Amber Bius, Texas – @amberbius
What is your greatest struggle when it comes to crisis schooling?
My greatest struggle is keeping my child motivated. He loves social interaction, and he is missing his friends. Normally I use playdates as an incentive to keep him motivated to get chores and work done. Now the only interaction with friends is through electronics. I find that when he has more than an hour a day of technology his personality changes. The more technology time he has the less motivated he is to do anything else. He becomes obsessed with the technology and ignores the rest of the world. When you take it away, there is always an emotional overreaction.
Now the public school wants us to have them in Google Classroom for 5+ hours daily. Only his science teacher is giving an assignment that is not technology dense. I have been trying to help him get his whole week of school work done in two days so we can have four technology free days. I have been bribing him with one full day of games as a way to get him to do the school work. For three days he is a technology zombie that does not want to do anything else, but for four days we have our helpful, kind boy back.
We do still make him take a walk twice every day and ride his bike daily to help break up the three technology days.
What resources have you been utilizing to help you on your unexpected homeschool journey?
We have been playing board games, taking walks, riding bikes, and managing a huge LEGO project.
We decided to sort every LEGO we have back into the original sets they came in. It has been a huge undertaking. We started by sorting all of them by color. Now we are taking each instruction book and pulling all the pieces to bag up the set again. Then we let Caleb rebuild the item. We need to get shelves to put the creations on, but he is working hard to build a full city.
I also was lucky enough to check out over 46 items from the public library before it closed. We often listen to audiobooks while working on the LEGO sets or doing online school work.
Amazon packages arrive almost daily with books, games, puzzles, or creative and fun activities we can do together. We have been printing out coloring pages and doing them as a family to let our social media friends vote for their favorites. My son seems to really enjoy this light hearted competition, especially when people can’t guess who made which one. I also hoard school supplies and crafting supplies, so we have plans to do a weaving project, clay sculpting, painting, and scavenger hunts.
We are forced to use Google Classroom, but I did sign up for Acellus so that I could put him on some great online tutorials while I do house work. It is nice because I can watch on my phone whatever he is doing.
One of my favorite ways we have been connecting is with all of our penpals. Now that people are at home more, they have been writing my son back. I do NOT use this as a lesson in grammar or handwriting. I keep it fun and light and let him write whatever crazy thing he chooses. I want him to enjoy the tactical experience of writing a letter and the joy of getting mail from a friend.
I know you homeschooled for a bit when you moved between states. How did that experience differ from what you are doing today?
Crisis schooling is completely different from homeschooling. With homeschool we did tons of lessons at museums, libraries, group activities, and public events. Now a huge part of my day is trying to figure out how I can manage all of my chores while being his mom, teacher, friend, and counselor. I am also struggling to keep my own spirits in check. I find myself complaining about being overwhelmed and that is NOT helpful to him. We both are craving that human interaction at the park playgrounds, museums, Crayola Experience, library, and other outings.
We are still doing online learning but now I cannot pick what we do for it since the public schools are mandating teachers assign specific work. It’s more stressful.
How does your son feel about homeschooling and/or crisis schooling?
My son loved homeschooling, but HATES what is happening now. He has not seen another child since March 14. He gets some relief with FaceTime calls, Zoom meetings, and letters but it is really not the same. Caleb is not a fan of worksheets so the things being assigned right now are not good for his learning style. We have tons of conversations about this being a great life lesson in flexibility and overcoming unpleasant tasks.
He loves getting to work at his own pace with his learning. He struggles in public classrooms with waiting for everyone to master a concept before the whole class can move on. At home he can work at his own pace and when he knows he has mastered a topic he can take the assessment to move on to the next one.
Are you working from home while you are crisis schooling? What challenges does this entail?
I do not work outside of the home under normal circumstances. However my spouse is home full-time and working full-time. The biggest challenge for us is keeping a positive spirit. Both my son and husband need tons of people around them all of the time and lots of entertainment to stay positive. I feel like a dancing monkey right now trying to keep everyone happy, healthy, and well.
We are fortunate in that we have enough rooms for my son to be learning in one room while my husband is on conference calls all day in another room. I ping pong around from the kitchen to the classroom to my chores.
I have no idea how I would be managing all of this while working my own full-time job. I feel like it would be impossible. Also now that schools are closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year but the economy is scheduled to reopen the first week in May (here in TX), how are working parents going to take care of their kids while going back to work? Many kids I know go to the school’s summer daycare/camp. I worry for them.
How do you find balance and time for self-care in the midst of daily life as an unexpected homeschooling parent?
I have been staying up insanely late to have my personal time. I usually start my self-care or the things I want to do around 11PM when the other members of my family are in bed. I do get super cranky though when my husband decides he is going to stay up late too.
Some days I call it a mental health day and I do my care while allowing my child to have a full day of technology in the same room with my spouse. That way they both are not alone, but they are out of my hair for the day. I feel like every week looks different. We really have not found a schedule that works just right for us.
In a perfect world, what would your ideal homeschool day look like?
Everyone would wake up at the same time. We would all make breakfast together, eat it together, and clean up together. Then my husband would leave to go to work.
Then we would spend about an hour on each of the following subjects – math, reading, handwriting, spelling, writing, history, science, STEAM, and health. We would use those hours to do activities without many worksheets. My child would be excited about everything and would even help plan lessons that his friends and him could do together. We would have an outdoor classroom setup surrounded by a garden that the whole community tended together. I believe in a village of moms to raise all of the children collectively. Other parents would help plan lessons and work together. Then when the core subjects were attended to, we would use the remaining daylight to play with friends, go on adventures, and find new experiences that broadened our lives and minds.
But in reality, what does your typical day look like?
Everyone gets up at different times every day. The adults do not eat breakfast. My son makes a huge mess in the kitchen at breakfast. I have to redirect him a handful of times to get him to do his morning routine of brushing teeth, putting on lotion and deodorant, and getting dressed. Then I have to get him started on school and scramble to get as many of my household projects into the same room to work on while I watch him doing his school work.
I feel like I am putting out fires all day long because while I am managing the house and my child’s education, my spouse is coming around wanting to talk or be entertained or just to watch us because he has a break in between conference calls. I find that the time is blowing by and we have not finished half of what we were supposed to get done.
At some point my kid has snuck off to play games or make a huge mess somewhere, and then all of a sudden it’s time for dinner and I’m so tired, but we still have family walk time and dishes. Finally, I have to wrangle my son to do his bedtime routine and smell his breath to ensure he actually brushed his teeth. When he goes to bed and is asleep, that is my cue to lock myself in my room to watch mindless TV while eating snacks because I forgot to eat all day or I Marco Polo with anyone who has sent me a message.
What are your best homeschooling memories thus far?
My best memories of this time will be watching Caleb become an excellent bike rider and a great player of both Settlers of Catan and dominos.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that I did not cover?
Overall, it is not a perfect time for my family, but I am so proud of how well I have kept moving forward in positivity. I lose my mind at moments but I am quick to tell myself to make amends, move one, and do better in the next moment. Giving ourselves grace right now to not be Pinterest moms and to find more joy than productivity, at least as much as your anxiety can handle.
I have loved keeping my son safe and trying to make this time as happy as possible without all the world’s judgement. I am excited that no one will ask me ever again, “What do you do all day as a stay at home mom?” Now they ALL are getting a taste of being a stay at home parent. It is NUTS!