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During COVID-19, Parents Turn To Homeschoolers For Tips

kids gathered around a table while one reads
Rebekah Amos has homeschooled her kids for several years. Her experience has allowed her to help parents struggling with closed schools. (Photo: Rebekah Amos)

Many parents have been forced to essentially homeschool their children now, since schools are closed due to COVID-19.

Some are turning to parents who’ve been homeschooling by choice, like Rebekah Amos, for advice. Amos has been educating her six kids at home in Waynesboro for the last several years now. 

“We have seventh grade, fifth grade, second grade and kindergarten,” Amos said. “So a lot of different levels and a lot of variety of things that they're learning.”

Amos says she’ll spend most of the day rotating around the house, checking in on each of her kids to make sure they stay on task.

“They’re typical kids…they're not like, ‘oh, we love it.’ They'll sneak off and do legos if they think I'm not going to check on them for a while.”

She’ll also spend time working one-on-one with them, especially when they need extra help with a difficult concept.

“A lot of times they'll come to me with their sheet and say, you know, ‘I don't really know how to do this,’ or ‘I'm not sure what they're asking here,’ or ‘I am supposed to read three pages to you? So you want me to do that now?’ Something like that.”

Homeschooling has been legal in Virginia since 1984, and Amos is one of over 44,000 homeschoolers in Virginia. That is, before COVID-19.

“Parents are a little stressed about this,” said Yvonne Bunn, director of government affairs and homeschool support for the Home Educators Association of Virginia. “Parents have been calling to say, you know, I don't know where to start.”

Bunn says they’re getting about triple the number of usual calls that they’ve had to bring on extra volunteers – known as counselors – to help field inquiries. According to Bunn, counselors are all experienced homeschoolers who’ve been there.

“Any parent can call and talk to us,” Bunn said. “Our office hours are open from 10 to 4, and just ask to speak to a counselor about whatever subject and they'll funnel you to the right person.”

Bunn homeschooled her three children, and that’s how she got involved with the organization. Her advice to parents stuck at home with their kids not by choice? Make learning fun.

“Do  a lot of read-alouds with your children. You could do games and puzzles, arts, crafts, legos,” Bunn said. “Watch documentaries that are on television, or even libraries that have tremendous databases of things that parents can use not only recorded books, books online.”

Another tip? Virtual field trips. A number of zoos, museums and historical sites are offering virtual tours online now. She points to other resources on the organization’s webpage, as well as a Facebook group.

Back at Rebekah Amos’ house, she says homeschooling is a good time to hone in on students’ weaknesses, and provide the one-on-one time they need to get up to speed. But, at the same time, she says “It's okay to say, all right, that's enough multiplication for today, I think we need to just go out on the trampoline.”

Amos says some of the panicked Facebook posts from parents new to teaching their kids at home feel pretty familiar. Things like, kids constantly bugging you for more snacks.

“When I listen to that, I think, ‘oh, yes, that's definitely the life of a homeschooler,’” Amos said. “And it's okay to say the kitchen is closed, and I have to do that or my kids would just eat constantly eight hours a day.”

Amos’ kids have some advice to share, too. “My advice is: start your school early, and finish early,” said Paul, who is 10. 

“My advice is, you should work hard for each subject and take a five-minute break to give yourself a breather,” said Luke, age 12.

Amos says every day isn’t going to be perfect. And that’s OK.

“Be merciful to yourself,” Amos said. “Be forgiving of yourself and don’t be so hard on yourself.”  

Megan Pauly reports on early childhood and higher education news in Virginia
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