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Need help with school assignments? Home school parents offer advice

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With 14,000 public and private school students home for two months to thwart the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Wilson County families faced with the task of educating their children could benefit from the experiences of families who have home-schooled their children for years.

In 2018-19, Wilson County had 567 home schools and 884 home school students, according to the North Carolina Home School Statistical Summary published by the N.C. Department of Administration.

Mary and Aaron Carter have four children ages 8, 11, 13 and 15 currently being educated in their home near the Buckhorn Reservoir. They have one grown child.

“I think right now, it is important for parents to realize that kids have been learning from them all along, that parents and primary caregivers are always the biggest influencer of a child’s life,” Mary Carter said. “I would encourage parents that the No.1 thing that their children are going to learn from them throughout this is how to react in this situation and how to respond to the environment that they have all been thrust in. Moreso than the math lesson, the grammar lesson, the history lesson, years from now kids won’t necessarily remember those, but they will remember the way their parents handled what was going on in their lives right now.”

TIPS TO KEEP IN MIND

“I feel for these parents who, through no decision of their own, now find themselves schooling at home,” said Molly LaHay of Sims, who has home-schooled for 22 years. “Some will have dedicated curriculum to continue with their students while some parents will have more flexibility in their students’ subjects.”

LaHay assembled a short list of tips that parents will find helpful no matter which category they’re in.

• “Evaluate your student’s skills (ironing/laundry/mowing/oil changing) and weaknesses (academic or other categories). Now you have the freedom and time to work on these areas,” LaHay said. “Be creative! Teaching your high schooler how to create Excel spreadsheets will be helpful with formal lab reports such as chemistry. If you also identify their strengths, then you’ll know not to spend as much time in those areas, and you can give them that positive feedback.”

• “Home schooling is not schooling at home. What works in a classroom setting doesn’t have to be what you copy at home,” LaHay said. “It’s OK to sprawl on the floor and read ‘Hamlet’ or work on math problems. You will know if your student is understanding, accomplishing, progressing or needs more time. If she understands the subject ... move on!”

• “Breaks are essential — brain and body breaks,” LaHay said. “Stretch, run around the house. Create awards for everyone working hard and ask your student to come up with something that has value to them as an award. You may be surprised at her feedback. Setting a start and stop time for school time is helpful.”

STAYING ON TASK

Kristen Eckenwiler of Wilson travels the country speaking at home school conferences and has raised five home-schooled kids, three of whom are still home.

“I think the best way to keep them on task is to have a schedule,” Eckenwiler said. “Everybody loves a schedule. So not letting your kids just sleep until noon and not letting them play video games until 3, getting up and getting after it is really the best way that I would say.”

Eckenwiler said parents should eliminate as many distractions as possible.

“In a lot of home school settings, there is no phone, there is no TV, none of that during those scheduled school hours,” Eckenwiler said. “Playing Fortnite for three hours does not make arithmetic happen.”

HOW MANY HOURS?

Eckenwiler said scheduled time should never be more than two or three hours of school.

“I am not saying they would finish it all in that amount of time, but that’s long enough to ask them to be zeroed in and concentrating on stuff,” Eckenwiler said.

Charlene L. Dienes, Challenge II director for Classical Conversations of Wilson, a support group for home school families, said her family spends five or six hours a day home-schooling.

“When we have papers, debates or projects due for our community group, we often spend longer per day,” Dienes said.

LaHay said when her children were elementary age, the school day was done by lunchtime.

“With all teenagers now, we typically start school around 9 a.m. and try to wrap up by 5 p.m.” LaHay said. “However, we have a long lunch break in the middle.”

STUDY TOGETHER OR NOT

Eckenwiler said she just wants to give students the opportunity to concentrate. That may mean having a desk in their room.

“If I have a kindergartner that is perfectly capable of sitting still and concentrating, we can do school with my fifth grader and my 11th grader,” Eckenwiler said. “But I might have a middle schooler who just cannot sit still for five minutes and is just distracting and picking on everyone around the table. If you need to keep your kids separate, then keep them separate.”

“Practically, separation of those ages has worked best for me,” LaHay said. “If I had two students who were close in spelling level or a grade apart, I would give them the same spelling rules but separate and more advanced words for the older one. History is one area where a read-aloud can be done, and then the older student can be assigned more in-depth reading on that or perhaps they can create a fun project that shows their mastery of it.”

PARENTS AND CHILDREN RECONNECT

Home school parents believe that while these are challenging times due to the virus, the situation presents a good chance for parents and their children to be closer together.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for parents to nurture their relationships with their children,” LaHay said. “The more time we spend interacting with our children in a healthy manner only strengthens relationships and fosters development.”

“Enjoy rich discussions about what your kids are learning,” Dienes said.

LaHay said parents should be engaged with not only their children’s studies, but also their lives.

“Have an older child fix lunch for those at home while the parent works with a younger child,” LaHay said. “Then the younger child can help Mom wash dishes, sweep, disinfect the table. One of my children’s new jobs is to disinfect lots of items daily in our home (light switches, cabinet knobs, handles...) and to change daily all hand towels.”

“It really is a gift to get that kind of time with their kids,” Eckenwiler said.

In the Carter home, the children have been studying World War II and how it’s affected families just like this COVID-19 situation.

“They have to memorize a timeline,” Mary Carter said. “My 8-year-old asked me, ‘Is this going to be on our timeline in the future?’ and I said, ‘Yes, Yes. You are living through history right now.’”

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