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Music, chores, prayer: Tips for when school happens at home

Homeschool mothers offer wisdom, advice to parents helping kids with online schooling

Joshua Piñero, 12, studies Latin online via Queen of Heaven Academy.

Photographer: COURTESY

Joshua Piñero, 12, studies Latin online via Queen of Heaven Academy.

Ava Piñero, 7, works on her spelling assignment at her home desk.

Photographer: COURTESY

Ava Piñero, 7, works on her spelling assignment at her home desk.

MIAMI | Are you a reluctant homeschooling parent? Are you trying to plan how to best manage your time?

Parents who wondered what homeschooling is like are getting their chance to experience it firsthand. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, all area schools have shut down, although most continue to teach students via virtual (online) lessons or at-home assignments.

With some parents understandably stressed about balancing their own work plus guiding their kids with theirs, local parents who have homeschooled for years can offer their expertise and advice to help their peers navigate this new reality.

One mom suggests starting the day with uplifting music.

“I find that starting off with music, music that is soothing and has positive messages, is important to incorporate in homeschooling,” said Claudia V. Fraga, a family therapist and mother of three who is currently homeschooling her 13-year-old daughter. “I expose them to a variety of music: a combination of classical or Gregorian chant, Taizé and also Christian pop music. These are all good messages that they are taking in. There’s an educational component to it and, psychologically, there is a lot of research out there on music therapy. Music stimulates the brain.”

 

CREATE A FLEXIBLE SCHEDULE

For parents who are juggling work with virtual learning sessions for their children, planning out a schedule is important, even if it doesn’t look as structured as the kids — or adults — are used to.

Emma and Ava Piñero use Osmo to play educational games.

Photographer: COURTESY

Emma and Ava Piñero use Osmo to play educational games.

Brianna Piñero, 11, works on her Language Arts assignment.

Photographer: COURTESY

Brianna Piñero, 11, works on her Language Arts assignment.

“Virtual learning is a little different from homeschooling. You have to follow what your school is asking of you to do. But I would say try to keep a schedule, making sure that you leave room for prayer and outside activity or breaks,” said Margarita Cooper, who has six children ranging in age from 8 to 31 and has homeschooled for 24 years. “If your kids don’t have a virtual type classroom, don’t try necessarily to do all your school between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. It’s ok to do evening school, Saturday school, etcetera. Let’s say they are given a set of packets. Spread them out, that way you ease the burnout and fatigue.”

Families who have already begun distance learning have also realized that sometimes the schedule doesn’t turn out as planned.

“I find that some days you can keep a schedule well but there are days when kids are moody, tired or stressed out,” Cooper said. “Give yourself permission and your child permission to adjust and know that sometimes, the schedule goes out the window. We need to abandon ourselves to God’s plan sometimes. I made this schedule but the day doesn’t really belong to me. What I had scheduled may not be what God has planned. When we accept that, I’m going to be way less frustrated.”

 

TEACH LIFE SKILLS

The homeschooling moms said that flexibility in scheduling allows for parents who are now home with their kids fulltime to teach them important life skills such as cooking and maintaining the home.

“I do believe in trying to use this time as a time to teach life skills. Have them cook in the kitchen, doing laundry, folding clothes. These are life skills that we sometimes forget to teach our kids,” said Cooper. “The kitchen is a great place to do kitchen math. Have the kids follow a recipe; the younger ones can measure one cup and the older kids can learn how to double or triple the recipe. It’s real-life math that makes it relevant for them.”

Angela Amaro, 5, and Jorge, 2, empty the dishwasher and store the utensils in the drawer.

Photographer: COURTESY

Angela Amaro, 5, and Jorge, 2, empty the dishwasher and store the utensils in the drawer.

Anabel Amaro, 10, cares for her chickens and teaches Jorge, 2, to pet and hold them.

Photographer: COURTESY

Anabel Amaro, 10, cares for her chickens and teaches Jorge, 2, to pet and hold them.

For Ondina Amaro, a mother of five who previously homeschooled, day one of having her kids home due to school closings was a wake-up call.

“I was exhausted, and it was only the first day,” Amaro said. “I realized I was doing all the cleaning and chores. We made a list of all the chores and sat them down. We told them we needed a manager for the play area, a manager for the dining area, a manager for the TV area and so on. The kids then chose what they wanted to do. Every week on Friday, we will change who manages each area. It really has made a difference and they own it.”

Odalys Caballero, mom to four kids ranging from 10 months to 8 years old, agrees. This is her second year homeschooling her oldest son while her second son attends school and her younger two stay with her.

