Homeschooling and Social and Emotional Learning; Building on Passions and Embracing Imperfection
A Poem by Ethan Miller, Seventh Grade Homeschool
October 28, 2020
The color of the fall leaves is
as bright as the sun and as dark as outer space.
The taste of candy corn is
As sweet as a jelly fruit.
The sound of leaves underfoot
Crunch like a celery stick.
Last August, our family began what we thought could approximate a regular school year –remotely. But as was the case (and remains the case), there is no expected normal with schooling these past few years if we use the previous years as our measure. After three days beginning traditional schooling with remote learning, we decided our son couldn’t possibly learn in the new context. The video feed was fuzzy. The sound was muffled. The final breaking point hit when, during a first math test, we watched as our son couldn’t access the test and raised his hand virtually for one hour while he watched the others take the test. Two days later, we finally got an email response. At that point, we felt panicked. What can we do? And suddenly, the only option that seemed reasonable for our son who was not vaccinated and has had many trips to the hospital for respiratory infections was homeschooling.
First and importantly, this is our family’s story. We recognize that it is a privilege to be able to homeschool and an option some families just don’t have. For those families who are supporting remote learning, here’s a helpful resource for setting up your learning environment at home in ways that are supportive. However, there were an incredible 3.7 million homeschool students in grade K-12 in the U.S. in the 2020-2021 school year, a significant jump from the 2.5 million in the previous year.1 Each year, families choose to homeschool for a number of reasons including bullying, religious choice, exceptional learning abilities, COVID-19, and more and from every income level, education level (of parents), race, and culture.
As we look at the past school year in retrospect, we can easily see that it was one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences for our family. We cultivated a deeper intimacy than we’d ever experienced by learning daily together. We set out from the start to ensure that we were using our best knowledge of social and emotional learning and how it can be integrated into each subject to provide cohesion, motivation and focus, to educate the heart, mind and spirit, and offer a caring framework for everything done in a school day. After many failed experiments and successful ones, here are some ways in which you too can integrate social and emotional learning into your plan for homeschooling:
- Hoping and Dreaming Together; Co-creating Guiding Principles from the Start
Why are you homeschooling together? What are your biggest hopes and dreams for your school year? Why is it important to you and to your child and to other members of the family? What are your top prioritizes when it comes to learning and growing together in the coming year? Write out your hopes and dreams to post and refer to as a beacon of light for the year. Also, be sure and write down your guiding principles so that you can always return to them as a supportive foundation for all that you do and especially, to refer to during times that challenge you. We valued caring relationships. We valued input and learning from each family member. We valued creating a safe place for risk-taking and mistakes for all including parents as teachers. We valued working hard collaboratively. And we valued hands-on, experiential learning. We decided everything we do together is homework – work that’s done at home – so we stuck to a school day schedule and typically allowed time off when it wasn’t school time. Most importantly, we valued grace for all involved knowing everyone was doing their best.
- Create a Physical Transition from Home Mode to School Mode
It can be confusing and disconcerting for adults and children to do everything – work, school, and family life in the same space. Changing our physical space assists in our mental shift in roles and tasks. Yet, the pandemic has pushed us time and again back home into the same spaces to serve all of the roles in our lives. Help your student and all family members transition to school by creating a consistent daily ritual transition. We hopped in the car for a five minute ride around the neighborhood each morning. You could take a walk outside. With younger students, craft a gateway or doorway to school they pass through each morning. Have your child cast a spell on that gateway to charm it with magical learning powers and you’ve really got something! That physical transition will assist with your own and your student’s mental transition.
- Use and Augment Research-based School Social and Emotional Learning Structures
Morning Meeting – After we took our morning ride assisting us with the shift from home to school, we held a morning meeting. We used a formal agenda in the beginning of the school year from Responsive Classroom including a greeting, sharing, cooperative activity and morning announcements. Check out this article to learn more. However, as the year went on, our family agreed that we wanted less formality and more of a morning check-in with one another. The ability to reflect and change structures or plans is fundamental to success! And homeschooling offers that flexibility because of the few individuals who are involved.
Feelings Curriculum – Students and teachers bring their hearts to school with them and learning takes place because of (not in spite of!) emotions. Be sure you do a daily Feelings Check-In (more ideas here). The pandemic has added a heap of emotions to the normal set that go along with school, a developing child and parenting. Show empathy and compassion by reflecting on feelings each day. Be sure too that you incorporate learning about and discussing feelings in EACH subject area whether it’s anxiety in Math, empathy with book characters in Language Arts, disgust with injustice in Social Studies, take the time to reflect on the feelings involved.
Social Awareness/Social Justice and Values Curriculum – Whether or not the curriculum you purchase involves social awareness/social justice, this is an important opportunity to offer your child age-appropriate experiences and studies in a variety of cultures including the history of indigenous peoples around the world and how global dependence on slavery shaped institutional racism and led to many of the injustices we find in our news today. For more, check out our page of resources. Do a survey of various world religions. Better yet, visit a sampling of temples, mosques and churches online or in-person. Offer your child a rich view of diversity in their own hometown and watch as their (and your!) mind opens and grows. For middle and high school level resources, check out Facing History and Ourselves. Be sure you regularly insert questions and discussions about values – what do you stand for? What values do you care about when making decisions? What characters do you admire for their values?
