New to Learning at Home? Start Here:

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
Mar 18, 2020 / 0 comments

Recently, because of the COVID-19 virus and its implications for education, I was interviewed by Matt Villano for his CNN article on How 'regular school' parents can homeschool their kids. The article is packed with experts sharing interesting information for parents, and he included my advice on getting kids outside (you know that is a passion of mine!). Matt’s questions spurred me to write about learning outside of a physical school, in a variety of ways. 

Of course, it isn't easy to be a parent right now, what with working remotely (and with taking your classes online, if you are attending university). You've just added layers of complexity to daily life.

Here are my best tips for parents just starting with learning at home

New to Learning at Home? Start Here:

The most important things to keep in mind, when starting learning at home

Kids are probably really scared, and not sure what is happening (like all of us). The most important things are to be playful and live as much with joy as possible, and to keep a routine and positive attitude toward and during this unique time in our lives.

How can you introduce learning in daily life? 

You are already living it! Expand upon it, discuss it, listen to your kids. As with travel, the world is a much more interesting place with kids and their insights!

Common mistakes parents often make when educating at home

People often think of homeschooling as schooling at home, which is an extraordinarily useless mindset. You don't need to get your kid into a desk or sitting at the kitchen table all day, completing an academic schedule you thought would most closely mimic their school days. The world is amazing...learn from it! Don't fill your days with hours of workbooks, study sheets, or academic chores. 

There are SO many ways to learn. Explore the outdoors, all the while asking questions and discovering new things.

Grow seeds in little cartons in the windows; how do the sun and water affect growth? 

Learn math through cooking and baking together, or by playing a videogame together (our daughter learned math, statistics, history, culture, typing, reading, and appropriate paths of communication from playing Wizard101 together with me online). 

Play math by giant and tiny steps: in the yard, take 2 x 2 giant steps; 1/4 a giant step is a tiny step, etc., to reach an end point.

What about Unschooling? 

Unschooling is interest-led learning, and even temporary home educators can utilize much of the unschooling philosophy of being interested in life, and learning! That said, it isn't for everyone, especially if your day is filled with working remotely and/or taking online classes yourself. But there is much to glean from this method of lifelong learning.

Our daughter, always unschooled, was interested in ancient Egypt when she was smaller, so together, we learned about it through the lenses of: math (abacus: make one!), sociology, archaeology, language, literature, psychology, religion, science, architecture, clothing arts/textiles, phenomenology, history, art, cooking, hydrology, going through the mummification process online at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, watching videos, etc. We made a mummified chicken, wove and smashed reeds to make papyrus, drew heiroglyphs, created a scale model in legos of an Egyptian monument, wrote books for the library of Alexandria, used the bathtub and different items (rolled up towels, etc.) to recreate the seasonal flooding of the Nile.  

King Tutankhamun, Oriental Institute, U of Chicago

My recommended resource for all kinds of life-learning knowledge? Living Joyfully is an online resource for parents wanting to live joyfully with their children through unschooling. If you're passionate about exploring the world with your children, this site is for you. If you're new to the whole learning at home scenario, this site will help you adapt, adjust, and help your kids enjoy learning.

The importance of schedule/routine

I think it is important for people to have purpose; in school, the traditional routine helps fulfill this need. A schedule can help with this...but get your kid's input! Would it be amazing to include time for legos? Do they want more reading together (or apart)? If you view everything as a learning opportunity, which unschoolers do, then you can have this time period be an incredibly fertile one for their minds and spirits. 

Allow creativity to blossom, through art (SO many museums have virtual tours; the google culture project is amazing!!), designing worlds (lego, video games, drawing), reading (if your library is closed, ebooks and audiobooks), history (it might be all about Loki: myths, current portrayals in movies, books like Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythlogy), etc. 

Here is my Guide to the Best Resources for Learning at Home

Think of this time as a way to learn SO much in a nontraditional way; kids have such a unique worldview that you will end up learning just as much as they do. Don't be the strict teacher; rather, be a guide to learning and experiencing the world together. Ask great questions...and really listen to your kid's answers. Follow up with more questions, and discussion, and play. Unschooling has a concept called strewing, where you strew your house with interesting things, books, musical instruments, movies, etc. Kids can pick and choose from so many cool things to play with and learn from.

Also, don't feel that learning only happens on the schedule or routine you have created or feel that you need to create. If a kid is enjoying something, let them!! Perhaps the only routines you will have are meal prep and meal times, but that is ok! As long as your kids know that SOME things are always the same, they will feel secure. Deschool YOURSELF from traditional ways of thinking. There is no way that an actual school can be recreated at home, so you might as well be playful and have an interesting, memorable time.


This is a tough one for in-person socializing at the moment; it's not like we can go do a day at the park together with other kids, if we are all self-quarantining for safety. Here is where two things come into play: internet, and family time.

Hang out with friends online: discord chats, skype/zoom/gchat/fb video chat times with friends, texting, and (gasp!) actual calling. Kids can play together with their toys and stuffies in front of the computer, if they are young, or connect while playing videogames or listening to interesting podcasts together virtually. Check out Netflix Party to watch things together, while apart.

Family time will be really important for socialization right now. Even if a parent has to work from home, schedule time to do something fun together in the middle of your workday. Then figure out fun things for the evenings: catching up on NatGeo's Lost Cities (one of my VERY favorite shows), movie night (complete with popcorn) with singalongs (we can REALLY belt during Moana), etc. I think this can also go with the importance of routine: not feeling lonely or alone in your worry, as well as something to look forward to.


Some of this I have already mentioned (i.e., ancient Egypt). But parents could think about what their kids would be learning in school at this time, and figure out how to add it to their daily lives in a useful, interesting, and joyful way. If your child's teachers have provided homework, and online learning opportunities, this is a good way to enhance that.

Reframe learning from how YOU learned in school to how interactive and full of resources the world is today, as well as the many, many ways to learn about any given thing.

To increase vocabulary, play the dictionary game (one person picks a word; everyone writes down what they think it means; the person reads them aloud and then everyone votes on what they think it actually means. it is hilarious. We call it stump the wombat because one time the word was wombat and NO ONE got it right!). Read together (including non-fiction!). 

Learn the lyrics from Hamilton and sing them. Delve into history, our national parks, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, and other excellent resources.

Research tree frogs and draw them. Watch penguins explore the zoo,

Start a new craft (snarky cross-stitch? Making bubbles outside? Watching Bob Ross videos and painting?). 

Travel back in time: create an entire village of people from medieval ages, in drawings, legos, or homemade cutout paper dolls; make cardboard swords and armor and design your family crest; illuminate a book like the monks did (we did this, and our daughter (4 at the time) made the cutest little book about a goat that fell into the moat); bake oatcakes in a cast iron skillet.

And more…

We are all worried. Parents are probably worried about working from home AND taking care of their kids, money, accessing food, the health of loved ones, etc. It is important not to be all consumed by the news (still keep up, but don't let it overtake your lives), and also, to keep the overwhelming tsunami of constant breaking news away from your kids. They pick up on tone, as well as content, and it will just make them more worried. We need to focus on nourishing their minds and bodies (and ours!), as well as provide a supportive, loving environment. Talk a lot (about whatever they want!) to show that you listen. Answer questions honestly. Provide an open path of communication.

Remember that parenting is one challenge after another, and this is just a new challenging path to go down together! No one has the answers, but we are all trying our best. In this unique time, listening is key.

Kids (and parents) need alone, quiet time. Perhaps have reading time after lunch, or find ways to disconnect and be quiet.

How are you helping your kids learn at home? Have any pressing questions, or success stories to share?