To master home school, keep it fun and focus on the basics


One day your kids are in class—and the next they’re on the couch, refusing to hand back your phone, while you attempt to guide them through a math lesson. Welcome to pandemic home school.

With families forced into isolation because of coronavirus, we turned to one of the most experienced parents in the field for advice on how to run a home school. Vicki Bentley educated 17 kids—her own, plus some of her 50 foster children—at home and now works as a group services director at the Home School Legal Defense Association. She’s also a curriculum consultant, offering materials and home school plans. Here are her top takeaways.

Ground rules

  • Your home school vibe is fun, safe, and chill. This is a learning lifestyle, not forced work. When your kid is challenged, you share in her struggle.
  • Don’t fight with your kid over academics. Your relationship is the priority. If your kid aces remote studies over these months and hates you, you’ve lost. Any damage will extend beyond the pandemic.
  • You are not a teacher. Teachers manage classrooms and choose their lessons. You’re a coach-facilitator. To that end, ask yourself what your goals are for these months. “She’s in second grade” is not a goal. Pick what you want her to learn, and be flexible about how that happens.

Key details

  • One hour of home school is equal to three hours at school, so two to three hours a day is plenty.
  • Math and reading need almost daily practice. Most other subjects can be covered anytime. So if you’re overwhelmed, do history now and science over the summer, or alternate days or weeks.
  • Switching between subjects is harder at home. “There’s a synergistic effect when you don’t need to keep starting and stopping,” Bentley says.
  • You’re overwhelmed because you’ve been tossed a curriculum that you didn’t choose and that may clash with your kid’s learning style. Traditional home schooling is easier, because parents choose materials they like and that fit their kids’ needs.

Read also: Tips from parents on helping children study at home during COVID-19 outbreak

Pro tips

  • Dip your toe in slowly. See how your kid does with assigned work. “Maybe you start with some language arts—perhaps some reading and grammar, and that’s it,” Bentley says. Then, maybe next week, add in math. Or not.
  • You don’t need to cram in home school during your workday. You could home school three evenings a week and on weekends.
  • Group learn. With multiple kids, set a time for math and reading and move among children. For everything else, teach to the level of the oldest, Bentley says. “Pick what you want your oldest kid to do in science or social studies, and everyone does the same thing,” she says. “Let the younger ones ride the mental bus to their own mental bus stop. And they’re gonna hop off. And you will know they have hopped off the bus.” Adapt assignments as needed.


  • Resistance is a symptom of a problem. “It’s often because the work is difficult on some level,” Bentley says. “Kids will rarely say ‘This is too hard for me.’ They say ‘I don’t want to do this,’ or ‘I don’t like this.’ ” Sleuth out the underlying problem. For example, an auditory learner might need information explained verbally first.
  • What about complaints of “This is boring”? Imagine if someone handed you a dry, uninteresting book and forced you to read it and write a paper about it. That’s how your kid feels. Loop in personal relevance. Is there another foreign language she would rather study? Is he unexcited by fractions but keen to repaint his room? Does her love of film extend to Civil War documentaries?

Read also: Studying from home: Seven online learning platforms for students

When things fall apart

  • It’s fine. These months might not be an academic boon. No harm will come to your kids. Instead:
  • Read. A lot. Read with them, read to them, and talk about what they read. “Don’t quit reading aloud to kids because they learned how to read themselves,” Bentley says. “A child’s receptive vocabulary is much higher than their reading vocabulary, so you can read to the level of older kids.” Ask them to compare two newspaper articles. Turn on Audible.
  • Do activities that reinforce learning. Go on online field trips; plan and plant a garden; do a home renovation project; cook every recipe in a cookbook; or launch a small business. Have kids play games with numbers, money, and points. More of Bentley’s ideas are here and here.
  • Master one subject. Consider picking just one course that you think you and your kid can rock for a month. Many plug-and-play courses are available. Too many, in fact—the options are overwhelming. Consider Khan Academy, Power Homeschool, and the art curriculum Meet the Masters.

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