Like so many parents across the country, we have tons of questions about how to handle our kids’ time and education during this extended time indoors. So we reached out to homeschooling and working mom Lacy Arrowsmith for some ideas and answers! Lacy was kind enough to share some wisdom, ideas and reminders!
Lacy is a mother of three who is currently homeschooling her two youngest children (ages 4 and 6). She also homeschooled her teenager for part of elementary school. She lives on a small island in the Pacific Northwest and incorporates a variety of learning styles including Waldorf, Charlotte Mason, Montessori and Reggio. She shares about their days of learning and exploring over on her Instagram account @lacy.arrowsmith.
Hi Lacy! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some of the billions of questions that have come up over the last week or two! First things first: Do you recommend jumping in to homeschooling on such short notice or is it something that takes lots of time and preparation?
I think that you can jump into homeschooling as long as that doesn’t mean trying to do ALL the things ALL at once. If you try to do too much, you’ll definitely get overwhelmed and burn out pretty quickly. There are so many things you can do that don’t take a ton of time and preparation that count as homeschooling in my book. Read together and then talk about the story afterward, play a board game, bake and talk about measurement, draw letters, practice equations or sight words with chalk on the sidewalk or step outside and count birds, flowers and leaves. As our kids get older, homeschooling can definitely require more time and preparation, but when we start slow and simple we’re able to build our confidence and discover what makes our kids tick, what gets them excited. That is truly the heart of homeschooling!
On social media we're seeing so many cool crafts and learning activities to do with your kids! Speaking personally, I have some crayons and coloring paper at home, but I was not prepared with say...a craft closet full of felting wool and tissue paper. Do you have any recommendations for things that can be done with stuff just about everyone has laying around the house?
I love this question! Coming from a reluctant crafter, I think it helps to mainly work with what you’ve got. When I think about purchasing a ton of supplies for a craft project or activity, I usually get overwhelmed and just stop there. I think that at the end of the day, kids are able to be creative with just about anything when they’re given the space and opportunity to create. If we expect crayons and paper to be enough, I’ve found that our kids usually believe that too. I also find that when I sit and color with my kids, they are more likely to embrace this simple activity.
As for other activities, lately we’ve been having lots of fun with cardboard and random pantry staples. I cut out simple bird shapes from an old box and my kids had so much fun painting on glue and decorating them with dried beans, lentils, split peas and quinoa. This took about 10 min of prep and I didn’t have to buy a thing! You can also fill a pie pan or shallow dish with quinoa, rice or salt and let your kids “write” in it with their finger. If this still feels like too much, crayons and paper is a perfectly fine option!
As a homeschooling parent, when do you find the time to prepare for your children's day? Do you think your schedule could be adapted for parents who find themselves working at home now?
I usually do an hour or two of prep on the weekend and then a half an hour here and there throughout the week. My kids are still young, 4 ½ and 6, and our days are pretty laid back, so I don’t feel the need to do a huge amount of prep. I know this will change as they get older. I actually run a small public health consulting business from home, so I definitely know how hard it can be to juggle work, planning/preparation and homeschooling. I think that when you find yourself with minimal prep time, due to work deadlines or other life situations, it helps to make note of all the learning that takes place on a regular day at home. I also find that when I fit in a solid homeschool prep time on the weekend, my week is more open for working when I need to.
Do you have any advice for those days where it JUST ISN'T WORKING?
This is going to be different for every family, but I often find that when a day just isn’t working it’s often because of me. Maybe I didn’t get enough sleep, I’m distracted, feeling stressed or overwhelmed. When I’m honest with myself about my own internal environment, I can usually see pretty clearly how it’s shaping the way I’m interacting with my kids. In these times, there are a few things that really help and they usually involve putting away the to-do list and the phone and getting outside or doing something else that we all enjoy together.
Are you strict with your daily schedule, or do you like to go with the flow?
Somewhere in the middle actually! We have a loose rhythm with lots of wiggle room for interest led learning and spontaneity. There are things that we do every day, but we don’t always do them at the same times. The things we repeat are the things that mean the most to our family and they act as anchor points that ground and connect us. They include, Morning Time (described below), mealtimes, outside time, play time, story time, quiet time and our bedtime routine.
Morning Time is when gather together (usually during breakfast) to read our affirmation cards, talk about what we’re grateful for, read quality literature (fiction and non-fiction) and poetry. Sometimes, we also add in weather, nature study and gentle letter and number learning.
Any advice on how to help your child learn or play independently?
There is so much I’d love to say on this topic! I feel that when it comes to children playing independently, there are two things that I’ve noticed in our home. Toys that are open-ended (blocks, silks or fabric scraps, cardboard boxes, pinecones, shells, etc.) lend themselves to independent play because they engage the child’s imagination and creativity. When these things are activated, I find that children are more likely to play independently for longer periods of time and be more engrossed in their play. I also find that when I’m present, not necessarily in the same room, but mentally and emotionally available, my kids feel grounded and secure and are more likely to play independently.