“One of my biggest complaints about school is that I don’t have time to do character training with my (second) son,” Caballero explained. “Now, since we’ve all been home, it’s part of the routine. We don’t have time now to be cleaning after our kids the whole day. It’s not good for our kids, for their souls, to be thoughtless like that. So we give them as much housework as possible. It’s character-building because someday they will be wives and husbands and they need to learn these things. Everyone needs to know how to live.”

Caballero said her kids separate laundry while listening to an audio book or what the kids call their “Bible cast” — a podcast of Bible stories for kids. “It keeps them out of my hair, it gets the laundry done and they listen to good books while sorting laundry,” she said.

“The Lord has allowed this for some reason that we don’t know, and we have to abandon ourselves to his plan,” added Cooper. “If they don’t learn all their multiplication this year, they learned other things — how to cook, how to clean, how to be a team player, how to help in my house. This may be more important at the end of the day.”

 

PRIORITIZE FAMILY TIME

Despite all the time families are spending together now, making sure it’s time well spent is not always easy.

“As parents we should try to be present and not worry as much about the academic and how this is affecting their future,” Fraga said. “Not that I have to be present the whole day because we all have responsibilities. But when you’re with them, they shouldn’t see you with any distractions. No phones, no nothing. Just being there so that when they’re talking, you’re all there. Because the most important part is the relationship.”

Building the parent-child relationship is what will have the most enduring effects, said one mom.

The Caballero family enjoys creating memories with a nacho picnic during quarantine. "That was awesome because it was a big bowl of nachos and I didn't even do plates. So the clean up was the one plate, some cups and washing the blanket," said Odalys Caballero. "The kids had an awesome memory of how fun it was to have dad around and a restful, fun and different dinner." From left: Matthew Caballero, Samson, 8; Jorge, 6; Mateo, 3; Serafina, 10 months; and Odalys Caballero.

Photographer: COURTESY

The Caballero family enjoys creating memories with a nacho picnic during quarantine. "That was awesome because it was a big bowl of nachos and I didn't even do plates. So the clean up was the one plate, some cups and washing the blanket," said Odalys Caballero. "The kids had an awesome memory of how fun it was to have dad around and a restful, fun and different dinner." From left: Matthew Caballero, Samson, 8; Jorge, 6; Mateo, 3; Serafina, 10 months; and Odalys Caballero.

“One of the things that is really important is not to make this a time of fear and not be so uptight as parents. Make this an awesome time as a family,” said Isis Piñero, a mother of five who has been homeschooling for 10 years. “The kids will look back when this was going on and remember that they had the opportunity to ride bikes with mom and dad around the block. Let’s recognize the opportunity that we’ve been given to focus on our priorities. We only have them this young for a certain amount of time and to enjoy them. That’s the best message right now: Spend time together.”

 

FOCUS ON FAITH

One of the best ways to spend time together is by sharing the faith, said the homeschooling moms. One mom said she and her children start the day with a consecration to Our Lady. Another had her kids take turns reading from books on the saints.

“We incorporate a lot of prayer time — morning prayer, watching Mass, Divine Mercy chaplet,” said Caballero. “It creates good breaks in the day to switch gears.”

The moms concurred that nourishing one’s own faith as parents is equally important.

“Prayer helps mom and dad, too, have the strength to go on, especially doing the rosary,” Caballero said. “Think of Our Lady: she gave birth in a barn! That’s really rough. If she can get through it, I can get through this. As a human person, as a woman, that helps me carry on because it’s real. It helps us both as parents carry on.”

Some moms suggested that perhaps it’s the spiritual lessons that are the greatest education during these uncertain times.

“Everything that we learn, even the academic, really needs to be centered in our faith, not in an abstract way,” said Fraga. “I think sometimes a simple prayer is the best thing we can teach our children: ‘Jesus, I trust in you.’ We can trust in God’s Divine Mercy. There are so many unknowns, but God’s got this. That’s the most important thing we can teach them.” 

VIDEO TIPS FROM A VETERAN

Thais de Leon, a former homeschool mom of six who now teaches at Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart in Coconut Grove, created a video for Carrollton families giving tips to parents as they launch into homeschooling their children. Among her tips, she encourages parents to allow for “Espacio,” which in the Sacred Heart tradition means to take time to stop, be silent and pray.

 

 

Comments from readers

Anais - 04/02/2020 01:51 PM
I really enjoyed reading this article. As a homeschooling mom myself, I think it is very well written, and the suggestions are excellent!

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