Move! – Yes, this is a social and emotional topic. If your body isn’t moving, your brain is slowing down. You or your child may feel stressed, anxious, and bored and your child may struggle with focus. Get outside at least once per day to get energy out. To avoid power struggles, make recess a consistent part of your daily routine. If the wiggles strike in the middle of class, take a moment to stand stretch or take a brain break. These will contribute to your ability to work together and take care of important physical needs.
Offer Choices – Because you are both parent and teacher, power struggles can be more of a regular challenge if you aren’t working to prevent them. Assigning your child work to do can make them feel like they don’t have control. Add to that mix the lack of peer interaction and the hyper-focus on one-on-one instruction and it can be a pressure cooker of resistance. So be certain that you are thoughtful and plan-ful about how you offer choices regularly in each class. Give your children the option of what school tools they use, how they represent their learning (will they write or draw?), and what they will read. Unlimited choices can result in challenges so limit to just two authentic choices each time and look for ways your child can learn to use his power constructively.
Closing Reflection – At the end of each day, before your child races off to play or connect with friends, be sure you have a regular closing reflection. It need not take long. But ask some key questions about their experiences over the course of the day to inform your ideas and teaching methods for the next day. Reflecting also helps seal in the learning.
4. Follow Passions and Offer Experiences
Using a recommended activity from the helpful book, The Brave Learner; Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning and Life by Julie Bogart, we brainstormed every interest we could think of that our son possessed and then, mapped those interests to our subject areas and specific content we could take that would build on his passions. Teacher Jason (father), for example, conducted a science experiment measuring the speed variance with model trains when changing track conditions. I offered novel choices whenever we were taking a new book in Language Arts and introduced half that were not in our curriculum because they were high interest for our son. We also looked for every chance to engage in projects, observe and utilize how he best represented his learning (Poster? Paper? Diorama? Illustration? Map or graph?), and took field trips to offer authentic experiences.
5. Seek Help!
We hosted a number of family and friends as featured teachers on Zoom and they were a big hit! One friend who is a Shakespearean actor did several highly engaging sessions for our son and a homeschool friend on how to argue in Shakespeare’s theater. We also decided that seventh grade math was more than we wanted to tackle. We found a tutor from a nearby university and she taught math each week. It gave us parent teachers (who were also working full-time jobs) a little time each day and prevented the many headaches that we knew we’d have in attempting to re-learn algebra.
6. Take the Time Needed
Remind yourself that because you are getting so much one-on-one time with your child, you are making faster progress than a school ever could. So take the time you and your child need to deeply learn what you are working on learning versus moving through it quickly. We tackled some longer, more involved projects that may not be possible in a classroom of 23 students. After reading the book Pax, Ethan wrote a puppet show script. He made the puppet show sets and costumes, designed a program and together, we performed a show for our audience of one: Dad. It was a project I’ll never forget and was deeply meaningful for both of us.
7. Elevate your Child as Teacher
Motivation and focus are particularly important in homeschooling. The cooperation between parent and child is vital to making it all work. But if parents are doing all of the instructing, a child can feel a lack of control and power struggles can result. One way of preventing this is by offering choice daily in many small ways. Another way is by offering your child the chance to teach you something about which they are knowledgeable. Our son chose Minecraft, a video game he knows well but my husband and I do not. We gave him a set of class periods and each time, he planned his lesson ahead of time with these planning tools.
Check out these resources for your own lesson planning or for your child’s!
Homeschooling offers the unique chance for you, your child and any involved family members to deepen your loving relationship by learning together. Because of the Herculean commitment involved, know that you are brave! Ask for help and set up systems of support so that you do not feel alone and can be successful. It helps to remember that the best teachers in the world are consummate learners, ones who experiment, fail, learn and improve. That reminder helps us bring grace to one another. We need to expect mistakes as necessary for our learning. May your homeschooling adventure reward you with as much learning and connection as it surely will for your children!
Ray, B. D. (2021). Homeschooling: The Research; Research Facts. On Homeschooling. National Home Education Research Institute. https://www.nheri.org/research-facts-on-homeschooling/
Bogart, J. (2019). The Brave Learner; Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning and Life. NY: Penguin Random House.
Oak Meadow K-12 Home Curriculum – Although there are many well-researched and high quality home school curricula from which to choose, we selected Oak Meadow because of its emphasis on experiential learning, creativity and social justice.
This article is dedicated to my homeschooling partner and loving husband, Jason Miller and my hard-working son who were fully dedicated and made meaningful learning in a loving family possible every day last year and to my work partner, Pamela McVeagh-Lally who is courageously choosing to homeschool her two young children this year.