What is your go-to, never-fail, kids-absolutely-love-to-do-it activity?
Homemade playdough all the way! It’s so easy to whip up a batch with a few simple ingredients. My favorite recipe is from my friend Elle over at @wovenchildhood. Her recipe has the best consistency and is super easy! Lay some balls of play dough on the table with one or more of these items and watch the magic unfold! Stones, dried lavender, kitchen utensils, craft gems, acorns, shells, leaves, sticks, pinecones, wooden peg people or cookie cutters. The options are endless!
Do you have any advice for turning a day that is off to a rough start around?
Get outside, walk around the neighborhood, step out onto the back porch and watch the birds. Bake a batch of your favorite muffins and read a stack of books. Cover the table in paper and bring out paints and crayons. Play board games and have a dance party in the living room. Letting go of our expectations and our to-do list and connecting with our children over something enjoyable is often the perfect way to turn a rough day around!
It's such a strange thing to find yourself home all day with young kids and responsible for keeping them entertained and engaged without outside support or guidance from other caregivers or teachers! Some parents come so naturally to this, while some are at a loss. If you had to choose ONE thing to really focus on during the next few weeks at home, what would that be?
I’d say focus on connecting with your child around simple stress free activities that your child enjoys. This doesn’t mean you have to entertain them all day. It actually means the opposite and will look different for each family. We read lots of books, so connecting often means snuggling on the couch with a stack of books. Maybe your child loves to paint. Spend the morning chatting over a stack of paper and paints and possibly look up a few interesting facts about a famous artists. Or maybe your child is really into dinosaurs. Spend the afternoon looking up dinosaurs online and drawing dinosaur pictures or making up dinosaur stories. Providing opportunities and space for our children to find joy in learning is something that will sustain them throughout their lives!
Kids are so sensitive to their parents' moods. What do you do for yourself to keep stress at bay so you can stay calm for them?
I’m definitely a work in progress when it comes to this one, but here are some things that are currently helping. Waking up before my kids to read, pray/meditate, drink coffee and just wake up slowly is huge for me and helps my mood tremendously. Designating set times when I’m off my phone and completely present, picking just two things from my to-do list to focus on each day, and above all, getting enough sleep. I find that it’s better to be a rested mama with nothing planned than an exhausted mama with tons of activities planned. However, there are seasons and days when I’m unable to do these things. In these times, I try to offer myself lots of grace and forgiveness. One of my favorite authors, Rachel Macy Stafford, says that when we are kind to ourselves we find peace. I have certainly found that to be true!
The mess! How do you contain the mess!? I feel like I'm drowning in toys, crafts and kid stuff.
We have set cleanup times throughout the day and that’s made a huge difference. Before lunch and before dinner are our two main tidy times. I also ask my kids to cleanup one activity before they move onto the next. On the days when I’m more relaxed about these things, I find that it’s overwhelming in the evening when we all feel too tired to clean up. I also try to tidy the house after the kids go to bed. Even if it’s just spending 10 minutes putting away clutter, it makes a huge difference!
Are there any favorite resources you use to help guide your learning?
There are so many lovely learning resources out there! Here are a few of my absolute favorites that we’ve used in the past or are currently using.
Little Oak Learning (Beautiful nature study resources, learning materials and seasonal guides)
Humble Place (Charlotte Mason inspired kindergarten curriculum)
Whole Family Rhythms (FREE Waldorf inspired seasonal guides for Pre K-K)
Exploring Nature With Children (Simple Nature Study curriculum for all ages)
Peaceful Press (I love their gentle hands-on curriculum and I always point people here when they’re first starting out)
Lavender’s Blue (Waldorf Inspired K-3 curriculum and free circle time resources)
Habitat Schoolhouse (a beautiful print and go pre-K and K curriculum)
What helps you get creative?
This is probably the hardest question because in some ways I never considered myself a very creative person. I’ve recently been working to adjust that perspective. I often find that being in nature helps get me creative and so does (this is going to sound weird) being off Pinterest. When I’m overloaded with other people’s ideas, my own creativity sort of takes a back seat. Seeing other people’s ideas also inspires me, so it’s really all about balance here. Watching my kids be creative also connects me to my own creativity!
How can we be careful not to overcommit, realizing there are only so many hours in the day, and you can only do so much without quickly reaching burnout.
Make a realistic list of everything you think you can get to in a day and then cut that list in half. I find that with homeschooling (and with life in general) less is often more. When you’re first starting out, keeping it super simple is absolutely essential. Aim to get your schooling done in the morning and leave the afternoon free for exploration, interest led projects and play. I’ve found that this balance of structured activities and free time is essential when it comes to avoiding burnout for parents and their kids.