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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Homeschooling During a Crisis

By Lynn Adams

Within obstacles there can be opportunity. Yours may be figuring out how learning at home works for your child.

Last year when I decided to home school my now 13-year-old son, who has autism, it was crisis time. So, being the psychologist that I am, I removed every bit of removable stress or stimulation from James’s environment that I could. Metaphorically speaking, his life went from living in an apartment in Manhattan to a cabin in the Vermont woods.

Now kids all over the country—including my 11-year-old daughter—are homeschooling, because it’s national (well, global) crisis time.

Full disclosure: I don’t teach either of my children. I hired a private teacher for my son, and my daughter has a well-organized online program that she is following pretty independently. But still, I’ve learned a thing or two about homeschooling.
Here are some of my observations:

1. You might notice that your kids take a lot less time to finish their work than you would expect. That’s fine. Homeschooling removes all the “noise” of the regular school day. So kids actually complete schoolwork faster.

2. Those who need the most help resist that help the most. So the parents’ job is to decide what they need to push, and what they can let slide. One thing to push: school has a consistent time and place. One thing to let slide: anything “extra.”

3. My friend Jen, a public health official, said something really important the other day: “I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with that right now.” Keep in mind that your child, though not in charge of public welfare, has less bandwidth than usual right now, too. And she or he probably won’t be as polite as Jen when letting you know.

4. When dealing with low bandwith, start with low expectations and, if kids can’t independently meet them, go even lower.

5. Don’t limit things like screen time that help your children decompress, that is until they show signs of experiencing lower levels of stress/stimulation. Here are some of those signs: independently getting out of bed; easily doing boring morning activities (tooth brushing, dressing); expressing a happy mood and higher energy levels; helping out voluntarily, in any way; remembering to do chores usually forgotten; engaging in creative acts, such as drawing, singing, telling stories.

6. Despite what you’ve probably read on the Internet, this is not your chance to become a star homeschooler and expose your child to all sorts of new ideas. (See step 2.) Even though there is an array of free online activities available right now, it doesn’t mean you should take advantage of them, unless your kids want you to. (It’s not what my kids want, for the record.)

7. This is your chance to see how your child does with less stimulation in the learning environment. Think of all the things that have been removed: locating and unlocking a locker, walking from class to class, finding needed materials, remembering the PE uniform and other equipment, engaging in social innuendo, enduring the sheer length of the school day, and participating in after-school activities and face-to-face interactions with multiple teachers.

If I had had the opportunity you have now, I would have taken James out of school much earlier. Homeschooling changed him so dramatically.

Before: He feared and dreaded school, refused every step of his morning routine, needed my maximum help getting ready, and to be walked to his locker every day.
After: Even if I’m not home, he can wake up with an alarm, eat breakfast, take his medicine, and get himself totally ready.

So, though life feels overwhelming right now, you have a chance to see how learning at home may work for your child. That’s not to say the pressure is on. But it is to say you may be in for a few (welcome) surprises. 

Lynn Adams is a child psychologist turned at-home parent. Find more of her work at