Sally Clarkson: Has COVID made you an 'accidental homeschooler'? – I've been one. And my kids are thriving

My adult children survived our home school experiment, and today they are thriving

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I never dreamed I would homeschool my kids. I did long for my children to enjoy learning and view the world with wonder. And my husband Clay and I wanted our children to join our travels for work and ministry.

For those reasons, almost four decades ago, we launched our family’s homeschool experiment.

Today our four grown children are thriving in their adult lives, and I believe that educating, inspiring, and mentoring them was some of the best work I have ever done.

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This year, as COVID-19 is making many young parents “accidental homeschoolers,” I feel a mixture of compassion and excitement for them.

Yes, this unusual school year may feel like a blur of snacks and math and tears and laughter and exhaustion. But it may also turn out to be a season of enormous growth, both as a family and as individuals.

My adult children survived our homeschool experiment and today they are thriving.

Our oldest, Sarah, earned a Master’s degree at Oxford University and is the author of five books and mom of two children. Our son Joel graduated from Berklee School of Music and is completing his Ph.D. at the University of St. Andrews. Nathan is a performing actor, screenwriter, film producer and author. Joy, the youngest, is finishing her Ph.D. at St. Andrews and is already a published author.

Yes, this unusual school year may feel like a blur of snacks and math and tears and laughter and exhaustion. But it may also turn out to be a season of enormous growth, both as a family and as individuals.

Best of all, I get to enjoy adult friendships with each of these fascinating humans.

My husband Clay and I risked raising four children in a nonconformist lifestyle of education that valued each child’s unique design.

We were pioneers in homeschooling all those years ago, but we saw vibrant, confident adults emerge from our experiment, each one motivated to make their own contributions to the world.

As you begin your own home education experiment, I am confident you can do this! Here are a few tips from my own homeschool experience which can be applied to any educational setting, even “accidental homeschooling.”

Take the pressure off yourself and your kids. 

Education is a marathon, not a sprint. And wonder is the engine that drives curiosity and shapes a robust intellect. So don’t try to accomplish everything in the first week or month. Don’t spend huge amounts of money on a curriculum or try to enforce a strict schedule. Accept yourself for who you are, and don’t compare yourself to others.

You are planting seeds, nurturing a love of learning. You can’t do it all, but you can awaken your child’s heart to wonder.

Invest in your own heart, mind and soul.

Mentoring and modeling is far more important than curriculum. If you want your children’s minds to be curious, their hearts loving, begin by nurturing your own curious mind and soft heart.

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The best teachers “show” what it means to be curious and a lifelong learner; they don’t just “tell.”

Investing in yourself also requires regular time away to recharge. Children learn the value of their own hearts and minds as they see you care for your own.

Make your home a laboratory of learning.

Your home can be a place that activates a child’s imagination, piques their curiosity, and invites them to explore or experiment.

As you limit screen time, invite them into independent learning with resources to support their interests: puzzles, books, science magazines, art supplies, audiobooks.

Make the most of virtual tours and outdoor events (socially distanced, of course) hosted by art galleries, zoos, botanical gardens and observatories.

Extended family members can help as virtual tutors for content areas they enjoy. Learning happens around the clock, not just during school hours.

Remember that education is relational.

Unconditional love and acceptance make one’s heart and mind receptive. Speak kind, encouraging words to and about your child, especially on the hard days.

Affirm the ways they’ve grown. Believe forward into their potential. Help them imagine who they might become. As you validate their gifts and worth, you inspire them to grow and dream.

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This season of accidental homeschooling may feel like work, and it is, but it is good work.

You can do this, and the kids will be more than OK!