Hundreds of schools across the country have formally ended all possibilities of in-person schooling for the remainder of this academic school year. Many states are considering the potential of distance education continuing after the summer holidays for the start of the 2020-2021 school year.
If you are working full time in your career from home while also juggling the needs of your school age student’s continued academic work online, you are not alone. But, knowing you are not alone does not necessarily make the struggle easier for you on a day to day basis. Battling for a quiet workspace, juggling the time to attend your own online meetings while maintaining the schedule for your children’s zoom meetings, online lessons, Google Classroom assignment due dates, and more can make this complicated time feel even more stressful.
We have interviewed a school principal and teacher to offer insight from the “teacher’s mouth” about the best way to support your school age learner’s development this year and, potentially, beyond. Cara Chandler, an elementary school teacher offers two main points for working parents with distance learners at home.
Cara’s first tip: Make a schedule- “One of the first tenants established in all teacher preparation programs around classroom management is the vital importance of a predictable and routinized schedule.” Young learners find security in routines and schedules. “As adults we often value choice and freedom and sometimes inaccurately bestow that on young children with good intentions. This however, can cause stressful pressure, where a learning child needs to grapple with all of the new education while also battling the complexities of an unfamiliar routine day after day.” Mrs. Chandler advises parents to mimic the traditional school day as reasonably as possible for your family. Aim to offer lunch for your child near the time they ate when school was in session. Aim to start the schooling somewhat near the same time their previous classroom began. “If you cannot mirror the schedule closely due to your family or work needs, whatever schedule you develop aim to keep to it. Matching the school day is not the ultimately goal, developing predictability for your youngster is the outcome for this process, so whatever works well for your household is the one you should adhere to.” Use paper, whiteboards or any other tool to write a daily schedule in a visible form for your child. “This formalizes the schooling process and even if they are working on math in their pajamas from home, a written schedule will legitimize the work for your learner in a way that works wonders.” It can be simple with no more than 2 hours dedicated to the learning process- and this includes lunch and snacks (every student’s most important line item!)
Cara’s second tip: Keep the spirit of learning in sight- For as long as distance learning continues the most important goal for parents is to maintain and safeguard their child’s interest and love of learning. “If we allow the process of online learning to tarnish the desire for young minds to be curious, the recovery process for learning will be tumultuous, if not potentially ruined,” Chandler worries. Keep the spirit of learning at the forefront of your mind when you work with your child. They do not need to grasp the correct answer for every mathematical problem on that day’s worksheet. They do not need to be able to decode every word in the day’s reading passage OR identify the fictional story’s theme accurately; even if that is the lesson objective. “Instead, we need to ask ourselves certain questions at the end of each learning session and strive to believe the answer is ‘yes’ for success: Did your child feel respected and comfortable to try the new skill they were asked to learn todayl? Did your student practice and make progress on a developing skill, even if it wasn’t mastered? Did they create their own questions about the topic at hand? Is your child willing to complete online learning again tomorrow? Then, you were successful in keeping the spirit and ultimate purpose of schooling alive within your learner. This task is paramount in our role as parent-teachers.
In addition to teacher input, we connected with her husband, a middle school vice principal in charge of the online learning process for an administrator’s perspective on what school leaders think parents should do while they have students at home.
Richard’s first tip: Have grace- In a time where parents now have become co-teachers while also staying on track in their primary dayjob–it is crucial that you give yourself the grace to know that this is not going to be easy, nor figured out right away. Likewise, your children [now your students] need to be given grace to make mistakes with organizing their routines, knowing exactly which link to go to in the teacher’s lesson plan, and understanding the format of exactly how to do the math problem in a new environment. Most of us are now learning and working from home. Things feel and look very different. Children may usually be able to complete the writing assignment in a classroom with display boards surrounding them and a familiar sentence frame to prompt them to start. This may take a while, so have grace for yourself, your child, and also your school as most employees there are also going through the same co-teaching parent-employee relationship in their own lives.
Richard’s second tip: Take the opportunity to know your child in a different way- “You will be surprised to see that the way your son or daughter is as a student may not be the same as they are when at home on the weekends playing sports.” Mr. Chandler explained, “You might see firsthand that they possess a great knack of solving math problems in the blink of an eye, or describing language in an in depth way. You might realize that schooling is not as motivating for them as they once were able to cover up. Whatever it is that you are able to see from a different lens, use this time to take advantage of it, embrace it, and know more about your child and how you can help them succeed during these times, which will indefinitely help them once they are back in a classroom.” As your family navigates through this process continue to keep in mind these points from educators and school leaders while you make the best use of this time with your learner at home. This nontraditional schooling will not last forever, continue to follow the four steps above to make it as positive as it can be for you and your school age child.