Homeschooling From Scratch


– by Myriam G Fugere

COVID-19... I’ll bake bread from scratch... no! Actually, instead I will make my own starter for sourdough bread so I don’t need yeast! Oh, another idea! Let’s plant a garden from scratch… actually, let’s build boxes for that garden from scratch first! I can do that! I am a homeschooling mom! But the chaos slowly started to fill the news. As I was packing toilet paper in our suitcases, masks and gloves to protect my family on our journey back from vacationing to Costa Rica, I felt more like a paralysis was overtaking me. It was like I was running a race handicapped by fear as we rushed to get back in time before the borders close down. 

As I started wrapping my head around my new schedule and having my older high school girls at home – one who is graduating this year – it dawned on me that for everyone else this will be a challenge that I have faced before. 

We are all entering the first week of the COVID-19 “no-school” season. Trust me, I know how some of you feel. I have been there and I am very familiar with the unknown that children can bring to our lives.

My name is Myriam and I called this post “Homeschooling From Scratch” because that is exactly how I started, and that probably reflects how you feel as you start this first week of “school” with your children.

Let me tell you a little about my story and how I started from scratch just like you.

I am a mother of 6 and have been homeschooling for about 5 years now. I am now the director of a small homeschool community and am in the process of publishing a classical curriculum. I started homeschooling not because this was a choice for me or because I was aspiring to be a homeschooler, but because I didn’t feel I had a choice. 

Let me explain. About 7 years ago my husband and I adopted 3 beautiful girls, ages 4, 5 and 9 from the system. We already had 3 biological kids who were going to public school and so I enrolled my girls as well. After some time, the girls were not settling very well, but we thought: summer is coming, we will have some time to bond. Summer arrived and we had a great time together, then September rolled around and I sent them to school full of hope that this year would be better. Well, it was worse! Adjusting to new teachers, attaching to us at home and managing them at school became so difficult.

So, as our second summer together was passing by, I deeply felt the pull from God asking me to speak to a friend of mine about homeschooling. After our conversation, she looked at me and compassionately said, “I will pray for you my friend, this is a hard decision”. I told her, “Don’t do that! I really don’t want to homeschool!” But as the last week of August arrived, I was arguing with God like Moses did about not being equipped to lead Israel out of Egypt, arguing that I don’t have a proper education, that English is my second language, that I have no experience. God kept pushing me toward this role and I did not have any choice but to say “OK, OK, I will do it.” So I did! Not knowing what I was throwing myself into. With kids in grades 1, 2, 6 and 7, I made the jump.

Today, with the first at-home schooling week ahead, you may be feeling the same way as we all face the unknown, like deers-in-headlights, wondering how we are going to survive this without losing our minds or looking on our maps for the closest LCBO location!

Well, the good thing is that I still have a fair amount of hair left on my head, and so I want to offer some encouraging thoughts that have kept me going and have given me glimpses of hope during those hard first weeks… and continue to this day. 

Are you ready??? 3 things you can stick to:

1. Stick to God
First, we all have to admit and realize the emotional toll this whole situation is placing on us. It started for me last week, with us wondering if we could make it back from Costa Rica. Safe now, but I feel my anxious heart has taken a beating. So stick to God! “We are twice armed if we fight with faith.” – Plato

Call upon his name in the morning, noon, and night. Pray to make it through today. He is good, he knows how incapable we are on our own. He whispers solutions when we are stuck, try it out!

Believe he has appointed you for such a time as this. God has placed you right now, in your home with your kids, so talk about him: how great he is, how faithful and full of compassion he is. That he is a God of second chances, that he has given your family each other. 

Tell your kids about virtue, explain what it is. Choose each of the fruits of the Spirit and tell your kids about them: patience, kindness, love, joy, peace, etc. Have conversations about them and draw pictures of what they look like. Read the Bible together. The Children’s Book of Virtue by William J. Bennett is a great one! When was the last time you read Bible stories with your kids? Go ahead and do that!

2. Stick to a schedule
Make a schedule! Stick to it as much as you can and plan accordingly. Schools have schedules, teachers plan their classes... now the house should have a schedule and a plan too.

