In these times of COVID-19 many parents find themselves thrust into homeschooling unprepared. Join Dr. Rachelle Sheely and host Kat Lee as they talk about schooling your kids at home, especially when you may not know how.
Kat Lee: Welcome back to ASD, A New Perspective, the podcast show where we help you understand what is going on in the mind of your child. And we do encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee and in this special podcast, Dr. Sheely talks about homeschooling. In these times of COVID-19 many parents find themselves thrust into homeschooling unprepared. Herself, a homeschooler, Dr. Sheely shares her experience. Let’s listen in.
Kat Lee: So today we’re going to be talking as two homeschooling moms. We know that so many people have found themselves, literally found themselves homeschooling. You may not have intended to homeschool, you may be a full-time working parent who’s also trying to homeschool, and we thought we would talk to you about our experiences and just some things we learned along the way. And I know Dr. Sheely, you homeschooled your children.
Dr. Sheely: Yes, Steve Gutstein, my husband and I decided to homeschool when our children were about five and a half, and three. And the reason we decided to homeschool was, first of all, we thought it would be more fun. I have a master’s in teaching, which is an odd degree. It was a master’s in teaching. And one of our daughters had a quirky way of thinking about letters. And so, knowing what we knew about education, we were pretty sure that if she had a learning disability we could take the pressure off her and we could address it in just a matter of teaching. Teaching in the way that we were thinking about learning. So, that’s why we decided to do it. And we actually homeschooled until both girls were in about fifth grade. And would have homeschooled longer, but they were ready to do friend school. So we stopped then.
Kat Lee: Oh well, it’s a big decision to do that. And I think about people who are just suddenly finding themselves doing that, and it takes a lot of energy, doesn’t it?
Dr. Sheely: It takes energy, and it takes a lot of planning. I think the default for most people is to grab a curriculum and just do that curriculum. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We chose not to do that. We were thinking of learning in a different way, but the friends of mine who I met through the homeschool groups, they all used various curriculum. Ones that they liked or ones that were meeting needs they felt were right for their families. What was interesting to me, and Catherine, I’m guessing you found the same thing, was that we could really cover in about an hour and a half to two hours what the typical school day would be. So, once I started, we weren’t teaching five or six hours a day, we were doing an educational experience one and a half to two hours a day.
Kat Lee: And I want to stop for just a minute and say, if we have any moms or dads who are listening thinking, I don’t know the first thing about teaching. As you know, I was in radio TV, and I had no background in that. But it’s okay if you don’t know, you learn, and you learn right alongside your child. So, I feel like part of the energy can be spent worrying that I’m not a good teacher as a parent. And you can take time to learn, I want parents to know that.
Dr. Sheely: I am glad you brought that up, because I do hear that from parents. Many parents I work with say, “School just isn’t working. It doesn’t matter what I do, no matter what the IEP says, what idea says, what ADA says, this is not working.” So I’ll say, “Well, have you thought about homeschooling?” “Oh, I couldn’t do that. I wouldn’t even know how to begin.” But the resources now for people who want to homeschool are vast and enormous and varied.
Kat Lee: It is true. And it’s also true, and we really taught this in RDI, that parents do know their children the best. And so there’s a whole bunch you don’t have to learn, because you know your child better than any new teacher knows your child. Which I think until you’re put into this position you don’t really think about. But in RDI, we talk a lot about how parents have the inside ability to really know, and as you did with your child that hey, I think that we can work work through this interesting way of looking at letters. I’m not so sure the school’s going to know how she sees things.
Dr. Sheely: Well, we figured we would do as well as anybody. So we just went forward with it. And the approach we took was probably pretty nontraditional, unusual approach, but we decided that the City of Houston would be our school, and that we would use Houston as a backdrop for all of the things that we thought our children needed to learn. The first thing we thought they needed to learn was curiosity and creativity about subject matter.
Kat Lee: I think the idea of teaching the curiosity as a foundation is so exciting.
Dr. Sheely: Yeah.
Kat Lee: And it’s really what gets children interested in learning if they become curious. So without that curiosity, it’s just a chore.
Dr. Sheely: It’s just a chore and it’s very static. And so we could have taken an approach where, because I was trained as a traditional teacher, we could have taken an approach where we taught reading in this very specific way and mathematics in a specific way, but what we did was go out into the neighborhood and look at what was in our neighborhood. And of course we live in a large city, so there are a lot of things to do here, a lot of little courses, we could go to the Arboretum and take a course in ecology, or we could go to the museum of fine arts and jump in the back of a school group that was getting their own special tour. So we joined a lot of groups that had no idea who we were.
