Eighth-grader Gabe Hawley of Seneca (left) and his brother Titus, who is in sixth grade, take a break from their lessons at their home-school.
Eighth-grader Gabe Hawley of Seneca (left) and his brother Titus, who is in sixth grade, take a break from their lessons at their home-school.

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Schools across the state are closed, and many parents are looking for ways to keep their kids active and engaged during the shutdown. But for those parents who aren't teachers, finding educational resources may be a challenge.

Luckily, there are plenty of free or inexpensive apps and websites that can give kids learning opportunities while they're stuck at home.

Jennifer Marker, a Campton Hills resident, has been home-schooling her two sons, a second grader and a fifth grader, for four years. She wants parents to know that learning at home will be very different.

"Remember this is not pubic school at home," she said. "You can't recreate it and it will take time to adjust. To expect yourself to adjust [to homeschooling] in a week or two is not realistic. It's a huge transition for parents and kids."

Marker, who purchases a curriculum for home-school families, said that it's not necessary for parents to do that. She suggested that parents visit at the website teacherspayteachers.com for school activities or look at Pinterest for other creative ideas. ABC Mouse is offering a 30-day free trial to help children with reading and phonics, Marker said, and she also recommended the website www.mathmammoth.com for math resources.

Vooks.com is another resource that offers picture books and audio books for toddlers and younger school-aged kids, Marker explained. She also recommending joining a Facebook group for homeschooled families, where parents share resources.

"There are so many resources online. You can find educational shows or documentaries on Netflix, and have your kids write about what they learned," she said. "It's also good to review math facts, and read to them. Another good idea is to focus on what they're interested in."

Susan Russell, a South Elgin resident who has been homeschooling her kids for 22 years, agreed that encouraging kids to explore and research their own interests is a great way to keep them engaged and learning during the shutdown.

"Run with what interests them, and give them something to explore," she said. "For example, use a theme. So if the ocean is the theme, they can learn the geography of oceans, they can research sea life, and then they can make a craft related to that theme. And the next day maybe the theme is islands. It doesn't need to be formal, and it's all about the exploration. Have them do the work in 30-minute, or 15-minute, time chunks of math, reading or science."

Whatever happens with the shutdown, Marker said that children will be just fine when they return to schools, whenever that may be.

"This is really a small blip [in their education] for most students in the big scheme of things," she said. "I don't think they'll fall that far behind. If all you do is read and work on some math facts, I really think they'll be fine. They won't be too far behind if they miss a month of school."

Amber and Joshua Ruland of Plainfield have degrees in education. Amber has home-schooled for eight years. She currently teaches their 7 and 10-years-old; their 12 and 17-year-olds are now in junior and senior high schools.

But they, too, are having to adjust.

“My routine is very different now,” Amber Ruland said. “I have two kids at home who are not usually at home and my husband is working from home. I also work for Lewis University. I supervise student teachers out in the field who are now not in the field. I’m just trying to find a new normal.”

The problem for new homes-schooling parents is not finding resources. It’s sifting through the vast amount of resources to find the ones right for them.

To that end, Amber Ruland started a blog, “Her view from off” to help families through the process. Mostly, don’t try to imitate school ("You’re not looking to do seven hours a day of schoolwork,” she said) and take time to consider resources and routines that work for your family.

“That will take a little while,” Amber Ruland said. “Don’t freak out if it isn’t perfect.”

Vicki Thompson of Plainfield, co-director of The Learning Vine, a home-schooling partnership in Naperville that offers academic and enrichment classes, has also made adjustments.

Thompson, who also home-schooled her three children and still home-schools her youngest (age 16), said The Learning Vine has suspended its enrichment program and moved to Zoom for its academic classes.

She recommends families follow a routine rather than a schedule and balance rigorous academics with relaxed activities.

For instance, kids can practice their letters on sand trays or work out math problems with a dry erase marker on a slide glass door, she said.

“Think of ways to make school not just worksheets or workbooks,” Thompson said.

Parents who need support can contact Thompson or her co-director Faith Bruck at thelearningvine.org.

Therresa Hawley of Seneca, a home-school mother of 12 (the oldest is 20, the youngest is 7 months) had a couple suggestions.

For extended home-schooling, Hawley recommends using a home-school curriculum, where actual teachers are available to help students and grade tests and quizzes. Google Classroom, PBS, YouTube Kids are good resources.

“It [home]schooling] is really not scary and it’s really not all time consuming," Hawley said. “It’s very do-able.”

KNOW MORE

Home School Legal Defense Association: Founded in 1983 by two lawyers and home-schooling fathers, HSLDA offers personalized advice in the home-schooling journey as well as legal assistance for its members. Visit hslda.org.

Illinois Christian Home Educators: Members of this not-for-profit Christian organization are “dedicated to the success of home education in Illinois,” according to its website. It offers a wide variety of assistance and resources to families, including information on Illinois law and home-schooling. Visit iche.org.

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