When Kristi Downing started home-schooling her son, a fifth grader, it took awhile to figure out a flow and the type of work that made him thrive.

“It took us a couple of months to find a rhythm that worked consistently,” the former classroom teacher said. “I think every family has to sort of slow down and figure out what is going to work for them.”

Thousands of families in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District and others whose children attend local private schools are finding themselves sudden home-school families following Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s order closing schools until May 1 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Downing and another home-school mom, Jen Shutte, shared their experiences and offered tips to help sudden home-school families.

Their advice boiled down to this: Make a plan or schedule for each day. Consider project-based lessons that touch multiple subject areas. Don’t be afraid to get creative.

“Our days are not nearly as long as a typical day in a building-based situation,” said Shutte, who works as a field representative for IDEA Homeschool.

Every family approaches home-school in their own way.

“The beauty of home-schooling is the flexibility,” Shutte said. “Consistency is key. If they know they are doing school every day, then they aren’t going to fight you.”

Where to begin?

One place to start is by naming the home-school school.

“As far as the day goes,” Shutte said, “it’s best to get school done in the morning and let them be free the rest of the day. I wouldn’t let them have screen time until all of school is done.”

The school day can be structured in a variety of ways. Parents with multiple children may want to hold group lessons. Resources for online learning are abundant.

Parents need to think about the concepts and skills they want their home-schoolers to work on and then look for education resources that match those skills, Shutte said.

Downing gets her best ideas and lessons from the website teacherspayteachers.com. Lessons cost a few dollars.

“It’s just a wealth of resources for everything,” she said.

Her son is currently making a plan for a home business, including a logo and marketing strategies. She purchased the lesson plan from teacherspayteachers.com. It’s basically a guide to resources to execute the project, she said.

“It’s pretty user-friendly,” she said. “I don’t have to go and find all of the YouTube videos for it or what design software you create logos with.”

Downing also recommended observing how each child learns best.

“You learn that through experience,” she said. “They might need things delivered in a different way.”

Her children wake up at the same time every day, and the school day begins by 9 a.m. A schedule is ready on a chalkboard in her pantry. School goes until about 3 p.m., including an hour of outside time.

“For us, after 3 p.m. or 4 p.m., our brains are tired,” she said.

More tips and ideas

The Fairbanks BEST Homeschool program, operated by the school district, has compiled a list of home-school tips and resources on its website, www.k12northstar.org/BEST.

Make a schedule, set daily goals and limit distractions are a few of the tips.

“Acknowledge and discuss with your children that the family dynamic is going to be a little different. You are now the teacher, principal, recess and lunch supervisor,” the tip sheet states. It includes lists of online resources for curriculum broken down by subject area. Many of the resources are free.

“For checking online classes, have the student show you by opening the site,” the tip sheet states. “Pay attention to the time spent in the daily activity log as well as the overall grade percentage for time spent on a subject.”

FOCUS Homeschool started a Facebook group called Support for the Sudden Homeschooler. On Friday, home-school employees put a folding table in the parking lot and gave away simple starter kits for sudden home-school families of early elementary students.

Multiple home-school programs have been getting an influx of calls. It’s too late to enroll for most, but staff are helpful.

The Department of Education and Early Development launched a website, aklearns.org, to help parents and educators with home-based learning.