Dr. Sheely: The other thing that we did was we would find something of interest to us. And my favorite example of this was there was a comic strip collection that came to a very small out of the way museum in Houston. So we went to look at the comic strips and how they had changed over time. And for a few months our whole curriculum was designed around comic strips. So we looked at history, what was happening? This comic strip was from 1950, what was going on in 1950? What were they talking about? How did people dress? How much did things cost them? How much do they cost now? Let’s have a conversation using comic strips.
Kat Lee: And as you were talking, I was thinking about how available these things are online now, and if you can’t go out to the Arboretum right now, which a lot of people can’t, you can go through a walk at an Arboretum online. It’s such a wealth of ability now to do those things virtually, which you literally had to go do physically, or you couldn’t do, not that long ago actually. In some ways we take it for granted, but it really wasn’t that long ago where that wouldn’t have been possible. So I love these ideas and I think they’re going to be so helpful for parents who are at home. I wanted to tell parents too that you shouldn’t overwhelm yourself with feeling like you have to have a long, big to do list. And I think that’s really hard, because you’re looking at what the schools are telling you your child needs to learn this semester and finish up with this semester. And I’m getting all kinds of thoughts from parents that I work with about that, but you have to balance that with mental health. That’s the one of the most important things right now for your family, don’t you think?
Dr. Sheely: I think it is. And the ability to go through your day in a way that works for everybody and everybody has time to be together. The time to be by him or herself, including the children, becomes very key to what’s important.
Dr. Sheely: One of the things that we made a decision about that I’m not going to tell people to do or not do, but we made a decision to not have the TV on. Now remember there was no screen time, there were no video, well there were video games, but we made a decision not to do that. And the reason we did, was because I think, to be honest, I love TV. I would watch TV all day long. I mean, I would watch things that weren’t even important to me, so I had to draw the line.
Dr. Sheely: So we didn’t have that kind of things. And when I made the decision to turn it off, it was a big decision, and it was very hard for my children. But after about three days, and I remember somebody saying it’s like an addiction, and the physical manifestations of addictions go away about three days. Psychologically it takes longer. In about three days the girls started playing with each other, and they were playing very creatively with each other. The other thing they were doing is they were taking concepts that we had been working on during our learning time and they were weaving those concepts into their play. And it was really exciting to see. As I said, there were problems with the writing, but they wrote, they just wrote odd things and they would read them back. I have no idea how they knew what they were doing, but they got that love of reading and writing and making up their own stories, and I believe it was foundational for both of them to have continued with their love of learning. It’s been a lifelong love of learning for both of them.
Kat Lee: I love that. And I was laughing at the no TV because my mother when I was growing up was very structured we’ll say about when TV could be on and when it could not be on. And so I think that is really helpful and that really, it also leads me to one thing that was important for me, was to try to have some kind of routine. I like to say that static has a place to stabilization.
Dr. Sheely: Yes it does.
Kat Lee: Knowing when I was going to start, when we were going to end this part of our learning, it just really was a nice scaffold for everything else that we could do. So I know right now a lot of people are telling me, I’m kind of getting up at any time. We find ourselves without a structure to our day. I’m trying to work, but I don’t have any parameters, and I’m supposed to be doing this. And I do recommend putting in your own structure. I can’t tell you what that should be, because everybody’s an individual. But I do recommend having start times, and having end times like anything, you need to be dynamically okay if it’s a little later or whatever, runs a little longer, whatever, but I recommend it. I think it gives you a sense of, like I said, stability, which is something that people are really struggling with right now.
Dr. Sheely: A mistake that I made early on, was that I felt like I had to have a rigid schedule. And so I would write out a schedule from 9:00 to 9:30, 9:30 to 10:00, 10:00 to 10:30, and it began to not work. And then the thought occurred to me, why am I trying to replicate what happens in school? The kids could go to school. So then the pendulum kind of, I saw it swinging the other way. It was like, oh, maybe we’ll do school. So I went back and forth, not for a long period of time, but I did. I was trying to get my sea legs, and what I realized was that a routine was really important. Within that routine, I could fudge a little bit around the parameters of what we were teaching, how long we would stay with something. We got going with something we could keep at it longer.
