By Danielle Packard
As we move out of our spring break, such as it is, parents may be overwhelmed by the prospect of homeschooling for at least another two weeks as local schools remain closed. This is a stressful time for work, families and our children. As a classroom teacher and parent of two kids between 5 and 8 years old, I’d like to share some methods that have helped my husband and me when helping our kids learn amid the uncertainty stemming from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. It’s a challenging time, but it can be rewarding for parents and kids alike.
Figure out a schedule and a learning space that works for you — and stick to it
When my husband and I took home a schedule from our son’s wonderful second-grade teacher, we tried to follow it exactly… and failed the first day. Our prep time was nil, the concepts were new and our son was resisting our attempts to guide him through the material — all a recipe for disaster in a classroom teaching environment. So we looked at what was most important: the learning.
We still work through the content with our kids but in a much-simplified way. For instance, our son melts down when he has to write any time after noon, but can do math all day long. So we do all his writing work in the morning and use math as a reward afterward. The lesson here: Don’t be afraid to rework a schedule and tailor it to your kid’s strengths.
We also learned early on that giving everyone a designated space was key for our collective sanity. We’ve used curtains and sheets to clearly define space for parents working and kids doing school work.
The key here is to make sure your kid has a designated spot in which to work and not to deviate from the routine. It’s calming and helps everyone focus.
Our kids like to work at the kitchen table, so we use plastic bins to hold their school work. When school is over, they put everything back in their bin and the class table reverts to the dinner table.
Be flexible and forgiving — of yourself and your child
Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. For example, your kid loves English but hates math. She wants to spend an hour writing a journal piece and your schedule says 20 minutes. Go with it.
Giving kids the time to pursue their interests and passions is something teachers wish we could do more in the classroom. Yet, often we are restrained by schedules and planning. As a new homeschooling parent, you don’t have to be.
Let your kid set the pace — if they’re happy with what they’re learning, let them continue. Most of the secondary teachers in Bonner County are offering whole weeks online so students can block an entire day for a class or an hour each day. As much as you can, honor their preferences. Spending time learning each day is the most important goal. If (or maybe when) the first hour of the first day brings on an emotional meltdown, take a break, watch a show and come back to it when you can.
Reward learning — a lot
You’re stressed and your kid is stressed. Every good teacher knows that behavior management is 80% of learning success, so don’t neglect it. Come up with rewards for any and all kinds of positive behavior. Now is not the time to skimp on the treats.
Set up a system so your kid gets lots of praise and encouragement, and is working toward a reward throughout the learning day.
Some strategies that work well in the classroom include putting up points or giving out “tickets” whenever we see a kid on task. This is a quick and easy way to praise your student(s). For younger kids, try marbles or rocks — younger kids love to see their good behavior build up. Your kid sits in their seat: they get a ticket. Your kid does a math problem without whining: that’s worth two tickets. Finally, give your kid a reward when they reach a certain number of tickets/points/marbles (10 is usually a good amount).
What kind of rewards? Try treats, TV time, video time, whatever will help your kid focus on the task at hand. Every bit as important: While you’re at it, give yourself some tickets, too. You’re here and trying and you deserve some candy (or a beer, glass of wine, mindless smartphone scrolling… whatever helps you unwind and reset).
A note on the breaks: Even if your kid is in total defiance mode — maybe especially if they are resisting to the point of total shutdown — do not skimp on the breaks. Your child’s teacher knows that a kid’s attention span is about their age times four (on a good day). That means your 10-year-old can focus for 40 minutes before they need a break.
That said, don’t try to rush through everything. As teachers, we also use timekeepers like phone alarms or cooking timers to let kids know when they have worked for five minutes or have 10 minutes left until break. This helps to keep them motivated.
Respect your kid’s attention span and your own. They can always earn extra break time, but don’t take the time away. Besides, you need the breaks as much as they do.
Use online learning resources — but don’t get overwhelmed
There are so many online resources available to us, which is great. However, decision fatigue is real and crippling. In their podcast, Life Kit: Tips for Homeschooling During Coronavirus on NPR, Anya Kamenentz and Corey Turner talk about the slew of pdfs, links and free education sites circulating among teachers, friends and social media, and how overwhelming it all is to parents. Don’t get lost down the rabbit hole of online education sites and don’t let all the choices keep you from picking one or two and ignoring the rest — regardless of how forceful others’ recommendations might be. Focus on your kid’s needs and interests, not what everybody on Facebook says is “the best.”
Pick one or two that seem to address your kid’s learning needs and ignore the rest (see the sidebar on this page for some suggestions). Also, let your school do the work for you. Your child’s teacher has also probably given you passwords to certain websites they use in the classroom. Start there, as your kid is already familiar with the learning format.
Communicate — for any reason
As teachers, we miss your kids, we miss teaching, we’d love to talk to you and to your kids. We want to help you through this chaos even as we’re trying to navigate it, too. Email us and have your kids email us, even if it’s just to say “hi.” Many teachers have set up online formats (like Zoom or Google Meets) so you and your kid can ask questions or say hello “face-to-face.”
So what are the big takeaways here? Be flexible and forgiving of yourself and your kids. Try to consistently set up a location and break times each day. Be sure to reward any and all positive behavior, no matter how small.
Finally, if all you can do is lay on the sofa and read together, or work while they read, you’ve done something. Give yourself a treat — you’ve earned it.
Top Free Educational Resources
Khan Academy (khanacademy.org): While Khan academy has long been a great resource for math, it also features videos; quizzes; and schedules for English, social studies and science. You can access everything for free and without a password. Good for all ages, but especially upper elementary through high school.
Scholastic Education (classroommagazines.scholastic.com/support/learnathome.html): Scholastic is offering free online access to books, lesson plans, quizzes and tips for kindergarten-ninth grade. There is a wide variety of offerings and lots of popular books to choose from. This is a great site for daily reading time.
Epic Books (getepic.com): Epic offers online books for ages 5-12. The site is also offering free remote student access until the end of the school year. Email your child’s teacher, as all free accounts are by teacher invitation. Epic is slick and easy to navigate with options for kids to read or to listen to the book (perfect for engaging younger kids so you can check email).
East Bonner County Library Online (ebonnerlibrary.org/index.php/52-ebooks-eaudiobooks): Though the libraries are closed, you can still access many e-book and e-audiobooks with your library card. There are selections for all ages and Overdrive (the online rental system) is easy to navigate once you enter your library card online. The library also has a digital learning site with free access to all sorts of learning platforms (in case it’s time to finally realize that dream of learning French).
Life Kit: Tips for Homeschooling During Coronavirus (npr.org/2020/03/23/820228206/6-tips-for-homeschooling-during-coronavirus): In this quick and engaging podcast, Anya Kamenentz and Corey Turner discuss ways to keep your sanity and help your kids through homeschooling. This source is definitely for you rather than your kid, but is full of easy-to-use tips.
Khan Academy (https://www.khanacademy.org/)
Scholastic Education (https://classroommagazines.scholastic.com/support/learnathome.html)
Epic Books: (https://www.getepic.com/)
East Bonner County Library Online (https://ebonnerlibrary.org/index.php/52-ebooks-eaudiobooks)
Life Kit: Tips for Homeschooling During Coronavirus (https://www.npr.org/2020/03/23/820228206/6-tips-for-homeschooling-during-coronavirus)
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