We have questions. I figured you might, too. If you’re going to phone a friend in such a time as this– a time when so many of us are weighing the risks and rewards, pros and cons of virtual school, in-person, homeschool and pods as we inch our way to summer’s end– you want it to be a friend like Erin Loechner, founder of Other Goose.
Other Goose is a simple, homeschool strategy focused on children ages 2-7. It is championed by thought leaders, childhood development experts, research scholars and environmentalists and feels so natural to have come from Erin. She’s overflowing with wisdom and thoughtfulness and so it’s no surprise that she approaches education in the same way. Thank you to everyone who submitted your questions. I will tell you that no question came up just once. Many of us are perplexed by the same uncertainties. I compiled all of the questions from our Instagram poll into five themes that came up the most frequently. If we didn’t get to your question today, do check out Other Goose– there are so many resources and they’re so eager to help families just like yours! When things feel overwhelming, as they often have this year, I feel encouraged knowing that we are all figuring this out together… and I hope you do, too.
1. Do you have any favorite books that might help parents who are jumping into homeschooling for the first time?
I’d start with The Importance of Being Little by Erika Christakis for parents taking the plunge with kids under 7, and The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart for elementary and beyond. Both combine practical wisdom with hard science about the benefits of a nontraditional academic path, which I found so helpful when I was just beginning my own uncertain journey five years ago.
I’d also recommend that every parent reads How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (Little Kids version here). It 100% transformed my communication with my kids, and when you’re homeschooling, you need all the effective communication you can get!
There are SO many more good ones —- for more recs, I have a list of 20 top favorites here, everything from toddler tantrums to habit training to getting in that much-needed outdoor time. I’m so grateful for the many voices leading the charge here!
2. Any tips for creating a homeschool rhythm with multiple ages plus a baby in the mix? How do you keep everything organized for each? Any tips for keeping a school-aged child focused on learning at home while their younger sibling plays?
Yes, yes, yes! So my favorite homeschool rhythm is called The Inchworm Method, and it works best for the younger set with shorter attention spans (or for days that are already segmented into fragments, i.e. baby nursing times/naps/etc. You can see an example of how The Inchworm Method plays out here, along with 2 other rhythms you can try here.
Also! Homeschooling multiple kids is no joke, but is absolutely do-able as long as you understand that – most often – the distraction is the lesson itself. With simple redirects, you’re teaching your kids so much more about work ethic and focus than times tables and spelling words, and when it comes to learning, it ALL counts! Here are a few ways I stay sane when homeschooling my multiple kids, and a mantra to repeat when one kid is sticking to his/her lesson and the other isn’t. 😉
Lastly, I’d find a platform that organizes everything for you. There are so many wonderful resources (we’re one of them if you have kids ages 2-7!), but the best curriculum is the one you’ll actually use. I teach a really great workshop for homeschooling beginners here – it’s totally free and tackles all of those big hairy questions like what to do about socialization, how to organize your day, and how to choose the right curriculum for you. You’ll love it!
3. How many hours per day do you recommend spending on school work for a first grader?
This answer might surprise you. 😉 There’s a common misconception that since our educational system is set up for half days or full days, that 4 or 8 hours a day is exactly how much time it takes a child to learn everything that he/she needs to know. But when you cut out all the fluff – all of the chaos management, the single file lines, the set-up and tear-down of activities built for large groups, when you take away the fact that there is one teacher and a few aids for 20+ kids and that tons of repetition is required to ensure most kids are on the same page, the result is a whole lot of wasted time!
Here’s a formula we rely on: take an elementary child’s grade level and minus it by one. That’s an average of how many hours you could aim for in terms of your homeschool. So, if you’ve got a second grader, you’d aim for one hour of formal learning. If you’ve got a third grader, shoot for two. If we follow this formula, a child in first grade would complete zero hours of formal education. Sounds crazy, right?
