Co-teacher, mentor, facilitator—call it whatever you want, but parents are suddenly forced to take a much more active role in their student’s education. With school closures across the country, parents are finding themselves homeschooling their students with no notice and limited resources. Here, we answer five questions that may be affecting your day-to-day life as a parent implementing online learning at home.
1. How do I talk to my child(ren) about coronavirus?
In this unprecedented situation, the first step is often the biggest: discussing why your kids are suddenly at home and restricted from all contact with their community. Before you can start successfully implementing online learning at home, experts suggest you filter the news to your children in an age-appropriate way. Avoiding difficult subjects can actually make children worry more, so sharing fact-based information will likely be more reassuring than what they’ve heard from their friends or inferred based on snippets of information from the media.
Focus on cues from your child, and answer their questions to the best of your ability. You may not need to go into much detail for them to feel heard and reassured. Try to focus on what you’re doing to keep your family safe (i.e., not going to school or the museum), and focus on the positives (i.e., visiting the museum virtually and playing games at home—more about that later).
Lastly, stick to your routine as much as possible (see question three), and keep talking. Incorporating a daily family meeting may help set the day off on the right foot. You can discuss the ever-evolving situation and address needs that may have arisen. New agreements or house rules may need to be established if parents are working from home or siblings have different educational expectations. It’s essential to keep lines of communication open and allow your child to ask questions when they arise.
2. I’ve never been good at helping with homework, and now I’m expected to be a teacher. How do I succeed in implementing online learning at home?
First off, school and district leaders do not expect parents to replace teachers. Reshan Richards, Director of Studies at New Canaan Country School in Connecticut, says, “If your online school gets delayed by two weeks because you’re solving the mental health question, then I think your energy’s in the right place. The long-term health of the institution will be better off if that becomes the priority. We’ll figure out the math; we’ll figure out Hamlet and The Odyssey.”
But there is a lot that parents can do to help their students be successful, both in times of school closures and not. Better yet, educators agree that you don’t have to be a content expert to help.
- Set up a dedicated space for learning. The kitchen table is a common choice, but if a child has a desk in their room or can share the home office, that works, too.
- Turn off the TV and radio, and create a cell-phone parking lot during the times you expect your kids to be working.
- Be present. An encouraging smile or a supportive nod will be reassuring.
- Focus on their effort to promote a growth mindset. Phrases like, “you kept going even when you were frustrated,” and “you stuck with it when you were unsure,” go a long way.
- Name progress. For example, “you’ve done three, and now you have two more to go.”
- Ask questions to encourage creative thinking. While reading or discussing topics, ask questions like, “What do you think will happen next?” and, “What’s your idea?”
3. My student’s school said they were on an extended break and didn’t provide any curriculum, but I want my kid(s) to keep learning. What can I do?
- Read, read, and then read some more. There have been numerous studies showing that helping your children develop a love of reading is one of the best things you can do for them. Choose fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, or even street signs and read to your children, or have them read to you, as much as possible. And when you’re tired of reading yourself, take advantage of the numerous celebrities reading stories on social media.
- Take advantage of free resources. PBS Kids, Scholastic, and TED-Ed are some of the many organizations offering free educational content to keep kids entertained and engaged. Focus on a few resources at a time so you and your student don’t feel overwhelmed. In addition to the online options, incorporate as many hands-on activities as possible, and focus on applying lessons learned from digital sources to real-life things in your environment.
- Celebrate informal learning! Activities, like playing board games, cooking, and taking a walk, can be educational for kids of all ages. Involve older children in budget planning and completing your taxes. Children of all ages can benefit from time in the kitchen. From math skills to life skills, cooking and baking provide hands-on lessons while also being a productive part of the day. Last but not least, nature offers an opportunity to learn and exercise, but if you’re unable to leave the house or are feeling unwell, options like National Geographic are also available.
4. My student(s) has a formal curriculum and lesson plans they must complete every day. How can I help them succeed?
Whether your child was sent home with paper packets or online coursework, parents have a massive role in their success during a school closure (and all the time, if we’re honest).
- Set up a routine. Similar to your student’s school day, a routine at home can be incredibly powerful to maintain some sort of normalcy. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, a pediatric medical expert and psychologist, says, “Children are used to structure and predictability, [and]… keeping that structure in place is critical to maintain their learning in this time.” Many parents found this schedule helpful as it incorporates academic time, creative time, outdoor time, and free time, but it also gives flexibility to the families to adjust as needed.
Be mindful of extracurricular activities as well. Many martial arts, dance, and music lessons have moved online. Incorporating loved activities into the daily routine can help provide a much-needed sense of normalcy during distressing times.
- Change clothes. Studies show that adults working from home are more productive if they change their clothes. Presumably, the same goes for students to help them change gears from a relaxing weekend to a “school day.”
- Monitor their progress. Review your child’s work, talk to them about what they’re learning, and be as engaged as possible in their progress. If you’re implementing online learning at home, there may be data you can access to review progress and grades. Regardless of the implementation, don’t be afraid to reach out to the teacher with questions from you or your child. Schools don’t expect parents to turn into a teacher overnight, but by facilitating conversations and encouraging communication, they can ensure their student is making progress.
5. My kids and I are stressed. I am panicking, and my kids are acting out. What should I do?
As with all times, mental health (both yours and your child’s) should be the top priority, and implementing online learning at home shouldn’t take the place of the emotional well-being of your family. Rachel Wigglesworth, founder of Growing Great Families, a parent coaching and consulting organization, suggests families take this time to focus on their relationships. “Try to enjoy each other’s company, slow down, and spend quality time together,” she says.
- Be realistic about extra screen time. Not all screen time is created equal, and kids may be using technology to connect with friends and learn. Now is the time to cut everyone some extra slack.
- Incorporate reading and math every day. If all else fails, those two subjects should be the focus. Other activities like journaling, going outside, and getting exercise are great additions, but don’t stress if they don’t happen every day.
As school closures lengthen and the world is filled with more and more uncertainty, everyone understands that schooling will change. But establishing a sense of normalcy, preventing learning loss, and developing young minds can still happen. Stay strong, stay flexible, and be kind to yourself.
Ehmke, R. (n.d.). Talking to kids about the coronavirus. Child Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/article/talking-to-kids-about-the-coronavirus/
Getting Smart Staff. (2020, March 18). Podcast: Rachel Wigglesworth on learning at home. Getting Smart. https://www.gettingsmart.com/2020/03/podcast-rachel-wigglesworth-on-learning-at-home/
Gohl, E. (2018, September 23). When the school doors close: Tips for families to help students continue learning when disaster strikes. Getting Smart. https://www.gettingsmart.com/2018/09/when-the-school-doors-close-tips-for-families-to-help-students-continue-learning-when-disaster-strikes/
Noonoo, S. (2020, March 17). School leaders say plan for remote teaching. But take care of students first. EdSurge. https://www.edsurge.com/news/2020-03-17-school-leaders-say-plan-for-remote-teaching-but-take-care-of-students-first
Richards, R. & Valentine, S. J. (2020, March 17). How to keep school rhythm and routines for young children at home. EdSurge. https://www.edsurge.com/news/2020-03-17-how-to-keep-school-rhythm-and-routines-for-young-children-at-home