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Citrus Heights homeschool mom shares tips for parents adapting to new normal

Theresa Harrington reads to her two boys in the living room of their Citrus Heights home. // M. Hazlip

By Mike Hazlip–
For 7-year-old Ben, and 4-year-old Ollie, school looks like reading a book while cuddling on the couch with mom, as LEGO’s and pink fuzzy slippers lie on the floor of their living room.

Many families across Citrus Heights will be starting this school year off in a similar way, as local school districts implement distance learning and other parents opt to homeschool. As the school year approaches, The Sentinel reached out to homeschool parent Theresa Harrington for ideas about making learning work in the home

Harrington, 37, is no stranger to homeschooling. She was homeschooled by her parents and later went on to receive a bachelors degree in Psychology from Simpson University in Redding, and has a background in child development. She now teaches her sons at home.

Her day usually starts with a “morning basket,” a collection of age-appropriate activities, such as readers. The basket includes a memory Bible verse, but she said families with different backgrounds and beliefs might include poetry or other types of literature and items instead. She changes out items in the basket based on what subject they are studying.

“We get up and we put a daily routine on the board: our little command center there that the boys are responsible for,” Harrington said in an interview with The Sentinel Friday. “[We] have breakfast, sometimes we’ll do our memory work at breakfast time — that’s been really effective for us.”

The married mother of two said she tries to vary the subjects so her boys are using different parts of the brain at different times. “We’ll start with history, then go to math, and then go to language arts,” she said.

When it comes to the inevitable conflicts with children, she finds it is sometimes helpful to stop the book work, take a break to redirect their attention, and then resume when the child is more focused. Covering the most important subjects first gives her the flexibility to spend time helping her children if they get frustrated later in the day.

“If things are just hard that day, that’s going to happen no matter what,” she said. “You’ve gotten through the things that are really important, and you can work through the big feelings and get back to other stuff [academics] later.”

The formal portion of the school day can usually be completed in just a few hours, Harrington said. She noted, however, that learning often happens outside of formal reading and writing. She takes her boys on nature walks and encourages them to explore their world and ask questions.

Harrington thinks the traditional classroom model doesn’t always translate well to home learning. She says homeschooling can be more flexible and favors quality over quantity.

“Don’t try to replicate the classroom,” she said about structuring the day, “It’s not going to look that way. Understand it’s a whole new thing. Understand this is going to work differently.”

She stressed the importance of building a relationship with children while learning at home.

“Get relational. Really build your relationship and taking that time to take advantage of the family bond is really the way you make homeschool work well.”

Another idea Harrington has found to be successful is setting up spaces for sensory activities for her children, such as a bin with water beads. In a practice she said is known as “strewing,” she places items and activities around the house related to the lesson they are studying. These can be toys, coloring books, or even items collected from outside. The idea is to encourage the child’s natural curiosity to motivate them to learn more about a subject.

Although these ideas have worked for her family, Harrington said each family is unique, and parents will need to discover their own method of home learning.

“For some families, they need to follow a schedule,” she said, although noting that learning at home is different from learning within a classroom. While her children still study subjects like math and science, she said they “blend together.”

For parents who might feel apprehension about teaching their own children, Harrington says they are more qualified than they realize.

“This is something you can do. This is something that you’re naturally able to do because you’re their parent,” she said. “You know how to interact with your child.”

Tackling the dual roles of both parent and teacher isn’t easy, even for experienced homeschool families.

“The first few weeks are probably the hardest, even for homeschoolers who always homeschool,” she said. “Because you’re jumping back in and they’re seeing mom, who’s been mom for a bit, go back into teacher again. It does get easier as time goes on.”

When asked about how working single parents might find the time to teach their children at home, Harrington said covering the essential subjects typically takes less time because children are more engaged. She said homeschool lends itself to a flexible schedule and there are co-ops and off site classes that help take some of the burden off of the parent.

“There’s a lot of availability,” she said of homeschool resources, adding that other families are like “having a village, to come alongside and help.”

For the Harrington family, socialization happens through activities with other homeschool families, as well as including their children in daily activities, but she said homeschooling parents have to be intentional about creating opportunities for their children to socialize.

The Harrington’s chose to homeschool independently by filing an affidavit with the State of California listing the home as a private school, and the children as students. Choosing curriculum, attendance, and record keeping are solely the parents responsibility when filing independently, and no public funds are provided to the parent.

Alternative methods of homeschool include enrolling the child with a charter school where a credentialed teacher takes attendance and keeps a record of completed work, as well as submits grades. Many school districts offer some form of homeschool or work from home programs.

Students enrolled with charter schools are considered public school students, but parents usually have greater discretion in choosing curriculum and directing funds for extra curricular activities. Curriculum must be nonsectarian, and most charter schools have a list of approved publishers. Vendors offering extracurricular activities and classes must meet certain requirements and complete a background check.

Parents faced with beginning the 2020-2021 school year by homeschooling or distance learning can feel confident and be grateful for the quality time they will be spending with their children, Harrington said.

“I want to encourage parents: you’re equipped to do this,” she said. “Your children will learn from you, and they will learn well. And the quality that you’re giving them is something that you will cherish.”

Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, our reporter Mike Hazlip is a part-time homeschool educator and a vendor for a charter school. He was selected for this story due to his experience and first-hand knowledge of the subject matter addressed.

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