The Reluctant Homeschooler and the Case of the Zombie Apocalypse

Are you sick of talking about and hearing about COVID-19/Coronavirus? Cool, me too. 

Remember when we were arguing about the color of a dress? Simpler times, my friend.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’re going to be getting a break from it anytime soon, unless you decide that this is the push you need to go off the grid. I’m not here to discuss how to avoid it, or how to detect it, or what your neighbor who runs a tin-foil haberdashery on Etsy read on Facebook that really gives her pause about the veracity of the whole thing (nobody cares what you think, Janet; wash your damn hands). 

What we’re going to talk about are school closures, and specifically, what the heck to do if you woke up this morning to find out that you are now, at least temporarily, a homeschooling family. 

If your school is equipped with distance-learning resources and/or sent your kids home with a list of assignments and activities to do, great! Maybe you don’t need this post. If they didn’t, or if you have the kind of kid who’s going to struggle with those, or the kind of kid who is going to sail through them all by the second hour of day two, perhaps I can be of some assistance. 

My eldest is a fourth-grader, about to turn 10, so I can only speak for elementary-age students, but I suspect your older kids will have more options. Either they’ll have more structure coming home with them, or they have ample online-learning options, or they otherwise have ideas about how they’re going to use this time. And if not… 


For the rest of us, let’s take a gander at what we can do to survive the screen-zombie-child apocalypse:

Touch on major subjects

These would be the Big Three, or the “Three Rs”: Reading, wRiting, and aRithmatic. Touch on each of these each school day and you’re well on your way to bridging the gap. 

Read every day. Have them read something aloud to you, even if it’s a handful of children’s poems. Better yet, pick up an age-appropriate chapter book and take turns reading pages or chapters, whichever feels more on-target for the child’s attention span and reading level. This doesn’t have to be a marathon; 30 minutes is plenty. When you’ve hit this benchmark, have them read a little more, independently. This is the perfect time to fall in love with a new author or series. Roald Dahl is exceptionally well-suited to this job, especially if you have reluctant readers.  

Write something. Write anything. If they’re still practicing their letters, let them write a grocery list (bet they’ll never forget how to spell toilet paper!), a birthday wish list, or a list of places they’d like to visit when the quarantine is over. For slightly older children, how about a letter to far-away family? Depending on their age and ability, ask them for a paragraph or five-paragraph essay on…whatever. The subject really doesn’t matter. The important thing is that they’re flexing their writing muscles. If you don’t have editing skills listed on your resume, this is a great time for you both to check out Grammarly

Consider starting a parent-child journal to pass back and forth. These are such a fun way to have conversations with your kids. Ask each other questions, make inside jokes, and practice writing, all at once. As a bonus, it makes a lovely keepsake for your child someday, and they can revisit those special memories you shared. I really highly recommend this, even when quarantine is not an issue. 

Trip the light mathematic. In my experience, there are more accessible resources for math than any other subject. Our hands-down favorite online math is Prodigy. My kids beg to play this. It’s a little bit Pokemon, a little bit Tolkein, and a whole lot of math. It offers great analytics, so you can get insight on where your kids are crushing it and where they could use some extra support. It is free to play, but a (very affordable) paid subscription opens up even more possibilities. While not as cohesive and compelling as Prodigy, Brainzy offers a nice variety of math games, as well. 

If you’re needing a break from digital math, grab a few workbooks and a pencil. We really like Singapore Math, but also enjoy some from Brain Quest (especially the Star Wars versions). Try some card games. For multiplication, I am convinced that you can’t beat Speed. For practicing addition up to 100, try Zeus on the Loose (a fun bridge to Greek mythology). For the littles learning their facts up to 10, we love I Sea 10. If you need to work with fractions, get in the kitchen! Seriously, math is everywhere. 

Math. Is. Everywhere.

If you can hit all three of these, five days a week, congratulations: You are homeschooling as well as any household with a new baby can. A+ to you. 

Get Real (Life)

Hey, remember two seconds ago, when I mentioned using cooking to teach fractions? You can teach something else in the kitchen: cooking! Your kid is probably ready to do more in the kitchen than you think. Since you have time to kill and your whole schedule is less rushed, now is a great time to work on basic kitchen skills: knife work, how to use the stove, properly cleaning and sanitizing surfaces (timely!), how to measure and blend spices. Bake something, try a new recipe together, ask them what they’d like to make. 

