‘The World is Your Classroom’

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During the throes of the pandemic, parents had to grapple with keeping their families safe — and helping their children succeed in distance learning from home. Many struggled with the added challenge.

But for parents like Lisa Finley and Amber Friesen, who chose to homeschool their children, the transition was simple.

“If anything, I felt like it was kind of a smooth season for us in the sense of the learning part of it,” said Finley, who teaches her second-grader, kindergartener, and preschooler. “The only thing was that our activities were canceled.”

Friesen, who currently teaches her son kindergarten and supervises her third-grade daughter’s distance learning, curbed biweekly trips to the McAllen Public Library at the start of the pandemic. Otherwise, “everything for us has stayed very normal,” she said.

They both acknowledge just how difficult it has been for others to suddenly transform home into school.

“When you’re at school, it’s time to learn, but when you’re at home, this is where you play,” Finley said. “I feel like for a child who isn’t used to learning at home, if you’re trying to recreate the public school system in your home, it’s going to be really detrimental to your relationship with your child. It can just weigh on them. Just love on your kids. Make it fun. Be there for them.”

Local homeschoolers were uniquely positioned to excel as school districts across the Rio Grande Valley shuttered in-person learning and moved to virtual learning. In fact, Finley’s friends reached out to her for advice when they were figuring out on the fly how to keep their kids on task.

“It was nice being able to help the moms that found themselves in this situation,” she said. “I was able to see a lot of friends make the decision to go ahead and homeschool their kids.”

Friesen advises parents to remember that just as every child is unique, so are the ways they learn.

“If you have no teaching background whatsoever and you’re saying, ‘oh my word, I can’t do this,’ you can,” she said.

She suggests being flexible and patient while treating every moment as a learning opportunity. This includes everything from having intentional conversations in the car on the way to the grocery store to incorporating math lessons in Lego play sessions or baking projects.

Finley wove trips to local parks and the beach into her kids’ curriculum, spending the week learning about alligators before visiting a sanctuary, for example.

“We don’t have to follow this textbook style of learning,” she said. “The world is your classroom. You can just pick and go.”

That flexibility and freedom also come with moments of grace and humor for Finley and her family. Many parents get frustrated when they don’t remember the kind of facts and skills necessary to help their kids with their schoolwork.

“As you’re teaching your kids, you’re also redeeming your education,” Finley said. “You’re learning together. We challenge each other because they’re like, ‘Mommy, what is this?’ or ‘why does that happen?’ And I’m like, ‘hold on a second — I need to go research.’ It doesn’t need to be stressful.”