Distance learning got you overwhelmed? Local homeschooling mom shares tips

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Nobody said homeschooling was easy, but the Serna family has it down to a science. (Photo by Helen’s Photography)

There was a time when Michelle Serna couldn’t have imagined leaving public education. Like any teacher, she loved driving to school and being surrounded by hundreds of happy students in the hallways. She reveled in creating fun lesson plans, hearing the sound of the school bell that signaled the start of another day, and seeing kids’ hands rocket into the air when they knew the answer to a question. For Michelle, being a teacher was more than just a job. It was a passion.

That passion is stronger than ever. But these days, Michelle’s home is her classroom. Ten years ago, she and her husband, Byron, opted to homeschool their son Gabriel, who, as a kindergartener, was already reading at a third-grade level. Gabriel is now a freshman, and he’s not alone in the Serna classroom.

Siblings Selah (7th grade), Miguel (4th grade), and Faith (2nd grade) are also homeschooled and doing fantastic.

“I remember researching … Is this an option for us? What does it look like? We also read blogs written by people who do it,” Michelle said. She and Byron are now the presidents of the Denton County Homeschool Association, which has been around since 1986 and had 78 graduates last year. “We figured we’d take it year by year, and here we are 10 years later.”

She added, “Homeschooling isn’t for everyone. But everyone can homeschool, especially with what is going on right now. There are so many resources out there to take advantage of.”

That’s the positive message Michelle and other Denton County education experts are hoping to convey to parents who don’t have the same background in education but find themselves guiding their children through a new normal of “distance learning” or homeschooling due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The only legal requirements to homeschool in Texas are that instruction must be bona fide (i.e., not a sham), the curriculum must be in visual form (books, workbooks, online programs), and curriculum must include basic subjects of reading, spelling, grammar, math, and good citizenship.

Over the last month, school districts across the world have closed their doors and encouraged parents to help keep the learning process moving forward until the coronavirus passes. This is all well and fine, except most parents admit they don’t know the first thing about teaching full-time and have a million questions running through their minds.

How do I get started?
What does a typical homeschooling day look like?
How long will we need to do this?

At first, the thought was that distance learning or homeschooling would only last for a few weeks, and since some districts were on spring break at the time, the impact didn’t appear too severe. But as the virus continues to spread and new social distancing efforts are put into place, it’s a real possibility that students may not go back to classrooms for quite a while.

Michelle said the first piece of advice is to remain calm and create a sense of safety and peace for your children.

“You and your children are seeing a lot on the news [regarding the coronavirus], and there’s a lot of anxiety that comes with that,” Michelle said. “So before you begin to structure a homeschool environment, make sure your kids are mentally ready and that you are calm, too. From there, start small and grab a book — something the whole family can enjoy and read together. You can find a comfy spot inside the house or even take it outside. My kids love for me to read aloud to them, and it’s educational because you are building vocabulary, conversation, and comprehension skills.”

She added, “Once you have that down, begin developing structure. But remember that it doesn’t have to be too detailed. Focus on simple routines like having them get dressed for the day, eating breakfast, and doing chores. And then move on to spelling, math, individual reading time, or whatever works for your child.”

Homeschooling will look different from home to home, Michelle added. In other words, don’t feel like you are wasting the day or part of school time if what you do doesn’t look the same as what your neighbor is doing. Additional tips include:

  • Build in some alone learning time into your child’s day (quiet reading, etc.)
  • Get outside and get them moving
  • Encourage your child to pursue their interests (musical instruments, sports, etc.)
  • Create a list of things to accomplish, and if your child’s learning day is done at noon, this is okay
  • Encourage device screen time outside of learning time

“There is no right or wrong way to teach your child, so long as you’re following state guidelines,” Michelle said.

And in that regard, you’re far from alone.

There is a world of resources online to aid parents. Also, Lewisville ISD school board president, Katherine Sells said most school districts are communicating with parents and students to accommodate every learning style, grade level, physical need, and situation so that no student is left behind.

Lewisville ISD’s efforts include providing students and parents with access to virtual lesson plans and other resources for all grade levels, getting high school seniors involved in creating their learning platforms, and making sure teachers are equipped to handle a new way of disseminating content.

“We are going to embrace this opportunity, even though it isn’t ideal, and make sure that all of our students’ educational and physical needs are being met. If we don’t see something working, we will be flexible to change direction immediately. And I think most of the districts around us take that attitude also,” said Sells.

Staying in contact with teachers and administrators through email, phone calls, and other means can keep everyone on the same page and pushing in the same direction. If your child is older, such as high school age, ask them what a typical routine looks like for them and encourage them to get involved in their own learning, Sells said.

“One of our mission statements is that our students get to create their learning,” Sells said. “This is a wonderful opportunity for LISD to take the knowledge that our students have and help them create the success of their future. I’ve been getting calls from students who want to be a part of that and give back to their community. As a president of the board, that thrills my heart — that our students aren’t thinking of this as a break.”

Sells said that LISD parents and students are welcome to reach out to her and their teachers at any time for guidance. Anyone can visit lisd.net for additional updates. Echoing those sentiments, Michelle said she and DCHSA are also here to act as a resource for anyone who wants to learn more tips and tricks to homeschooling, regardless of whether it’s a temporary thing or something you’ve been debating for years. The DCHSA can be found at dchsa.org.

“I have a lot of advice, and a lot of thoughts,” Michelle said. “Anyone who has questions can contact us. We are willing and able to help in any specific ways that people have.”

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