Last week a relative sent a long, thoughtful note querying me on whether I might take on the task of composing a booklet of advice for parents who are unexpectedly homeschooling, or looking into homeschooling, and wish to be buoyed up.

His assumption was that as I had written a book about tiny rural schools (“Island Schoolhouse: One room for all,” Tilbury House, 2012) and had taught alone in a one-room school (the ultimate multi-aged classroom) and had homeschooled my own children for a few years through their older elementary grades without hobbling them too badly (they both managed to avoid the penitentiary) and because I have an attitude toward home education that steers clear of extremes — advocating neither micro-management of, nor total self-direction by, children — I could reassure, and perhaps offer useful suggestions to, the many parents who would like to homeschool without too much anxiety.

By the way, as a teacher, I would ordinarily advise against sentences as convoluted as that one there.

I’ve been known to have the rosy-colored glasses on about this stuff. Adults who choose to teach their own family members do not need degrees in education or a deep knowledge of Spanish and physics. They do need to be flexible, and to be willing learners themselves, but homeschooling can work fine if you have children whose educational needs you are set up to deal with (nobody truly has “no” needs). The intergenerational relationship should be reasonably respectful, and you the adult need some control over your workday. You need to have the time, and an enjoyment of learning. If it were only so simple.

While I was honored that my correspondent thought I might help ease anybody’s burden in these stressful times, his suggestion just underscored the list of complexities. There can be no “150 pages of guidance they can trust,” as he proposed. School nowadays is about so much more than school.

“Normal” life for most just assumes the family disperses each morning to daycare/preschool and school and work. With people forced to stay home families try to adapt, but that adjustment takes some grease in the gears, and that grease is usually money — or extra adults in the household who don’t have to be on the job all day, which equates to money.

This is proving to be a haves vs. have-nots issue. No “helpful hints” on homeschooling can change the reality of students who need school as childcare, school as a source of daily square meals, school as a physically safe place as opposed to home, school as the only place to access needed specialized professional supports, school as the “way out” of a miserable situation.

The big problem isn’t really education. It isn’t academics, it isn’t subject content, it isn’t “schoolwork.” The hard nuts to crack are everything else but the schoolwork. We are seeing how much American schools are expected to do besides teach the three Rs.

So, acknowledging that there are rather few parents who do not need school to be anything from the above list, and with deference to my relative who thinks I can be trusted with such responsibility, a few oddments from my own experience:

• It’s OK for children to skin their knees playing outdoors. It’s also OK for a kid to learn to put on her own Band-Aid. If you have a place to play outside, go there!

• It’s fine for a student to spend a whole day on one thing, like reading a long book or struggling with a complex repair job (which would in my opinion count as school). There is no real educational need for eight subjects a day, every day, all the time. The exception is when learning a truly new skill, like a language or an instrument; in those cases, a little each day is often more productive than a lot once in a while.

• Little kids and big kids are not the same thing. Sometimes they aren’t even all that similar.

• “Baking cookies counts as math” is true for young children. It is not, however, algebra II. Don’t let’s get too lazy.

• Now is the time to enjoy the geography you never got yourself in school. Never before in the several generations of the geographically illiterate has it been so easy to “see” another place, because of the internet. Spread out a map and go touring online.

• Make them memorize their times tables. Most everything else they can look up.

• Paperwork—or screen work, now—is not the measure of a human being. Keep it in its place.

• Make sure the easy kid — the one who doesn’t demand much, who works on their own, and volunteers to do their own laundry, and is inexplicably resilient — gets your attention, too.