But here’s the truth: dozens of studies have been released this year alone noting that delaying formal education until the age of 8 – meaning no worksheets, no flashcards, no expensive textbooks – is one of the greatest measures of success in a child’s ability to self-direct a life of learning. Now, that doesn’t mean our kids can’t have structure before the age of 8. But what it does mean is that sitting down at the kitchen table to “do school” with expensive workbooks or elaborate unit studies isn’t age-appropriate for the early years.
The truth is this: You are teaching your kids every single day simply by living alongside of each other, whether you realize it or not. You’re already homeschooling!
When you thaw the chicken, their wheels are turning.
When the stop light turns red, their minds are forming associations.
When you wash their hands, they’re learning habits.⠀⠀
When you set the table, they’re learning powerful math concepts like 1:1 correspondence.
For everything else — 20 minutes, a library card, and a bit of intention is all it takes. If you’ve ever felt like you can’t balance homeschooling the early years with everything else you’re juggling, you totally can.
4. Do you have any recommendations for promoting self-sufficiency in young elementary schoolers? In the spring when schools were closed, I had to be right there with her doing the learning or she rarely stayed on task. It’s a lot with younger kids at home and a job that I’m doing from home.
Ah, I can totally relate! Know this: younger elementary students are still in the preoperational stage of learning, which means they need direct 1:1 experience with the subject at hand, and worksheet packets or passive learning via Zoom often doesn’t cut it. If remote learning is the only option, I’d try a number of things:
- Invite whimsy with lit candles, soft music, good snacks. 😉
- Take a TON OF BREAKS. Shoo her outside as much as humanly possible so she can take the time to retain anything she might be learning.
- Give her as much agency as possible, i.e. Where do you want to tackle this project today? or What do you want to do once e-learning is finished, or Which glitter pen do you want to practice your spelling with? or Which lesson do you want to try first?
- Try parallel immersion. Sit next to her busying yourself with your own project, side-by-side, so she feels like she’s not in it alone.
- If there’s a fun hands-on project to correspond with her lesson, introduce it via wordless prep. Works every time!
- Whittle down the work to what you think is the most essential. State standards aside, this is a unique time to get a say in your daughter’s education – that’s a beautiful thing! If you feel she’s burning out and busying herself with 4+ hours of work, talk with your teacher about what’s feasible for both you and your child. Teachers get it, and many are supportive of the massive barriers families are facing right now (they’re facing the same ones!). If the workload feels like too much, or is ineffective, advocate for your child and rejigger the plan in a way that preserves her natural curiosity for self-education.
5. How can I (someone who doesn’t have children) support co-workers who are working from home and homeschool their children simultaneously?
This is the most beautiful question! I think a big way to support your co-workers juggling homeschooling is simply to offer them allyship. If you see a new protocol come across your desk that you imagine isn’t feasible for all of your co-workers (i.e. mandatory Zoom meetings daily at 8am), approach your supervisor and ask if there’s a back-up plan for those teaching kids at home. Advocate for set office hours so parents can earmark uninterrupted time with their kids.
If you’re an employer or are in a position of authority in your company, consider making supportive adjustments to ensure that all employees are set up for work-at-home success. What’s needed to guarantee better working conditions: a new office chair or temporary desk? Friday at-home breakfasts delivered? Noise-canceling headphones?
At the very basic level, continued patience goes a REALLY long way. It’s ever-inconvenient to have a co-worker’s baby interrupt a Zoom call, or to hear the Paw Patrol theme song in the background of your weekly check-ins.
It’s by no means an ideal environment for anyone involved, and yet, it’s the reality for many. Continue to show as much patience as possible while honoring the boundaries you need to get your work done, too.
Who knows? With continued curiosity toward bettering everyone’s productivity conditions, maybe you’ll earn a promotion as an employee/employer liaison for work-at-home parents! Well-deserved indeed.
PS. We’ve set up a school supply shop as a resource for anyone out there that’s interested!