouldn’t have if I’d been a teacher at school. There was a lot of pushback. Loads of frustration. More than a few tears, from both of us.
Eventually, we settled into a routine and as she has matured, things have definitely gotten easier. EASIER. Not EASY. There are a lot of things I love about homeschooling with the help of a tutorial — It’s a lot like college will be for her, and adulthood. She has some structured school time, but it’s up to her to complete the bulk of the work on her own. She’s excellent now at budgeting her time and staying organized, and she’s found a work system that suits her style — something most of us don’t really figure out until adulthood. And I’ve loved having her around. Even so, homeschooling is one of the hardest things I’ve ever, ever done. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that homeschooling isn’t for everyone. In fact, I don’t think it’s for most people. The stars have to align just so between parent, child, and circumstance for it to be truly amazing.
And yet, here we all are. HOMESCHOOLING.
So now that you know where I’m coming from, here’s my advice:
Your homeschooling experience may not start out as a shitshow. It may seem to go very well for a week or two weeks or even a month. But trust me — There will come a time — actually, there will be many, many times if this goes on for very long– when you and/or your child will be so totally over it. You will hate homeschooling. You will consider both of yourselves to have failed miserably at homeschooling. You might cry about it and you might get a little shouty. I can’t make it better for you, but I can tell you that this is totally normal and nearly every homeschooler goes through it. For me, knowing this made all the difference.
YOUR PLAN WILL NOT SUCCEED.
I know you, Mom. You’re organized. You have a plan, a vision in your head of just how this homeschooling thing is going to go. I can PROMISE you, that plan is going to fail. Probably not the whole plan, but definitely elements of that plan. If you go into the year knowing this and coming to terms with it, things are going to be a whole lot easier. One of the first lessons homeschooling parents learn is that if one curriculum isn’t working, it’s okay to stop and switch. Try something else. Figure out what works best for your kid. It may take a month or two to figure out what your child needs and that is totally okay. If your kid is doing virtual learning and something’s not working, be ready to hire a virtual tutor, or even to (gasp) figure it out and teach it yourself. I’ve done it, it’s not impossible — There are some really good resources on the web.
If virtual school really isn’t working, you might want to consider fully homeschooling until this pandemic thing blows over. In Tennessee, becoming a legal homeschooler takes about 10 minutes online– You sign up for an umbrella school (which is really just an official record keeper of grades and attendance), pay a fee (usually under $100), send in your curriculum plans (which you can change up whenever you want/need to), and just like that, you’re a homeschooler. The umbrella school contacts your child’s current school to let them know you’ve withdrawn them and orders transcripts — You don’t even have to worry about it. Once you’re a homeschooler here, you can educate your child any way you want. It’s totally up to you. If you want to make sure they can transition back to traditional school easily, just look up the state standards for your child’s grade online and make sure your kid knows everything on the list. It’s really not that hard, or at least it doesn’t have to be, especially if you have younger children.
I know some parents worry about having to jump through hoops to get their kid back in traditional school after the pandemic is over — Honestly, with all that’s going on and all the parents choosing to temporarily homeschool out there, I don’t think any school is going to make it difficult for you to re-enroll your child once things are back to normal. It will probably be easier than it’s ever been before.
DON’T STRESS OUT.
Because, as Bob Marley would have you know, every little thing is gonna be all right. If you’re doing virtual school right now, your teachers are fully aware that many kids will struggle with the switch. Chances are very, very good that they’ll work with you and be understanding as we all try to get through this crazy time. Try to remind yourself that the chemistry equation worksheet you’re tearing your hair out over today will be completely forgotten and irrelevant a year from now. In the grand scheme of things, this is all small stuff. And you can handle it. You will figure out how to handle it. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s not the end of the world, either. Know this, and make sure your kids know it, too. Deep breaths. And maybe a shot of whiskey every now and then. Just for you, though. Not the kids.
YOU CAN DO THIS.
You will come out of the homeschooling experience scarred, but stronger, because that’s how shitshows work, right? Just remember that you are far from alone — Thousands of other moms and dads are going the very same thing right now, and we’re all going to get through it together. But not really actually together together. Just… You know what I mean.