Similarly, maybe now is the time to work on laundry skills, how to use the steam mop, or how to clean a toilet. I know too well the temptation to just do it yourself, because we’re all maxed out and impatient to get it done properly without the extra steps of training someone else. Without activities to run to and homework on the end of a long day, now might be the ideal time to invest that effort. Home ec is a dying art, and everyone (EVERYONE) needs to be able to feed themselves and clean up their space.

Don’t let your kid be this guy.

Imagine how awesome it will be to have well-trained household help when life picks back up again! Plus, you may as well use all that bleach you hoarded for its intended purpose. 

Fill in the gaps

Ask them what they’ve been learning about (or glossing over) in school and take the opportunity to dive deep. Was your son fascinated when they quickly brushed over Egyptian culture? Grab a book on the gods and goddesses, make a pyramid out of sugar cubes, and practice writing your name hieroglyphics. If your daughter is disappointed that there aren’t enough experiments in science class, dig around in the garage and the kitchen and let her play mad scientist (Steve Spangler Science is awesome for ideas). 

Seriously, it will be fine.

Maybe those oil pastels in the art room are intriguing, but reserved for the next grade level. Maybe their penmanship needs some extra attention. Dig in! Browse Pinterest together for ideas–you will find a project for literally anything. The hard part will be narrowing it down.

Perhaps what they’re really interested in, isn’t even covered in school. How does a car work? How do you build a campfire? How is cloth made? Let them chase rainbows and fall down rabbit-holes. Wolfgirl once went one a three-week learning spree about crickets. 

Maybe I should not have mentioned that.
And get well soon, Tom Hanks! The man’s a national treasure.

Maybe it’s time to start a YouTube channel (you can make them totally private, if that’s a concern for you). Write a short story. Get out an instrument (or Garage Band, Apple users) and encourage them to mess around. What an awesome opportunity this is for self-led learning!

It’s okay to let them play

Finally, don’t panic about “lost time” in the classroom. Little Johnny and McLynnleigh-Grace are not going to be impossibly behind on their academics because of this temporary shutdown. Yes, even if school closures stretch on for a little while. They advance again after summer break every year, and this won’t derail them too badly, either. 

You are not responsible for providing seven or eight hours of quality academic instruction to your children.

Read it again. School days are busy, but not necessarily jam-packed with learning. Think about how much time is spent managing behavior, transitioning between activities, doodling while everyone else finishes, or waiting patiently with your hand up for assistance (on question #1). Your kids are spending school hours practicing standing in a line. Most elementary-age homeschool can be done in a couple hours a day. Really.

So, let them play. Between reduced recess times, slashed budgets, and overscheduled family calendars, most kids don’t get nearly enough playtime these days. You can try to make it a lesson…or…don’t. Just let them play. They’ll learn something in spite of themselves, I promise. 

Don’t believe me? Check out how Finland does education. They are one of the undisputed world leaders, and guess what their primary-age kids are doing.

A note on cabin fever

Oh, are they bored? Good! Let them be bored. Boredom begets ingenuity and creativity. If excessive boredom is making you both cuckoo, we recently had success with this strategy: 

One fine day, I gently suggested (and there may have been a small tantrum involved on my part) that we–meaning the children and I–each made a list of 25 things to do when you’re bored. Let me assure you, their list is a LOT more fun than mine. So now, when I hear “But I’m booOOOOooRRrrrrred,” I ask them if they would like to choose something from my list, or theirs. 

They have yet to even see my list. But when they do, I am going to have the cleanest grout in town.

Seriously, though. Mom, Dad, Baba, Grandma/pa, babysitter, very reliable family dog…You got this. I am literally a hot mess like 80% of the time, and my kids are doing fine. Yours will be fine. You will be fine. Order some craft supplies, learn how to make bathtub hooch, fire up that Disney+ when you’re D-O-N-E, and carry on.

And on behalf of the elderly, immunocompromised, or otherwise vulnerable people in your neighborhood, thank you for helping flatten the curve.

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