Summer may have flown by if you are one of the millions of American parents who have school-aged children. While everyone was hoping that the COVID-19 pandemic would be under control in the U.S., the reality is that community spread is widespread. That means the beginning of the school year will be dramatically different from previous years.
For many families, on-campus schooling is not an option right now, as their local schools, districts, or counties may have made the decision to stick to online learning models for now. Many other families live in districts that are considering offering fully or partially in-person educational programs.
These families need to decide whether not to send their children to school or have them use online programs at home. Many public health and medical authorities warn against in-person learning due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19. If you agree with them, you may be facing long days at home with your children, trying to make sure they learn something and stay happy, and trying to stay sane and maybe even productive yourself. Here are a few tips.
Home Schooling vs. Schooling at Home
Some parents are literally turning to homeschooling. That is, they are pulling their children out of public or private schools and teaching them themselves, often using already-created curricula and lessons. Parents’ jobs are to choose what to teach their children and to deliver the material.
In contrast, schooling at home means getting education from the school that the children would attend if they were going in person, but lessons are delivered virtually. They have their teachers from school choosing the curriculum and how to present lessons. Parents, generally, are responsible for keeping their children on track.
Learning Tips while Learning at Home
Learning while at home is unarguably different than learning while in a classroom, but there are some ways to help your children get the most out of it. If you show that you take it seriously, they are more likely to also take it seriously. That can mean doing many of the same things as with regular, in-person schooling.
- Getting dressed for class. Some schools are banning pajamas and implementing dress codes.
- Having a healthy breakfast to start the day.
- Setting aside an area for learning and studying. It could include a desk or table, computer, any other office or school supplies they need, and special decor that helps make it a happy place for them.
- Showing your pride in their work, such as by hanging up younger children’s papers and art work just as a teacher would in a regular classroom, or by reading your older children’s essays.
A regular daily routine lets everyone know what to expect and can help make the day go more smoothly. It might include snack breaks, outdoors time, a family lunch and dinner, and chores.
Of course, you can be flexible. For example, it’s perfectly fine (as long as your child does not have any synchronous lessons at that time) for the whole family to take a regular walk at 8:00 a.m. instead of being seated at a desk at that time, even though 8:00 may be the start of the traditional school day.
Helping Kids Learn Better
Some students love school, while others struggle despite being bright and wonderful kids. Online learning offers the challenge of having less oversight from teachers, who may be less able to identify struggling students and help them in a personalized manner. However, online learning may also have opportunities.
Students may be freer to pursue their own interests. They may be encouraged to focus on what they love for various subjects. A boy who is fascinated by outer space might choose to learn the laws of gravity by studying the different pulls on different planets, explore government by learning about NASA and its influence on daily life, and draw rockets during art class. Rather than answering classic word problems on how long it would take two trains traveling towards each other to meet in the middle, they might instead calculate how long it would take two spaceships to meet.
Staying in tune with your children and working with their teachers can help you keep them interested and motivated. Teachers tend to be very willing to do what it takes to help their students succeed. They are likely to have great ideas for incorporating individual interests into the curriculum.
Social isolation is among the most difficult parts of staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. For most kids, school provides the biggest opportunity for socializing. Children and teens who are learning from home miss out on games at recess, chatting during lunch, and hanging out after school with friends.
Supporting your children’s social needs through socially distanced or remote ways can help your children thrive during this tough time. While in previous times you may have limited their phone or social media time, now it may be helpful for older children and teens to have regular, and ample, time to connect with friends digitally. Just be sure you know what they are doing, and it can help to have a regular time period set aside each day for your children’s friends to get together online. Writing letters to their friends, and maybe even making creative gifts for them, can also help children feel connected.
Learning Pods and Other Ideas for Educational Support
You are not alone if the prospect of online learning for your children makes you feel nervous or overwhelmed, or just leaves you looking for some help. Some educators and parents have considered creating learning pods, or smaller groups of children and an educator who work together in a sort of “micro-school.” However, there are some drawbacks.
- It can be as expensive as private school.
- It does not eliminate COVID-19 risk.
- It may not be supported by public health and government officials.
- It can take funding away from schools if these children leave their schools.
Online tutors can be another option, and they may free up some of your time if your children are old enough to engage with their tutors without you actively participating in the lesson. Students can also get together with their friends for virtual study and homework sessions.
Because of the COVID-19 threat, it is likely that parents will shoulder much of the responsibility and daily duties of helping their children learn. You will need to find a rhythm that works for you and your children. It might involve sitting down with them at the start of each new lesson or task until they understand what they are doing, and then leaving them on their own as you do what you need to do, such as work from home or clean the house.
Tips for Parents
How does it feel with your home now operating as a school and possibly your office? Stressed? Overwhelmed? It’s natural, but something as simple as having a positive attitude can help. There are a few things to tell yourself that can make you feel better about yourself and the situation.
- COVID-19 isn’t your fault. The fact that you have to make tough decisions about your children does not reflect poor parenting; rather, the fact that these decisions are so tough is a reflection of a caring, concerned parent.
- The most important thing you can give your children is a loving home. That is something that is in your control, while teaching science to an artistic child and history to a math whiz may be beyond your powers.
- There are many things to learn besides academics. If school isn’t your thing, there’s no reason not to teach your kids something that is your thing, whether it be gardening, home repairs, personal finances, or some of your career skills.
- Your children learn from you, including how you handle tough situations. Are you handling yourself in a way that you would want them to?
Online learning may be the safest option for millions of children and their families this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It poses challenges for everyone, but also offers opportunities. Kids can learn different facts and skills than they otherwise might have, and everyone can enjoy more time together as a family. This situation will not last forever, and facing it with a positive attitude can help you get through each day with pride.