With the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 prevention plans underway, many parents, guardians, and caregivers have suddenly found themselves in the role of the homeschool teacher. In some cases, schools are figuring out how they can best manage online learning. In other cases, schools are taking an extended spring break without sending learning materials home at all. In each case, adults are suddenly finding a lot of time with young people on their hands.
I see on social media a number of people stepping up and offering ideas and resources to help out parents in this new situation. As you comb and curate those resources, I wanted to offer some of my thoughts on how to deal with this sudden increase in together time.
Create a Routine
Schools generally offer a fairly rigid routine. Bells move students from one class to another. Teachers tend to begin and end lessons with all eyes on them. Students depend on the reliability of these routines. It’s true that many educational thinkers are looking at ways to improve the more excessively standardized parts of these routines. However, a sudden influx of home learning time is probably not the best time to rethink your local school’s bell schedule. It’s probably best to lean into the natural instinct for structured time.
Some school districts are experimenting with a fixed schedule, especially for their high school courses. This may pose a challenge as kids get fidgety looking at a screen for six hours and the virtual routine may be in danger of failing. Not to mention, the tech that drives these virtual experiences may fail as well. Having an established learning routine in the home already can provide a contingency plan in case this learning process doesn’t work out the way some educators are hoping.
This doesn’t mean that you want to plan six hours of overly structured activity yourself. Unstructured playtime can be a powerful learning tool. If your school is using asynchronous strategy or using an unstructured “extended spring break,” you do want a plan for how you want each day to go. When will activities occur? When will free time occur? How about meals? You don’t have to be on your own with this. Your own child can be a great resource for creating these routines. Which brings me to my next tip.
Co-build Learning Experiences
You’re not on your own! Your child can and should be a huge part of putting together experiences and routines. You won’t likely be teaching to a test or specific state or national standards like your teachers do. However, your goal can be to expand your child’s interests, creativity, and focus through fairly structured activities.
The best resource to find out what might interest your child is your child. In Mike Anderson’s blog post Maintaining School Momentum as Learning Moves Home, he suggests that teachers offer meaningful and manageable choices. He wants teachers to avoid overwhelming students in an at-home learning environment. The same can be said for parents offering options. Ask your students what they feel like doing today. Pepper in your own ideas for activities that you may have found online, read from magazines, or heard from friends. Keep things manageable and in check as your brainstorm together. Have fun building a schedule for the day or week together. You certainly don’t have to do the same things every day. Your kids can be incredibly sophisticated partners in figuring this out.
Use Your Relationships: Figure Things Out Together
Trying new things can be frustrating. As I write this, I can hear my ten-year-old son in the other room getting very frustrated with a Legend of Zelda game. His older sister is a bit better at the game and I can hear her give him helpful feedback. She even seems to be occasionally taking the game controller from him to really help in tough spots. This is a pretty fine example of a learner relationship.
You have relationships, too. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. A single tweet or Facebook post can likely bring a hundred new ideas for you to try at home. Hang on to these because they can be just as valuable during summer or any break from school.
Access Tools Your School or Library Provides
Many schools have online tools for reading and math, especially. Your child may have an established routine on Khan Academy or MobiMax. Many schools use Epic, an amazing online collection of reading materials. Ask them about those tools.
School and local libraries also provide a lot of reading resources. Many libraries offer library cards online if you’re not comfortable visiting one in person right now. With a library card in hand, you can use apps like OverDrive, Libby, and Sora. These three apps are variations from the same company that allow you to check out digital resources from libraries.
Think Online AND Offline
Despite my background and love for EdTech, I’m a big believer that tech has to be “right-sized.” That means that offline experiences can be just as valuable as online experiences.
What are the ideas off the top of my head? First, I am thinking about using our dinner time as a sort of daily wrap-up. After my kids engage in their daily activities, I am going to ask them to reflect on them at dinner time. Activities like treasure hunts, walks around the neighborhood, and observations of nature can be great prompts for writing, thinking, and artistic creations. They can practice their verbal skills by sharing those creations at dinner. Reading time can be worked into your routine. Ask your child to share about their daily reading as an end-of-the-day routine.
Asking a child to tap into their imagination can also make new connections in the brain that helps them see learning in new ways. Have a pile of unused toys? Pull them out and ask your kids to create a dramatic play using the toys. Try drawing something from observation. Draw something else from your imagination. Compare the results. Even board games provide meaningful critical thinking exercises. Offline opportunities are endless. Take some time to brainstorm with your kids and build a list together. Use your co-built list as part of your established routine.
I read an impressive brainstorm of one-line ideas from a Twitter thread by educator Wade Whitehead. When there is no curriculum families are beholden to, this thread shows how simple generating activities can be as you keep your child in mind. Don’t overcomplicate your planning process. Try to treat this as an opportunity to connect with your child by creating, exploring, and examining ideas together.
These are certainly uncharted waters for everyone. Extend some grace and patience to everyone involved. That includes your kids, your school system, and most importantly to yourself. Every drastic situation has opportunities. Never miss the opportunities you have right now with this sudden change in routines.
Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda write that educators can use this event as an opportunity for self-reflection. Taking a similar mindful pause will help you extend the grace that you may need for yourself right now. Check out the questions they pose to educators and consider how you might reflect in the same vein. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. You’ve got this.