Wake up before your kids. You have a new job! In this new job, you will have the opportunity to become the leader of your “minions”. For that, you will need to take care of yourself first. Do your hair. Dads, shave your beards. Mamas, if you used to put makeup on to go to work, cake it! Be ready for your day. This step is very important for you as you will feel in control of the minimum – your own hygiene. Be ready for your kids because they need your attention and they will put you to the test. They want to know that they can trust you as their leader. 

Have a family meeting with all the kids and your spouse to make a weekly calendar and a general daily calendar. Involve their ideas, but lead the way with the non-negotiable tasks. For example, some non-negotiables in our family are bedtimes, chores and screen time.

  • Choose family activities: movie night, game night, have a fire pit outside
  • Carve out alone activities: reading, nap or quiet time. Periods in the day that you can count on for the house to be quiet should be mandatory. I am an introvert, so I really need quiet time.
  • Establish time for school (work): kids and teachers tend to work best in the morning, but choose whatever works best for your schedule as long as kids know when it’s supposed to happen.
  • Use skill learning for the afternoon: by “skill learning” I mean exercises like learning to bake, stitch, paint or draw. Watch a YouTube tutorial and do it with your kids. Children tend to do the activities their parents do. If you are on your phone, they think they need to be on a phone. If you read, they will too. If you work with them, they will too. For boys, learn to drill a hole with dad, or to nail in a piece of wood. Play instruments, do science activities. These are just ideas, every family has different interests.

If kids know what to expect and they see the activities are on the calendar, it will make them feel safe because you have a plan and they were part of some decision making. Consider that this is also a trying time for them and they need to adjust. They will have feelings of their world also being flipped upside down. Have compassion for what they are feeling and going through.

Another important step is to make your kids aware that you have your school too. They need to respect that you have to work as well, but now it's from home. If rules are communicated, and a schedule is established, that is half the battle.

If you were previously commuting, use that as a work hour in your new schedule. You will need to work as a team. If you have a spouse, tag-team each other's time schedules: “you take morning, I take afternoons with the kids”.

Have a daytimer or schedule on the wall in your home so kids can refer to it and you can keep them accountable to it. If they want to watch TV at 1:00pm and it is not on the schedule, they may not even ask. Or if they want to try, you can tell them to look at the schedule to see if it is TV time right now. That will eliminate a lot of frustrations, especially with devices. 

3. Stick to the academic basics
If you are intending to do school – actual school – stick to the basics. What are the basics? Literature and arithmetic. Minimalism is the talk on YouTube right now. Keep it simple.

Choose a book with good content and read to your kids or with them by taking turns. Read aloud to them. I have found that reading to my kids has been a great way to pull them out of their moody or fighting spirits (or my own moody and fighting spirit). I pick up an illustrated book and tell them to come cuddle on the couch. If they don’t want to cooperate, I go and just start reading and most of the time they get pulled into the story. If they don’t? Well, then it is a really good way for me to cool down, take my mind off of what’s going on and start fresh. Jesus taught with parables and stories, let’s practice that with our kids. 

The other reason why I would choose literature as a core subject is that your children are at an age where reading can either be forgotten or kept alive. Good content will teach virtue and can teach every other subject. If you have older students, classics have great content and great grammar. My 18 year-old daughter has found Little Women absolutely captivating, and all my girls watched the newly released movie and had great conversations about the characters and the story. So, remember: good content!

You need to know the main area of math your child is learning right now at school and stick to the basics. Start with arithmetic (meaning, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division). Use flash cards which you can make if you don’t already have any.

Work their memory and make it fun. Use Lego, try baking for fractions or cutting Play Doh, and use money. Don’t create a goal of having them learn everything by next week. Just have fun for now.

I hope this little collection of tips that I found helpful in my journey will give you something to work from and that you will try it out! 

Your kids will teach you so much about yourself, and God teaches us through adversity. The great Socrates stated, “True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.”

Take this season to ground yourself, to root with family, re-center your priorities in what is truly important, discover the beauty of just breathing and taking in small moments of peace with your children. And gain wisdom by strongly leading them into understanding God’s world.

You were meant to homeschool from scratch for such a time as this.