I know right? What a shitshow. But this article is not about that; the why. This is about the how. Because right now, you might be finding yourself in a situation where you are unexpectantly running a home school for your kids.

Now before we get into this, I need to make it clear: I’m no expert. I don’t have a degree in teaching and I have only been home schooling my daughter for four months. I’m new to this. Real new. Just like you. But being this fresh is going to be helpful. In the words of Michael Sweet and Larry K. Michaelsen:

A student who has who has just broken through a misconception into a clear understanding can still freshly recall the nature of that misconception, recognize it in his peers, and help them similarly advance

That’s just the academic way of saying “Yo, check out this sweet scar. Wanna hear how I got it?”

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When I started home schooling, I deliberately started on the first day of summer holidays. How cruel, you must be thinking. But it wasn’t like that. I come from an engineering background and just wanted to run a few simulations and trials before starting the year in earnest. I needed some practice and to figure out as many issues and problems before we ‘launched’.

So we got up and going like it was a normal school day, the usual morning routine as if we were going to be jumping into the car and commuting off to school. Except we didn’t. We sat down at the kitchen table and started our trial run. What we did would have been seen as a touch of homework. For my daughter, this was a bit of reading practice, some maths problems. It wasn’t much. It wasn’t taxing. It was all about establishing a routine.

When we got done with the ‘homework’, we moved onto another activity. An ‘extension’, not traditional schoolwork. It’s more like the sort of extracurricular activities your child might already have an interest in. For us, we would head out to the workshop and tinker. Maybe build a Kiwi Crate, paint or build a castle. The interest would gently wane, and it was totally OK for her to get distracted and explore her own interests. By the time we had gotten to lunch, the day had transitioned into a more traditional weekend or holiday mode.

As we got closer to the start of school, I slowly started making the ‘homework’ section of the day a bit longer, while the traditional holiday mode got shorter.

I was thinking about this more like it was a massive IT project and I was just trying to avoid one of those epic failures, when a big institution spends years and millions of dollars building a replacement to some essential system, then one day they flick on the switch. Like a big bang they move overnight to the new system, and well, you don’t have to go far to find examples where the whole thing has fallen over.

Later I started hearing other home-schoolers talk about ‘de-schooling’, ‘de-institutionalising’ and ‘de-toxing’. Often this sort of argument has a big emphasis on the weaknesses of traditional schools. However, I think a big part of this process is about altering the relationship you and your children have with your home.

More traditionally, school is in a different physical place. This is something that creates a clear contextual separation. School is for hard work, thinking, concentration and for many children ‘boring’, while your home is not. If you flip the switch overnight and suddenly make hard work a big element of your home, well, your poor kid is going to wig-out. They are going to push back and want their house of fun to remain as it was.

As a family, you will need to figure out this new household ‘mode’ together. It’s not school and it’s not home. It’s something completely different. Do it gradually, and start on a weekend or a holiday. It’ll help blur the existing separation between work and fun. Have some sort of transitional activity that’s not ‘work’ and can ebb and flow with the interest level of your child. If after several weeks all you have is a routine, that’s still a win.

I’ll cover how we fill our days another time. But right now? As you desperately try to scramble upwards after being thrown in the deep end? Routine and processes. That’s what will get you to the surface for a gulp of air.