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Homeschooling Advice from a Mom Who Has Been There Before

Jennifer Lopez is the founder of Assistant Pro, a concierge staffing agency. For the past four years, she has homeschooled her four children, who are 13, 11, 9, and 5 years old. So she has wisdom now that we’re all looking for.

Q: What prompted you four years ago to homeschool your kids?

Lopez: I’m a Jersey native, and so we’re all public school up there. With three young kids, my husband had to relocate to Florida. After about a year apart, we finally got the family back together. Now there were four, by the way. The homeschooling community is huge in Florida. So we wanted to test the waters, and have fun in the Florida sun. And then we started and we couldn’t stop. It gave us all a reason to wake up and learn something new and explore parks and hike and just do all these really great and fun things.

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Q: What did your day look like?

Lopez: First, I do want to make the point that what we’re doing right now is not an accurate reflection of what homeschooling is. What we’re doing right now is more emergency education. But when we first started, we were in school from 9 to 3. My kids called me Mrs. Mom. I wanted to create those boundaries between what was home life and what was school life. That rigid schedule did not last long. And if I could tell parents everywhere this one thing, it would be to not to hold yourself to that rigid schedule every single day, because you’ll fail and you’ll hurt inside about that failure. Being flexible and forgiving at this time is more important than anything.

Q: You pivoted because you were able to say the rigid schedule wasn’t working?

Lopez: Everyone was stressed out and crying. They didn’t understand. I was teaching multiple grade levels and at that time, I had a six-month-old as well. We ended up realizing that the kids held on to the lessons that were relatable to them, not necessarily the ones they were learning while they were sitting at their desks. So we made a very hard core pivot. It’s more about creating the right environment for them to learn and to want to learn. That’s really the key.

Q: What does block scheduling look like in your house?

Lopez: Block scheduling exists so that we can have our school time, our chore time, and our family and home time. Right now, while you’re sitting there doing your work, you’re thinking about the dishes and when you’re doing the dishes, you’re sitting thinking of your email. The kids are going through the exact same thing. So the block scheduling for us is like a clock out ritual that says, “OK, we’re leaving the school work now. We’ll address it tomorrow. We are done for the day and now we’re moving on to our household responsibilities for the next hour.”

Homeschooling is much more efficient. I tried that 9-3 thing like I mentioned for a couple of weeks. At the end of the day, we were so burnt out and my kids would say to me, “We have never learned that much in one day.” And it took time to adjust. We were getting school done in two hours a day. There were some weeks that we did three days a week, there were some months that we would put a hardline stop, like around the holidays, like Thanksgiving to probably New Year’s. We did not do any hard core. Sit down. Let me teach you something else. We were teaching them things like relationships and character and how to stay in touch with family.

Q: How did you come up with some kind of curriculum?

Lopez: In this scenario, I feel like teachers are still giving a lot of work. So we don’t necessarily have to pick the curriculum. I wouldn’t even recommend purchasing additional curriculum for the time that we’re in now. Parents are getting really creative on how they’re teaching their kids right now. And if you just drop a conversation starter in a mom group, you’re going to get info about how to do it. How are you teaching fractions to your kid? Well, you’re going to have one that’s cutting up pizza. One that’s doubling the recipe for baking. One that’s using Legos.

I think for these older kids, it’s not that they are not understanding or retaining information given to them. It’s that they’re distracted by their lack of social interaction or missing out on their friends and that day to day drama that they all love. And so we’ve been really aware of that with my 13-year-old. If I see she’s upset over a lesson, it’s probably not about the lesson. It’s probably about something deeper. So we’ve started doing virtual study groups, virtual movie nights just to keep them engaged with their friends because they are terrified of losing the relationships that she’s been building so far.

Q: Well, that’s also because you made a shift in January. So tell us.

Lopez: Back in January, our kids switched to public school. It really came down to if you do anything over and over and over again, day in, day out, no matter how fun it starts, eventually it will get stale. And we felt like it was getting a little bit stale. We were all dragging a little. They adapted incredibly well. They jumped right in meeting new people. But those relationships were very fresh for them. And even as a parent, I didn’t have the opportunity to connect with some of the other parents that they’ve connected with the kids.

When this was happening, I said, “Listen, we’ve done this before. So let’s talk about what’s worked, what’s not worked and how we want to keep pushing this forward.” The hard part is that they’ve pretty much lost control over every interaction that they have during the day. As a parent, I immediately want to take responsibility for the state of the house, their happiness, their hygiene, their education, if they’re fed. But they’re old enough where they feel that responsibility, too, now. And if we don’t allow them control to have ownership over that responsibility, it’s just going to create a poor atmosphere with conflict.

Q: What do you know for sure about this time that you can impart right now to parents who are home with their kids?

Lopez: Every morning that we wake up and we’re healthy is a moment to create a memory with the kids. This education piece can be done anywhere. It does not have to be done at the kitchen table for the teenagers. It can be done on a TikTok video. Raise your hand if you are a parent that has done a TikTok video to try to connect with your 13-year-old, because I know I have. And it was not pretty, but it’s that relationship building that will instill confidence. And so I say let’s just make some really great stories at home so that when they get back to school, they’ve got great stories to share.

Susan Borison, mother of five, is the founder and editor of Your Teen Media. Because parenting teenagers is humbling and shouldn’t be tackled alone.

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