Homeschooling / Unschooling

Self isolating? Please don’t create a school at home!

My children have never stepped foot inside a school. At 11, 9, 6, and 4 years of age, the most they know about school is what they see on TV or read in books.

Sometimes, they ask me why everyone doesn’t homeschool? Why can’t they? They think life without school is the greatest and wish everyone was able to try it.

Turns out, due to covid-19, that’s exactly what’s happening right now. Many families are now facing at least a few weeks of life without school, likely months. Er… self isolation is not exactly what they had in mind when they said everyone should try it thanks very much!

The current situation is so far from ideal. In fact, it’s downright scary. Suddenly many people are home with their children all day every day, when usually they would be in school. As we all know, that can mean a whole range of difficulties as lives need to be shuffled around to provide care. Not only that, parents are now faced with providing an education for their children, for an unknown amount of time? All while dealing with health and financial worries? No wonder people are stressed!

If you are used to having that part of life taken care of by school, it can seem very daunting. But fear not! With the education side of things, we can help!

Many children all over the world are educated at home and thriving. Learning doesn’t stop the moment you walk out of the school gates. It may seem like an insurmountable task to attempt to replace school, especially with no instruction manual or time to prepare, and that’s because it is!

But here’s the thing…

You absolutely do not have to do that. Whether you’re a temporary homeschooler, or you plan to do this long term, there is no need to convert your home into a miniature school. In fact, it’s much better if you don’t.

“What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children’s growth into the world is not that it is a better school than the schools, but that it isn’t a school at all.” -John Holt

School was created to deliver a large amount of information to a large amount of children, in the most efficient manner. Your home is not a school. It is a place where your children should feel safe, and loved, and known. It does not have the same goal as school! There is room for individuality, for unique interests, for hands on meaningful learning. Your job is to recognize that.

Some things to remember during this time…

1. This is not homeschooling

First up, I want to be clear that what is happening in no way resembles actual homeschooling, that many of us have already been doing with our children for years. Homeschooling is rich in experiences in the world. We are so often out of the home. We meet up with friends, we take classes, we go to museums and libraries and art galleries. Forced isolation due to a pandemic in no way resembles that life, and we are feeling it too. We are all in a unique situation here and we need to find ways to make that as enjoyable as possible. What we do have is lots of experience in being with our children all day every day, supporting their interests, and providing an environment that encourages curiosity and learning. With that, we can help.

2. Everyone is in the same situation

School is not continuing on without you. Everyone is in the same boat here. There is no need to worry about being left behind. It is ok to take a break and focus on other things. A few weeks or even months are unlikely to matter in the scheme of things.

“Really, truly, very little is learned in a few months of school that is remembered over time. There is even evidence that the skills schools are most concerned about—literacy and numeracy skills—are actually more deeply learned in out-of-school activities than in school. Despite popular concern about the so-called “summer slide” in academic skills, research indicates that reading ability and mathematical reasoning skills may actually improve more rapidly during summer vacation from school than during school months. When children are reading for fun or solving real-world problems that involve math, they acquire these skills more deeply, in ways that make sense and are remembered, than when they are doing them as school assignments. ” –Peter Gray

3. Learning is all around

Learning is SO much more than a school curriculum. It is a part of life that cannot be avoided. Your children are learning all the time, whatever they are doing. It is selling them short to only place value on academic learning that looks like school. Use this time to notice all the ways your children learn through life, how they learn, and what they are curious about. It’s an awesome way to get to know them better and expand your view of education. From baking a cake, to playing a board game, to building lego, to telling you a story, learning is always there. When you begin to notice it, it takes the pressure off trying to force it. Make it your mission to recognize learning, in all forms.

4. ‘Schooling’ doesn’t take a whole day

Not all of the time spent in school involves formal learning of curriculum. Actually, you might be shocked how little learning fits into a day. There is time for taking the roll and other administrative tasks, managing behaviour, assemblies and notices, tidying up, fetching books, lining up, and lots more. So, there is no reason to expect your children to sit down from 9am until 3pm doing book work. That’s just unrealistic, stressful, and boring. Even if you feel some formal work is important, or the school has sent home things to complete, please do not require extended periods of sitting and completing rather boring looking worksheets. Children need to move! Requiring them to override their natural instincts will mean everyone is angry and frustrated and this will be a horrible experience.

5. Life is not divided into subjects

Nowhere else but in school is life divided up into subjects. In reality, the things we spend our time doing cover a range of ‘subjects’. Things like math and reading can either be dry and boring, or they can be weaved in through a child’s interests and spark joy. If you just focus on what your unique child is interested in, the rest will come, and it will be so much more meaningful.

