Help, I’m Homeschooling, or Schooling at Home! (Part 2)

Who would have guessed that when schools shut down this past March, they would be shut for the remainder of the school year? Fast forward several months, and most are not re-opening in-person this fall.  Administrators and teachers are doing their best to provide a safe and nurturing environment for the children amidst a pandemic which will keep most students learning remotely. But what about parents? Other than maintaining a sense of humor, what are some of the considerations as the new school year begins? 

For most families, this means schooling at home. The children remain enrolled at their current school.  Parents are receiving guidance from their county district, school, and teachers. Students receive materials and take lessons online with their teachers.

Are you homeschooling? Technically, no. Your child’s school or district is responsible for providing the curricula, teaching, and record keeping. Most Maryland school districts are still providing meals for eligible students, and devices for children who need them. 

One of the most challenging aspects for many families is space for each child to attend class and complete assignments. It is helpful for each child to have a designated “school space.” It does not need to be set up like a classroom, and it might have to be transitioned into the meal room in the evening, but having a special space, equipped with necessary supplies, will help your child maintain focus and a sense of normalcy. A private area might be unachievable, but a simple partition made of three taped file folders could create a similar feel. There are many other tips on time and family management as well as emotional wellbeing in my earlier article.

However, one of the greatest needs right now is grace – for yourself, for your children, and for your children’s teachers and school. COVID has added unanticipated challenges requiring adaptation from all.   

What is homeschooling then and how is it different? Homeschooling means the child has been unenrolled from school.  Many parents are making the choice to homeschool their children, but there are many important factors to consider:

  • Notification – Families must notify their child’s school at least 15 days before switching to homeschooling.
  • Responsibility – According to Maryland law, parents must “provide regular, thorough instruction in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age.” This does not mean you need to use the same materials. There are myriad curricula options for purchase.
  • Finances – Switching to homeschooling means the family becomes responsible for all costs, including books and materials, software, and more. Usually, children can no longer participate in school activities or receive school related services such as lunch services. 
  • Organization – Families must maintain a portfolio of their child’s work, submit to an annual review by either the school system or an approved homeschool umbrella program, record grades, and issue graduation diplomas. 

What steps should families take who are considering the option of homeschooling? 

  1. First is to read the code of Maryland as it pertains to homeschooling. It is not long, and it describes the state’s and the parent’s responsibilities.
  2. Second is to research the pros and cons.  A helpful resource is the Maryland Homeschool Association (MDHSA).
  3. Finally, connect with experienced families. They can answer questions about curriculum, socialization, and much more.  MDHSA provides a listing of local groups and resources. 

Paying for your Future – Four things to consider

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While the world’s attention at the moment is on the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is healthy and wise to still think about future goals. Some of you are planning to head to college, technical school, or trade school in the near future. For many, school acceptances are due soon. Whether continuing your education means living away from home, commuting, or learning online from your home, it is important to consider the impact the cost of your education will have on your future. Here are four points to think about when making decisions about your educational future. 

How do I make a wise purchasing decision?

There are many components to making an education choice, but it is important to consider it from a purchasing perspective. If you were planning to buy a car, what are some of the considerations you need to make?  You will want to answer questions such as, “Why do I want it?” “What will I use it for?” “Is the price a good value for me?” and, “What else will I need to pay for once I’ve made my decision?” These and others are some of the same questions you should be asking, and answering, before making a costly education decision. Think about why you plan on going to college and weighing the pros and cons. Set a game plan for yourself by listing all your goals as well as how you plan on achieving those goals, which can ultimately put things into perspective. 

What are my educational choices and costs?

There are many educational program choices one can make regarding their future. For example if you like to work with your hands, you might be interested in going to a trade school to become a chef, licensed electrician, or contractor. If that’s not the path for you, going to a college may be a better option. If you want to pursue a college degree you may have to consider financial options. For example, an in-state public university is usually a less expensive option than a private university. Choosing to start at a community college and transferring to a four-year program is another cost-effective option to consider. The University of Maryland offers a 2+2 option, granting transfers to four-year UMD system universities for students after completion of a community college degree. 

While much depends on student loan structure, (see below) for every $10,000 you borrow to attend school, you will pay roughly $100 each month in loan payments after you leave. It is wise to research the expected income potential of your career choice to make sure you are not overpaying. Student loan debt can affect other life goals, such as marriage or buying your own home.

How do student loans work?Friends People Group Teamwork Diversity

Federal direct subsidized loans are the most common type of student loan. The government is the lender, and also pays the interest while the student is in school. Payments usually start within six months after graduation or when the student leaves school. Borrowers have many loan repayment choices. Loan criteria, choices, and payback options are highly individualized, so it is crucial to carefully review accurate student loan resources and understand interest and repayment terms

What are good sources of funds? 

