This Outschool Mom Teaches Her Kids Resilience by Example

For Parents Jul 17, 2020

If you take a look at Liz Boltz Ranfeld’s “master schedule,” you might get dizzy.

She’s mom to a six-year-old son and ten-year-old daughter. She’s an Outschool teacher, a college professor, and a part-time content writer.

She’s the organizer of an online support group for new-to-homeschooling parents who want to share experiences, trade questions, and get advice.

Did we mention that she’s getting her kids a puppy?

Part of the reason Liz takes on so much is to support and care for her husband, who deals with chronic illness.  With no room for health risks, the family will work and learn from home for the upcoming school year.  

While many families take a wait-and-see approach to planning their children’s education for the fall, Liz jumped head first into creating the family schedule in order to keep her kids learning at home.

Both of her kids use Outschool in their own way; however, they have similar needs met by the platform: maintaining progress in core subjects, exploring fun interests, and socializing with peers.

We recently sat down with Liz to talk about taking control of her children’s education, making the most of quarantine with a ten-year-old, and balancing work-from-home with homeschooling. Liz is a true inspiration! We think you’ll get a lot from her story; we’re pretty sure her energy is contagious!

Hi Liz, tell us about yourself!

I’m Liz from Muncie, Indiana. My husband and I have a 10-year-old daughter and a 6-year old son. We are a public school family and big supporters of public education. I'm an English professor, and my husband  works for a university as well.

Liz smiles at her desk in the family's dedicated teaching & learning space.

We first started using Outschool for fun, supplemental activities. I saw a Facebook ad for a Dungeons and Dragons class, and it was perfect timing because my 10  year-old was planning a  D & D birthday party.

That was our introduction, and soon after that I started teaching on the platform.  I've been teaching on Outschool since February, right before we had a big surge.

What did a typical day in your house look like after your children’s public schools shut down in spring 2020?

Liz: Not much structure! Our typical day looked like  any weekend or summer day. I was still working full time but from home. My husband was still working, but he's always worked from home. Yet our kids had no sort of structure.

Ours is  a rural school that did not have a strong distance learning framework. They absolutely did the best they could. Our elementary school managed things the best that they could, but we needed more structure, especially for my son who's in kindergarten and was just at that cusp of reading.

Liz and her husband divide responsibilities. Here, Dad plays the role of facilitator for his daughter.

That's  where Outschool came into play. I began to structure their days -- we’d have tutoring on Tuesdays and Fridays  for example --and my daughter chooses tons and tons of classes. She doesn't need a lot of academic intervention with the school year ending, but she needs stuff to do.

For pre-teens, social life is so important. How do you help your daughter meet those needs during quarantine?

The quarantine has been hard for my daughter because she has such a vibrant social life outside of the family.

By contrast, my 6-year-old boy is happy to be home with me; he has entirely different needs. But we’ve tried to switch the focus from how much my daughter is losing by not returning to school right away into reminding her about the things she’s gaining.

Before quarantine, Liz's daughter had more screen time restrictions. Now, Liz encourages her to connect.

We give her a lot of say in the classes she chooses. We’ve loosened up our expectations for screen time and social media. Before, we did some more managing, but once in-person socializing  went away, we were quick to get her on Messenger, Google Chat, and all of the apps she could use to stay connected with friends.

We have supported her in projects she’s taken on, like writing a novel about ‘humanoid dragons’ with her best friends.

Last night I heard her giggling with her co-writers on a Zoom call, long after her bedtime. I thought I can’t stop this. She’s really motivated to finish this book!

We also may be able to take our little homeschool and spend some time at my dad's house for a while. That’s something she would definitely ‘gain’ in this new arrangement.

We try to remind her about the new opportunities in this situation.

What did you learn about educating your kids this year? What are you still figuring out?

Liz:  Because my husband cannot risk any kind of health crisis, we won’t be able to go back to school.  We know we’re in this for the long haul.

As an educator, I feel good about putting together a curriculum for my kids. In terms of Outschool classes, we’re going to lean more into the core classes for the fall. Outschool will help create a  routine.

Liz’s son takes ongoing tutoring classes as well as interest-based classes like painting. 

The Outschool teachers are a huge help, too. It’s not just deadlines put on the kids by me and my husband. It’s more motivating when one of the Outschool teachers my kids enjoy and care about, says, oh, you have to finish your homework by next week!

We’re also looking for classes that will provide some opportunities to socialize, especially for my 10-year-old.

I know some people homeschool because they disagree with  Common Core and standardized education. I, on the other hand, immediately printed out all the state standards and started connecting my kids’ learning with the standards!

My goal is to have the kids jump right back into their classrooms as soon as they can, whether that’s in a semester or a year.

What other resources have been helpful for you in making the switch to homeschooling?

Liz:  We love my  son's Outschool tutor. Her name is Midge Spencer. My son is this wild happy, enthusiastic breaks-everything-because-he's-joyful kid, and when he sits down with Midge, he pays attention.

Liz says her son enjoys quarantine at home with her. Here, he raises his hand to participate during class. 

When he gets squirrely, she tells him, you need to sit and write down your answer. And he does it!

She's incredible, and for him to look forward to that time is very meaningful. We adore her.

When jumping into homeschooling with Outschool, how do you effectively manage your budget? Any tips?

Liz: First is the Outschool referral program. That has saved me hundreds of dollars, and has helped  our budgeting a ton.

We also keep the hourly rate in mind and try to keep it to a number that works for us. We make an exception on that for my son’s tutoring.

Another budgeting tip for your kids' Outschool classes: before taking a risk on a long-time class, see if the teacher has a one-time offering. If you like what you see, then you can go with the bigger commitment.

Lastly, I look for classes that pull double duty.  For example, in the fall, I'm looking for classes that accomplish core subject requirements plus social engagement.

Do you have any final thoughts about your back-to-school planning?

At our local elementary school, families looking for a distance learning option can work with the principal to create an individualized plan for their child.

I’ve decided that if I'm my children’s educations are going to be individualized this much anyway, then I might as well have control over it.

I’m usually very much an advocate for supporting your public school system. It's a public good.  But I have to put my family's health first. That has become the primary decision making factor for us.

And I  think there's a benefit to not sending my kids to the public school.  I’m fortunate to have have the flexibility, opportunity, and ability to keep my kids home.

If it reduces the number of kids in our classrooms, it may allow other kids to be safer. There could be a degree of social good when those of us that can stay home, choose to stay home.

Liz’s story of direct action in the face of mounting challenges is an inspirational one. With her local schools’ shifting schedules, her husband’s health at risk, and her to-do list a mile long, she’s acted in a way that truly takes ownership over her family’s experience.

While Liz’s children will learn lots of lessons from their Outschool teachers this fall, they’re also learning a valuable lesson in resilience by watching one special teacher who they call Mom.

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Gerard Dawson

Gerard Dawson is a teacher, parent and writer for Outschool.