“We live without subjects, in a world where life is not separated into neat little pieces but instead swirls and flows together in ways we could never design.” –Rue Kream

6. Emotional intelligence matters too

School may be focused mainly on academics, but that is not the only thing that matters. Social and emotional learning are incredibly important and something we learn first in the home. This could really be a great time to focus on that, especially when there are sure to be a lot of big emotions coming up.

Things to focus on:

  • Identifying and naming emotions
  • Listening without judgement
  • Empathising, validating, and comforting
  • Getting comfortable with children expressing big emotions without telling them to stop
  • Problem solving
  • Your own emotional regulation
  • Family connection

There are some great parenting books to help with this. You can find my favourites here. Or browse my parenting articles here.

7. This is a chance to do something different

We are all aware by now that school has it’s limitations. We know that there needs to be radical change in the way we do things. Children are increasingly stressed, overwhelmed, and unmotivated. And schools aren’t even producing the results they aim for! So why would we attempt to recreate that at home? Now is your chance to do something different! Use this time to let your child’s education unfold in the way that they need, rather than dictating a one-size-fits-all curriculum to them. Who is the person sitting in front of you? How do they learn? What are they interested in? What lights them up?

“Watch your child’s eyes, what makes them go dull and dead, what makes them brighten, quicken, glow with light. That is where learning lies.” -Carol Black

8. Rhythm, not routine

I’ve seen that colour coded schedule for school at home during isolation floating around the internet too. To be honest, it makes me stressed just looking at it. Does that look fun to you? Do we want our children to think learning is boring and just something we have to ‘get through’? Or would we rather them want to learn? To be fascinated by life, curious, and self-motivated? Strict schedules are not likely to get you the latter. Opt for a rhythm that suits your family instead. Having a flow to the day can be comforting and everyone knows what to expect, but also adaptable enough to leave room for interesting tangents! Our current rhythm looks like this, but figure out what suits your family!

In our family, we unschool. Put simply, that means educating our children through life, without a curriculum. It looks very different from school, and it requires a large amount of trust and unlearning what we have been taught about what education looks like and how children learn. In a perfect world we could just flick a switch and suddenly be free of our school conditioning and appreciate all types of learning. In reality, that kind of deschooling takes a long time!

It’s understandable that some of these ideas may feel uncomfortable when you are accustomed to school. That’s ok! Go slowly. Do what you feel is right. The priority right now is a peaceful home. That’s unlikely to be achieved when a parent is feeling pressured in either direction (to recreate school, or to ditch it entirely!). What I really hope is just that you will feel encouraged to prioritize what feels good, listen to your children’s needs, not feel pressured to recreate a school in your home, and expand your idea of what an education is.

The first task in this time of uncertainties is just for everyone to feel safe and enjoy each other’s company. That’s enough for now. There are also so many things you can do at home with your children, and I look forward to sharing my ideas with you soon. Stay tuned.

How are you doing so far?


Margot Hirst
March 25, 2020 at 9:06 pm

Thank you for this amazing summary, Sara! We are lifelong homeschoolers too and I have been struggling to sort out all my thoughts and emotions surrounding this complex time. Your article does a wonderful job of explaining what I think a lot of us need to hear right now, both intentional and accidental homeschoolers.

March 26, 2020 at 6:18 am

I love your suggestions on how families can utilize the time given to them. It is a complex time to be living through, but it is definitely a time to initiate some change, and I think parents and kids will grow closer together if they spend their time at home doing creative activities and just being free. 🙂

May 23, 2020 at 7:32 pm

you’re such a beautiful writer, i love what you talk about, thank god there are people like you making such an effort with children, focussing on intent, learning, unlearning

April 1, 2021 at 1:58 am

You perfectly presented your idea. When I started reading your article, I was very skeptical, because I understood that school is not only subjects and teachers, but also teaching a child to behave in society. But now I understand that you thought about that too. I absolutely love it and now I understand that learning at home can be a pleasure, not torture for parents and children. You can say that you opened my eyes to the fact that my children can study with interest at home. Now I want my children to study only at home.

October 21, 2021 at 9:12 am

I love this pandemic opportunity. The sad thing is that schools continue to send work and even if thee child completes it quickly, there are still Zoom meetings, which makes the children tied to the computer and school all day. Also, how parents complain about being with their children all day. I hope that in this beautiful opportunity, people learn to be families again.

Leave a Reply