So You’re Running Virtual School! 8 Key Tips From a Longtime Homeschool Mom

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I homeschooled my two kids from preschool age all the way up through high school. So I know being responsible for your kids’ education can feel like a huge weight, especially when it’s happening not by choice, as it is for so many families around the world right now. I get it. I’m not a teacher by trade myself, and much of what I learned over the years was by trial and error. While there’s no magic formula, here are some things that helped me make it all the way through homeschool to graduation x2.

1) Have daily meetings with your kids.

A brief five- to ten-minute meeting with each kid during breakfast can mean the difference between a messy, mixed up school day and a focused, accomplished day. Review the upcoming assignments and ask if your child has any questions. Help each kid make a checklist to keep them on track throughout the day. It can also be helpful to check back in at the end of the day, maybe after dinner. This helped me catch any potential problems before they happened so I could address them the next day.

2) Find a way to mark the transition from home to school — and back again.

“But they’re not going anywhere!” you might be thinking. It’s true, when your house doubles as your kids’ classrooms, the boundary between home and school life can be blurry. So, how can you mark a clear transition into school mode each morning? We liked to have a kind of “homeroom” where we’d read about and briefly discuss age-appropriate current events from sources like Dogo News or Scholastic News magazines. In many households, kids pack up their backpacks with all the necessary books and supplies (lunchbox included, for snacks during break time) and actually wear it to their workspace and “home again” at the end of the day.

3) Ongoingly customize their workspace to fit their learning style.

Space constraints may largely determine your set-up, but try to think about your specific kid’s needs and learning style. Do you have a wiggler or a highly active child? They might benefit from a standing desk or active seating like an exercise ball-chair or a wobbly stool. Or take your cue from schools across the country and add a bouncy band to your kid’s chair if they’re a leg-bouncer. Or really go for it and hack a bike with training wheels with this stationary cycle hack.

Brainstorm together about the workspace. Do they prefer to make notes on a whiteboard or on paper? My daughter liked to have colored gel pens available at all times to denote different categories of notes such as ‘important,’ ‘ask for clarification,’ and ‘review,’ which was a great visual aid for her. Maybe your child needs math manipulatives or a squishy ball to keep active fingers busy.

If your kids are distracted working amid all their “stuff,” try setting them up in a neutral space or even a corner of a room. Wherever they end up, I suggest hanging a bulletin board on the wall for posting artwork, achievements, inspirational quotes, and notes to themselves. It’s a great motivator. It’s also the perfect place for moms to leave gentle reminders and notes of encouragement.

Hot tip: Position desks near a window if you can. When teachers are talking but not demonstrating, most kids can still listen while relaxing their “screen eyes” in order to take short soothing peeks at Mother Nature.

4) Take regular brain-breaks.

Teachers recognize that kids need regular brain breaks, so you shouldn’t add that to your worries. But what if your kid needs more frequent breaks than the teacher has built in? My two kids were much better able to focus when they took five-minute breaks every 20 to 30 minutes. Even if class is still in session, encourage them to stand up and stretch their arms and legs, do favorite yoga poses or march in place while still keeping engaged. And, related to this…

5) Get cookin’ to bring academic concepts alive.

Mixing things up in the kitchen is great quality time and can really enhance learning. My daughter and I used to whip up double and triple batches of goodies that doubled as hands-on fraction lessons. Actually, my son’s fraction light bulb “turned on” while divvying up a homemade pizza. During these kitchen times, we had the best conversations, we got messy, and my kids discovered that math really does make sense and science is kind of cool.

6) Take advantage of free online resources.

When we were studying about France, we cozied up on the couch and visited (virtually!) the Louvre in Paris. Virtual field trips make it possible to take a hike through the Grand Canyon, take a tour of The White House, and visit some of the most awesome zoos. I know what you’re thinking… more screen time. But it can still be enriching.

In terms of IRL outdoor experiences, we loved going on family bike rides on the Rail Trails near our house because they’re relatively flat and scenic. Download the National Park Service’s free ParkPassport App which lets kids collect badges during visits. Or what about a real-life treasure hunt? Geocaching challenges kids to search for hidden treasures — a.k.a. caches — based on GPS coordinates within a set radius from your house.

7) Go outside every day!

Get outside as often as you can. It’s so much harder in the winter, for sure, but we always took a walk-the-dog break in mid-morning. The fresh air invigorated us, and my kids typically came back better able to focus and tackle problems. Help kids find outdoor activities they enjoy. My daughter loved hopping around on her pogo stick and practicing on Dad’s DIY stilts. If your kid is resistant to going outside, maybe it’s finally time to see if you can invest in that trampoline they’ve been bugging you about.

8) Celebrate the victories!

At school, successes are celebrated in all kinds of ways, so why should it be any different at school-at-home? I created a prize box and my kids loved picking out stickers and little inexpensive prizes like a new pair of earbuds, a coupon for an iTunes song, etc. I also always made sure to post their strong work on the bulletin board. These are the moments that make all…your…efforts (and theirs!) so worthwhile.

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Karen Doll is a writer and homeschool consultant in eastern Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in AARP, Purple Clover, The Organized Mom, Write Shop, The Homeschool Mom, and Home School Enrichment Magazine. Visit her at