The Realistic Guide to Homeschooling for Busy Parents

Making time for reading each day is a low-key goal that works for all ages. Photo by Josh Applegate/Unsplash
Making time for reading each day is a low-key goal that works for all ages. Photo by Josh Applegate/Unsplash
3/24/20 - By Jennifer Coe

For parents with children coming home during these coronavirus school closings, there is little time to prep mentally or physically for homeschooling. So let's have a real discussion about how you can make this work at your home where you might also be trying to complete work for your usual job, manage younger kids (and pets), and run a home and all that entails.

I've been homeschooling my boys for six years, and I'm happy to share my homeschooling tips. Please also know that ​no one is expecting you to replace your student's teacher, nor to be homeschooling for a full school day. Let's figure out some realistic goals and tactics.


Children are going to feel confused and even a little anxious about what is going on in the world. Before sitting down to that kitchen table with the kids each Monday, I do strongly suggest a family meeting to formalize a loose homeschooling plan. It can be quick. Spend maybe 15-minutes as a family to discuss what is going on, why they are home, and why it’s important the family work together to make the next few weeks (or months) work.

Obviously, their education will be a major part of this discussion as well and you’ll want to establish some general expectations for school going forward. Think through questions like: Did the school send work home? How much? How much do you expect them to get done? How do you expect them to balance their time while they are home?

Some things to consider as you formulate (or adjust) your plan:

  • Are your kids old enough to start and complete work on their own?

  • How much work do you and your spouse need to do during day?

  • What are some realistic goals of what they can do and what you have time to do with them?

RELATED: 25 Exercise Games for Kids

Create a comfy space for your children to complete work, and yes, PJs are OK! Photo by Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

Homeschooling Tips for Non-Homeschoolers​

This sudden homeschooling experience, whether it lasts for six weeks or six months, will be unlike anything you've ever done. Don't try to recreate school at home. Rather, try to find what works for your family and the rhythms of your day as they change over this strange, strange situation. If you find yourself getting frustrated with goofing off or uncooperative kids, stop and try again another time. When you need a concentrated amount of time to work on your computer or take a phone call, don't feel guilty about turning to Netflix (bonus points if it's a great documentary but not necessary!) Remember, none of this needs to be dull. Try planting seeds, baking, or disassembling something to see what's inside. That's all learning time.

And...just spend time together. 

Definitely reach out, too. If you need to talk to another adult or get advice or just vent, I highly recommending calling a friend or family member asap. They might be struggling, too, and really appreciate hearing from you, or they might have a new perspective to offer.

Homeschooling Schedule for Non-Homeschoolers

Schedules are great for creating some structure in the day. But schedules should be made to be broken. Life happens. Maybe kids get fascinated with a certain topic. Maybe your meeting runs long—or maybe everybody needs to take a dance break. Go with it! But you can always return to your schedule to help stop fights or restore order. 

A timer is another useful tool we homeschoolers know can help with transitions between activities, ending screentime, or creating an easy end goal for completing work. 

Young children (ages 1-6): Toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergartners are likely used to a certain routine in the morning that you may want to maintain for the most part, especially if this drags on as long as expected. If they normally attend a school, they might be emailed a packet for them to accomplish or be provided a list of suggested activities. A packet, of course, will not fill up an entire day. Set aside a time to do this work (together), but really, it can be ANY time of the day—morning, noon, or even after dinner—that works within your own daily or work schedule.

Elementary-age children (ages 7-11): Kids in the upper elementary school grades will probably have a bit more work and assignments from their school, but still, I believe two, short learning installments a day will work for most. Sitting in your kitchen for 4 hours is no fun and you will get uh, resistance if you do it that way! Allow them to break it up. Remember, being home is weird for them, too. Last tip? Insist on some kind of physical exercise for everyone, and give them some basic chores, too, whether that is helping to set the table or sweeping up the floor. Schedule FaceTime for kids and their friends and allow them to "veg" at certain times as it will help them be happy and contented with this unique situation.

Middle School and High School (ages 12 and up): Your tweens and teens likely have more assignments, of course. I allow my high school homeschooler to break his work up into two 2-hour segments, or even after dinner if he needs dad's help with something like chemistry. The biggest goal with the big kids is to be flexible but have expectations.​ They will need to stay connected to friends as well with daily chats, texts, and FaceTime. It will lift their spirits to see friends virtually and help them feel less isolated.

More Ways to Fill Your Homeschooling Days

Besides the nominal amount of traditional schoolwork, kids will probably need more tasks to fill their day or you will be dealing with a frustrated child and a frustrated parent who is trying to get work done on the computer. 

Here are some more ideas to keep kids busy:

  • Online lessons and learning resources (handy tools many homeschoolers turn to);
  • A virtual storytime or podcast can fill a few moments of the day while you shoot off some emails;
  • Helping you straighten up/clean the house. This is a great time for kids to pick up some real-life skills and learn to help out around the house;
  • Quiet playtime. One mom told me that her rule was as long as they played nicely without fighting they could save their work until after dinner. This worked at adding longer windows for her to get her own work done. Another tip: Calling for "playtime." Free play always made it seem extra special to my kids because it was free;
  • Supervised time outdoors. Don’t forget to get outside, with appropriate social distancing, every day. Sunshine and fresh air are important for all of us;
  • Easy arts and crafts (drawing, coloring, paint);
  • Stream virtual yoga or other exercise sessions for kids. Find it on YouTube or our event calendar;
  • Screentime: Even if you don’t usually like to have your kids on screens, this might be the time to loosen things up a bit. The most important thing is we get through these days. Use it as a tool.

RELATED: 100 Awesome Crafts for Kids

Free drawing and free playtime might give you a little quiet time, too! Photo by Pexels

Sample Homeschooling Schedule

Adjust as needed, for the age of kids, for your work schedules, for your family. 

8-9am — Morning Routine:​ Breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed (or stay in PJs - it's OK!)

9-10am —​ Free Play/Work: Start the brain moving. Use non-technology items, such as Legos, blocks, crayons and paper, kinetic sand, play-doh. For older children, have them read from a chapter book. Parents can use this time to check emails, make phone calls, and get their workday going.

10am-12pm —​ School time: Start your day with a family meeting at the table. Get everyone unified on your mission. Allow them to fiddle while you set the expectations for the day by drawing or playing with kinetic sand or something. Parents might need to sit with younger children to walk them through schoolwork. Schooling can be done on the couch, at the table or in a cozy corner, it doesn't really matter. Some children will need headphones to keep them from being distracted by siblings. Have a quick snack at some point.

12pm-1pm —​ Lunch

1pm-2pm —​ Recess: Some sort of recess, preferably physical. Your children will be much more cooperative and happy once they get some energy out. You can go out in your yard, ride bikes, have a quick scavenger hunt, or you can do things inside. Try the Mommy Poppins' Indoor Obstacle Course.

2pm-3pm — ​Art: ​I know some of you are not "artsy" people, but this can really be any hands-on craft or experiment. Just set it up and let them go at it while you can work. Here are some toddler crafts to consider, too.

3pm-4pm —​ Screens: Use technology now, so you can get a break or work in. Stream TV shows, learning sites, anything your kids like.

4pm-5pm —​ Reading time or Quiet play

5pm-5:30pm —​​ Tidy up time /chores 

5:30pm —​ Dinner

Phew, you made it!