The statewide stay-at-home order to battle COVID-19 presents unique challenges for homeschooling parents.

Time spent away from home — learning and socializing — provides critical learning opportunities in many families' homeschooling lesson plans.

"We are just as stifled" as traditional students, said Melissa Dillman, of Middleburg, a homeschooler for 20 years. "We're not used to being caged up either and our kids are frustrated, too.

"We're usually out doing things. We take advantage of plays and field trips and museums and libraries and everything the world has to offer during the day. The world is our classroom."

Dillman, a member of the Susquehanna Valley Homeschoolers and River Valley Co-op with more than 100 local homeschooling families, said her 13-year-old daughter Holly also went once a week to Brookside Ministries Church in Shamokin Dam to have classes with other homeschoolers. They also bring in special instructors, like local artists, to teach art and other classes. Those all stopped due to COVID-19.

"We do a lot of things together," said Dillman of other families. "We might set up an art day at someone's house. We studied night animals outside."

Holly Dillman said that she misses her friends at co-op and seeing her school friends on the weekends. She said she is used to not seeing friends 7 hours a day so she has an advantage over traditional students in that regard.

Nicole Lehman, of Danville, has three children in home school — Carly, 5, Carly, 8, and Cameron 10 — and another one, Celah, age 1, a few years away. Frequent field trips to museums, Gettysburg, Valley Forge and Philadelphia for history classes have stopped. Shared classes, such as gym and music, and music lessons were stopped.

"Everybody thinks homeschooled kids are not social, but right now, they miss being able to see their friends, or go the library or the Scouts," said Lehman.

Lehman said schooling has not changed for her children — they are still working through assignments, preparing to advance to next year's grade level.

"We do have some slower days to enjoy the nice weather and work outside," she said. "The kids have missed spending time with their friends and have done some Facetiming. They will definitely be happy when they can spend time with friends "un-virtually."

Andrea Shea Palmer, of Sunbury, has been providing homeschool preschool education for her 4-year-old son. She said she misses a lot of social activities, library programs and borrowing books, play dates and weekly outdoor meetups with a group from Lewisburg.

"On the positive side, with everyone needing to homeschool right now, the resources are overwhelming," Palmer said. "Things that we used to have to pay for are becoming free to use. Educational places like aquariums and such are posting daily videos. And, on top of all that, people are experiencing it for the first time. It’s not in the best circumstances, but I can’t even tell you how many people I have heard saying they might continue homeschooling even after this."

Advice from homeschoolers

Dillman offered some tips for parents new to teaching at home; among the most important: Have patience with your children.

"It's easy to get frustrated and angry that they're not doing it the way you think they should," she said. "Relax and spread things out. You have all day."

Stick to a routine, she said.

"Kids thrive on a routine," said Dillman. "Find a routine that works but one that is more relaxed and compatible with you and your kid."

Children are natural learners, Lehman said.

"A couple of hours of structured learning is plenty," she said. "Take the time to do life skills such as cooking. Realize it is stressful. Give breaks. It doesn't have to be done perfectly."

Holly Dillman said the critical advice for students is to just get it done and over with each day so they can do what they want and the work doesn’t build up. 

Patty Kratzer, of Middlecreek Township, who has been homeschooling for nine years, said the best part about true homeschooling is being able to adapt the needs to the child and work at the level that they need.

"Unfortunately the public school teachers have to create uniform assignments," she said. "At this time, the most important subjects for elementary is math and reading. Science and history aren't going to change and they can learn it at any point. Middle and high school kids can work more independently, but math and writing skills are still super important in middle school. Those are the areas I would put most of my energy in helping my child if I were them."

Palmer said her most important advice is to relax.

"This isn’t for everyone, and this was never a job that you officially signed up for, and that’s OK," said Palmer. "My son is only four, but I will tell you that from all my reading and learning from well-seasoned homeschoolers, often, less is more."

Have fun as much as you can and the learning will happen on its own, she said.

"Play games, read books, take nature walks," said Palmer. "Ask your children what they are interested in the most and make your whole world about that thing. This is a time where we are all feeling uncomfortable, so I would advise to let yourself take a breath, and enjoy this time where you can say, “Let’s look it up!” when a question arises, or “what do you think about that?” when you read something interesting. Make learning a family activity and it will never not be 'school time.'"

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