Working, Parenting, and Teaching – in the Age of COVID-19
If you find yourself now homeschooling your child (not by choice), you are not alone. About a billion children across the globe are looking to their parents for educational guidance due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Being a full-time teacher can be exhausting, and that’s for those who are trained. How is a parent expected to do this at the flick of a switch (not to mention if you are also trying to work from home)? And the task is even more challenging for struggling or reluctant learners.
Take a Breath
First, pledge to yourself and your child, you will do your best as a learning partner. But that’s all you can do. You are probably not a trained teacher, and nobody is expecting you to fill the teacher’s shoes.
So this is not a time to be anxious about what you can and cannot do. If you need reinforcement on this, here’s an interview by New Zealand Prime Minister psychologist, broadcaster and author, Nigel Latta. It’s helpful and up-lifting.
Sort out the learning space. Each child has a different way of learning, so use your insights (or trial and error) to work out the best spot(s). You might need to have a few different learning spaces – they don’t necessarily have to be parked at a desk all day. Distractions should be at a minimum, though.
Focus on the Fundamentals
If your child has any kind of learning difficulty and/or is a struggling reader, you know the school day is hard. And you also know it’s hard. And there is very little time in the regular school day to address these impediments. You also know that your child has probably not yet mastered the fundamentals and that furthermore, certainly for older children it’s not where the school is focused.
This period could be a chance to change that. You can focus on the basics, working on the building blocks of learning, the mastery of which make learning easier, leading to a willingness to learn. As we wrote in this article, none of us like to do things we are not good at. From there you build learning confidence, and ultimately, learning independence.
It all starts with the fundamentals.
Making Math Facts Automatic
If 6+8= causes your child to hesitate or concentrate even for a second, she is at a disadvantage. Math facts are the phonics of mathematics. They need to be automatic.
Because we offer it free to our clients who enroll for a multi-month term, we are familiar with Reflex Math. It’s an online, game-like software that helps children learn facts one at a time in quite a short period. If you are not a Gemm Learning client, you can purchase it here for about $40 per child.
Just Right Reading
The way to be a good reader is to do a lot of reading. For reluctant readers, book selection is key.
That means finding books that not too easy and boring, but also not too hard and defeating. Books should be within a year of a child’s grade reading level. Use this free AR Bookfinder to see the grade level of 13,000+ books. If you don’t know your child’s reading grade level, you can request a free reading assessment here.
Tackle Underlying Issues
Learning and reading requires automaticity. If your child needs to concentrate at all on decoding, it’s a distraction. It makes getting the meaning out of text difficult. At the very least, the multi-tasking involved is exhausting. At worst, it undermines reading comprehension, which detracts from enjoyment.
If this is your child, he is unlikely to be a willing reader. And so, rather than spend your time fighting with your child at home, trying to get him to read, do something about the reasons he is resisting. Find an online intervention that tackles your child’s difficulties. Gemm Learning has an online reading program that is adaptive and works on each child’s specific impediments. But as you know, there are a number of intervention options.
School At Home
You have probably discussed the plan for teaching at home with your school. Now’s the time to quiz the teacher (if possible) about how they approached those goals if you’re not clear. It’s about you getting a sense of what reasonable expectations you should be setting for your child’s learning. Then, monitor and evaluate how you’re progressing.
Try creating and sticking to a routine as close to the school day as possible if that suits. You have to make the structure work for you, too. Consider as well, that you’ll have shorter ‘transition times’ from one subject to another than your child would have at school. You might need less time, but try for a balance of:
- physical exercise,
- creativity or free play
- quiet time
- fresh air time as well as
Factor in social time but respect the social distancing rules in your region. For printable visual schedules for elementary-school-aged children, visit this site. Playdates can still happen via Skype, Zoom or Facetime, for example.
And don’t feel compelled to run your sessions at the same time frame as your child’s teacher. Try for a sweet spot in terms of your child’s attention span. Twenty-minute sessions might be a good fit as that’s the average length of the human attention span.
Quelling Your Child’s Anxiety
Answering your child’s questions or sharing information about the pandemic can be tricky.
Canada’s BC Centre for Disease Control has developed FAQs about it for discussing with children, but it was released late February, while it was still an epidemic. It’s only three pages but covers a lot of territory. For something more interactive, The Child Mind Institute has ongoing Facebook Live video chats with expert clinicians, resources for parents on the virus and more.
Your child’s teacher might be overwhelmed and not have differentiated learning resources for each child in their class. A site you could encourage them to check out is learningkeepsgoing.org. A coalition of educational organizations has set up this free site. It has curated strategies, sites and best practices for teaching online. Hang onto this website address if you’re in the boat described in the next section.
A World Full of Resources
If your child’s teacher is unwell or is caring for those with the virus, they may not be able to continue teaching your child online. Or maybe schools closed so quickly that no or insufficient study materials were available.
Are you tempted to reach out to the remote control for Netflix?
There’s plenty of alternatives and each day, Googling offers more learning opportunities to you and your child.
- Does your child want to learn a new skill? Can you make it happen through YouTube, for example?
- TED-Ed has animated videos for kids. Top educators have made these video lessons and series or try HippoCampus for more than 7,000 free videos in 13 subject areas.
- Take your child on a virtual excursion. Think art galleries (Louvre, anyone?), museums (Smithsonian), zoos or even the Kennedy Space Center. Check this page for their Facebook Live sessions for younger children and different times for young adults.
- Scholastic offers lessons and free online resources for children pre-K to 9.
- Middle School parents can look to Khan Academy, YouCubed (Creative Mindset Math)
- For inspiration, try pobble365 for daily writing prompts as well as questions and sentence starters.
- Explore Prezi and other free presentation sites.
- Hook into the Facebook group Amazing Educational Resources.
- Learn to code with Scratch, draw online art with Pixlr.
- Write a comic strip with Pixton, harness Storybird to write a story, create a 3D model using Tinkercad, even rustle up a music podcast using Soundation.
- Offline – Board games
- The Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) has this website with extra resources for schools. There’s also this nine-page document with information about school services to children with disabilities during the coronavirus outbreak. It details states’ responsibilities to children with disabilities and their family and staff serving these children.
- NBC Learn’s Parent Toolkit sets out what students should have learned by the end of the school year.
Keeping An Eye on Your Child At Home
Homeschooling during a pandemic can be traumatic for all. Tips to help lessen the toll include:
- Be a good role model – maintain a healthy, self-disciplined lifestyle, be honest about your fears and hopes in your communication with your child
- Search out online courses/resources to boost your skills in offering psychosocial support – ideally, one involving local professionals where possible
- Connect with other parents to debrief about your day, share tips and grudges.
Today.com’s guide to parents homeschooling during the coronavirus crisis
Kids Out and About’s 250+ Creative Ways to Keep your Family Sane during the COVID-19 crisis
The CATO Institute’s Free Online Learning Resources when the Coronavirus Closes Schools
UNESCO’s distance learning solutions