Financial aid officers at your school of choice will inform you of student loan choices. However, don’t overlook the thousands of smaller dollar scholarships and grants offered by community organizations and businesses. It is worthwhile to research those opportunities and take time to apply. School guidance counselors are excellent resources for scholarship information and can also advise you on federal and state financial aid programs. Money earned from evening, weekend, and summer jobs can also go a long way to reducing loan burdens.

Selecting an educational path can be exciting, but it is smart to consider how choices affect your financial future.  

 

 

 

Resources for Personal Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Risk Management Solution Crisis Identity Planning ConceptIt was March 12 when we found out that offices were closed, and the following day that schools would be closed in our state.  At that time, it was supposed to be for a two-week period, but now we have moved beyond that. While many are still working, others are laid off or furloughed. Even if you are still working, you may experience fluctuations in your income or even unexpected bills. Since the beginning, I have been keeping a list of resources shared by my friends and colleagues during this difficult time. 

Now is the time to share them with you.

Several government agencies have pulled together resources for consumers. The list is not comprehensive and focuses primarily on finance related topics. An important note is that the federal tax filing deadline is extended from April 15 until July 15. Now if you are expecting a refund, you probably should not wait to file your taxes. You should also check the filing requirements for your state. Maryland residents have a filing date of July 15.  Click on the links below for government resources in response to COVID-19.

Cooperative Extension has responded with resources available for food preservation, nutrition, mindfulness, and finance. Most of the links provided will focus on finances, as that is the role I serve with Extension. The most important item to remember is that you need a plan. Figure out your current situation and develop a plan in case your situation changes. Always seek credible resources for information. There are people out there that are trying to take advantage of you in this challenging environment. The Cooperative Extension resources listed below are credible. You should also check the Extension resources available in your state.

I am a member of the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (NEAFCS).  The organization has pulled together a list of resources around emergency preparedness, cleaning, hand washing, and food safety, family resources, and financial wellness resources.  Click here for its COVID-19 resources.

Some parents are looking for free resources to teach your children at home. 

Colleagues have sent me other resources as pdf files.  If you are interested in them, please email me at jketterm@umd.edu.

It is important to keep in mind that this situation is temporary. Stay positive as this will pass. During difficult times, you need to take care of your mental and physical well-being. Take time to unplug and stop reading all of the negative coverage.  

Stay healthy.

Surprise, You’re Homeschooling! 

Cute girl playing on a computerMarch 2020 has turned quarantine into a verb and millions of parents into homeschool teachers. Welcome to the COVID-19 surprise school-at-home event. The challenges are many, but not insurmountable. As a former homeschooling parent myself, I’ve compiled tips and resources for those finding themselves on the educational front lines for the first time.

Start easy and take activity breaks. Sherrie, an occupational therapy practitioner and experienced homeschool parent, suggests focusing on a few selected subjects as you get started, knowing that you can build as needed. “Definitely build in movement breaks between subjects to improve concentration and regulate mood,” she advises.

Decide what works best for you and your family. Include your children in making a schedule that everyone understands. You don’t need to imitate the school environment in your home. Some might prefer a relaxed learning environment, others thrive on a detailed routine. Regardless, communicating a workable plan is important for you as a parent, and for your children, to have a sense of structure.

Learning takes many forms.  This could also be a good opportunity to have your child learn about topics of personal relevance. For example, your kids could research your family’s cultural heritage, investigate a special interest, or learn a new skill. Ask them to research how math, writing, and science are used by people in different careers. They can take notes and tell you about their findings during meal time. Older children can plan and prepare meals. Double win!

Young caucasian girl hands mixing cookie dough in a bowlDon’t stress about covering every topic. Make the most of the extra time with your children. Talk to them about their interests, hopes, fears. Bill, an educator and homeschool dad says, “Always remember you’re teaching children, not subjects.” You can weave character, values, and faith into lessons and conversations. For learning responsibility, teamwork, and skills, Tina, with 28 years of homeschooling experience, suggests kids be included in daily chores.

Help!  I have toddlers and older children! Becky has experience to share. She suggests setting the younger children up with a fun activity they can do on their own, and is only taken out during “school time.” This makes them feel special and included in the learning process, while still allowing you to work with your older children. 

Other tips:

  • If you have a safe environment, take regular breaks from screen time and get outside. Alternate watching kids with a neighbor, if possible. 
  • Working from home? Schedule individual time for each child as possible, so they know when they can have your attention. Set clear expectations. 
  • There are many safe and helpful internet resources available. 

What if I don’t have WiFi or my own computer? Some schools are handing out WiFi “hot spots,” and many utilities are offering free services during school shutdowns.  Check with providers in your area if you don’t have home WiFi. 

Parents and caregivers, most importantly, cut yourselves some slack. You know yourselves, your family, and your kids, the best. There is no one right way to educate your children. The most important consideration now is your family’s health and wellness.  

For information on helping your kids deal with the changes and stress caused by COVID-19, check out last week’s blog post on managing Coronavirus anxiety.