Dr. Sheely: But I also, as part of that experience, another thing that I figured out was I didn’t exactly know how to do this. So I started, we can talk about framing and scaffolding. I started with a shorter period of time, and I said, “Let’s just try this today for a half an hour.” And I know that doesn’t seem like much time, but once I had established 9:00 to 9:30, then I could go 9:00 to 9:45, and then 9:00 to 10:00, and within a very short period of time, when we got ready to do school, we were ready to do school. And sometimes the school would not be, as I said, it wouldn’t be in our dining room. School would be some other place. And that was really fun too. It wasn’t an adjunct. It was as important to me as reading or writing.
Kat Lee: And I always found even just using other parts of the house and the backyard and the front yard and just really being dynamic in that sense. Also, I mean we were talking about the children, but also healthy for me.
Dr. Sheely: Yes.
Kat Lee: Just to have that dynamic frame instead of the this is where we do this and we’re not moving from this spot and that type of thing. So I think that’s really great. I keep thinking about families who literally found themselves doing this and the next day they were. So I just…
Dr. Sheely: And not only that, they have to do what the school says. Their kids are online watching a teacher talk.
Kat Lee: Yeah. I mean it’s just really stressful.
Dr. Sheely: Very.
Kat Lee: And for the kids that we know, the families I work with, that you work with, they’re just going to be told that that’s just not productive, and that the parents can’t make that productive for them. And even if it is productive, what do you do with it as a parent after? So we know we’ve got families all over the place there. Anywhere in between. But what we can say is you can only do so much, and that does not need to be that you go right up to the edge of your, you just can’t even take it anymore. You’ve just got to be reasonable while others may not be being reasonable with you. I guess I’ll say.
Dr. Sheely: I feel that some of the advice I’ve given families who are stuck in this no man’s land right now, they’re self quarantined, or at least self isolating, that maybe start with a subject that your child is really good at. And just do that one for a couple of days, and then kind of weave in what you can weave in, but I don’t think any school district would expect a family with maybe four children, one computer, one screen to be able to do everything. And what I’m hearing from people, basically the schools are saying we’re offering it, do the best you can. And if you can’t, it’s okay.
Kat Lee: And it is okay.
Dr. Sheely: It is okay, and I think parents should feel good about that. At the same time, if you know that your school is working third grade on fractions, you might decide to do your own teaching of fractions and making cooking.
Kat Lee: You just said fractions and I was almost triggered. No, I remember when I started working on fractions with my son, I was like, well, I’m finally going to learn fractions. And that might be the case.
Dr. Sheely: Yes. Well, there were a few moments like that. I mean, I have no idea what this is about, but…
Kat Lee: That’s okay.
Dr. Sheely: Some of the things that parents can do, I mean, everybody that I know has an address, right? You have an address and you live in probably a house or an apartment or a neighborhood, and there are things about where you live that are unique to where you live, and everything’s online now. So you can say, well, my address here is Amherst. We live on Amherst Street. So we could have said, we didn’t live there then, but we could say Amherst. I wonder why this street was named Amherst. I wonder who built this apartment. I wonder what it was like before. And all of that is available online. So you’re teaching your children to love history in a way that they might not have loved it if you were sitting there and talking about some esoteric thing that they could’ve cared less about, you cared less about and you’re trying to meet requirement of the school.
Kat Lee: For me it. One thing I like to try to do is when there’s a point of crisis, or whatever it may be, is look for the opportunity. That the opportunity that there could be within that, and I don’t mean that in a patronizing way, or as if it’s an easy thing at all. I know it’s not, and not at this time, but where we can find those opportunities, they are so rewarding. They help us through the other hard parts. I hear that in what you’re talking about right now, and I just I want parents to know there are opportunities that that they can benefit from, and their child can benefit from that will last forever.
Dr. Sheely: I hope that that can happen, because I feel that it happened for me with my own children when I decided to homeschool and I think you feel that it happened for you when you did the same thing. So if the opportunity is there, but I believe the opportunity is most prevalent when it’s relevant, and what was relevant to me. I figured out pretty quickly, within a couple of months, I figured out what that was going to be. And we say to parents all the time, trust yourself. You know how to do this. And so go ahead and trust yourself.
Kat Lee: Thanks for joining us for ASD, A New Perspective, a podcast show where we help you understand the mind of your child, and we always encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee, see you next time.