When schools closed their doors to prevent the spread of COVID-19, parents across the nation took on the added role of educator nearly overnight. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, confused, frustrated or worried, you’re not alone. This is new for everyone, including your kids’ teachers. And if there’s one thing we’ve all learned from this experience, it’s that teachers are superheroes. (OK, we already knew that!)
It’s impossible to fully replicate a school environment at home. But the good news is, you don’t have to. You can still meet your kids’ needs if you take the right approach. We did some digging and chatted with Cheri Burnett, a teacher for Columbus City Schools, to come up with these steps you can take to turn your home into a successful place of learning.
Every classroom has defined periods for learning and a set of rules that hold students accountable for their actions. You can do the same with your kids at home. Explain the behaviors you expect of them during this time and hold them to your standards the same way their teachers would.
Start with the routines, procedures and expectations that your kids’ teachers use in their classrooms. If you don’t know these, call your kids’ teachers or ask for direction from the school’s administration. Your kids may still test their boundaries simply because you’re the parent, but sticking closely to what they are familiar with should help.
You may also find it helpful to set a classroom mission, monthly vision and daily expectations (today we’re going to …). You can mimic what your kids’ teachers have already set in place, or come up with your own together as a family.
Just remember to stay flexible and realistic with your expectations. Burnett says don’t expect your kids to work longer than 30 minutes straight at a time, especially if they are young. Breaks are important. You can also build in rewards for good work. For example, set the expectation that if your kids stay focused and finish things, they can have extra free time. Set a timer, and when it goes off, let them take a break to do something they enjoy. Teachers do this, too. Only they might offer 15 minutes of extra recess or time to talk with friends.
Keep a routine
Everyone benefits from a healthy routine, especially kids. You can start by asking your teacher for a sample schedule for the day, but don’t worry if you find it challenging to mirror it while meeting the demands of your own job. You might even struggle with sharing time on the computers in your home. It’s OK. This isn’t a normal time. Just try to establish some routine, whatever that may look like for your family. It will give structure to your days, and help keep everyone in your family organized and on track.
When building your schedule, don’t forget about breaks and downtime. Kids need time to be kids. And rest time is important for you, too! Keep in mind that your kids don’t spend 100% of their day learning at school either. They may go to gym class, play at recess, spend time in assemblies and socialize in the halls between classes.
Try taking a stretch break together as a family every hour, or practice mindfulness activities twice a day. Burnett says she likes to use GoNoodle in her classroom, a site offering movement and mindfulness videos created by child development experts.
And make it clear when school will be done for the day, so your kids have something to look forward to. Remember, they will continue to learn through activities they do around the house that aren’t part of any formal curriculum. Assign them new roles to help out with housework, teach them new recipes for dinner, involve them in your gardening, or just simply talk. Most importantly, let them play! We have a few new ideas you can add to your family’s entertainment toolbox.
Set aside space for schoolwork
Your kids are used to learning in an environment away from home, without the distraction of TV, video games and other forms of entertainment. You can help your kids maintain their focus by designating a space in your home that is dedicated to schoolwork. Maybe it’s the kitchen table or a desk in your family room. This space will help your kids differentiate their school life from home life.
Involve your kids in this decision, too. Ask them what they are used to seeing in their classrooms, and what things would help make their space feel more like school.
Stay in touch with teachers
Your kids’ teachers are going to remain a big part of their daily life, as they assign schoolwork and guide them through lessons. They are your kids’ lifeline to the classroom culture, which will never be the same as your home culture.
Teachers are also a resource for you. Make sure you provide your kids’ teachers with your most up-to-date phone numbers and emails so you can stay in touch, and reach out if you need help. Just remind yourself that this is new for teachers as well. Be flexible with them as they learn new technology and different methods of teaching.
Stay in touch with other students
School provides an outlet for kids that isn’t available at home. They have opportunities to socialize and spend time with their friends, learning and developing by expressing their feelings and building relationships. Help your kids stay in touch with their friends and other students virtually. There are many free video chat apps that make it easy.
Tap into online resources
There are numerous free online resources to help nurture learning. You can find readalong activities, self-guided lessons, quizzes, games covering different school subjects, even crafts kids can have fun with during breaks or lunch. Pinterest and YouTube offer many great ideas. Just be sure to watch any videos before or with your child to ensure quality.
The Ohio Department of Education also provides resources for parents on their website. You can find the state’s curriculum guidelines and objectives from preschool through high school, practice tests and assessments, and tips for staying involved in your kids’ education. You might find it valuable to spend some time on this site learning more about what your kids will be expected to know next year, so you can start to prepare them.
If you’re struggling with teaching certain concepts to your kids, check out Khan Academy for a refresher. This nonprofit organization offers free practice exercises, instructional videos and a personalized learning dashboard to empower learners of all ages. Students and parents can access courses for all subjects, from math and reading to computer programming. They also partner with NASA, the Museum of Modern Art, the California Academy of Sciences and MIT to offer specialized content.
One of Burnett’s personal favorites is Teachers Pay Teachers, which provides more than 3 million worksheets, activities and printable resources by grade level and subject. A lot of them are free, and you can filter search results to display only those that are.
Lastly, check to see if your kids’ schools or teachers are sharing information on their website or social accounts. This is a good way to stay up-to-date and find unique content specific to your kids’ regular learning environment.
Don’t be afraid to get creative
Just because you don’t have a teaching degree, doesn’t mean you can’t teach your kids valuable lessons. Burnett says it’s important to remember that you are nearing the end of the school year, so don’t get hung up on teaching new concepts. This is a great time to focus on review to make sure your kids fully understand what they’ve already been taught this year. Their teachers are already planning to do more review in the fall. And if you don’t understand the new methods of doing things, it’s OK to teach them the strategies you learned as a kid. Do what you know and have fun with it!
Set up a weekly art class, come up with songs to remember math or vocabulary concepts, do science experiments together. You could even plan to take a virtual field trip every week! Discovery Education, Scholastic, zoos, aquariums, museums and national parks are all offering unique experiences. Check out this list of 40 that we think are pretty cool!
The most important thing you can do right now is be available for your kids. Look at this time together as a gift – a time to strengthen family bonds. You will get to experience a part of your kids’ lives you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.
Be forgiving and flexible
Together, you are navigating new territory. Give your kids, their teachers and yourself some wiggle room. It will take time and experimentation to find out how your kids learn best while at home, and you may make some mistakes or hit roadblocks along the way. Be patient and shift your course if needed. You will get the hang of this!