Across the United States, millions of parents and caregivers are now doing something they never thought they would: homeschooling — or perhaps more accurately, overseeing remote learning while in many cases simultaneously attempting to work full-time. It’s been called the biggest distance learning experiment in history. That feels pretty damn diplomatic to me.
My own kid has been out of school for three weeks now (while his younger brother has been out of daycare), and I feel so fortunate that they’re young. The remote learning “curriculum” my 5-year-old is following basically involves a lot of art projects, games, and reading him books.
Even so, getting him to sit down and actually do it has been hard at times. Typically, he’s the kid who runs into the classroom every morning without looking back at us once. He loves his teachers and his classmates. But Zoom morning meetings with a bunch of fidgety 5-year-olds on mute are painful. His father and I don’t have the skills or the patience to make even his super simple math exercises fun. Often, he’ll resist, begging for Legos again. Or TV. Anything but learning with mom and dad.
All of this certainly goes for parents of older kids who are at a point in their education where the stakes are potentially a whole lot higher. We know summer learning loss is an issue. What will happen now? How can parents who are under an enormous amount of stress — and in many cases facing huge health and financial challenges — keep their kids interested in remote learning as the weeks and months wear on?
So as always, we turned to the experts to get their advice on forging ahead when kids inevitably hit their coronavirus homeschooling wall.
1. Lower. Your. Expectations.
“Most of us aren’t trained as teachers. Many of us are also working. Most of us are doing the best we can,” Kim Allen, a human development specialist with NC State University, told HuffPost.
Rather than stressing about homeschooling challenges, or worrying too much about your child falling behind, lower your expectations. Our kids probably won’t learn as much with us as they would in school. That’s OK.
You should also feel empowered to reach out to your child’s teacher and explain your particular home situation right now, so they can adjust their expectations accordingly. Are you working full-time and totally booked up during the day? Are you busy sorting through unemployment benefits? Do you have other kids at home whose work and schedules you also need to somehow accommodate?
If it feels impossible to get through a mountain of school work right now, tell your child’s teachers. “My sixth grader has been getting a flood of assignments; I work full-time and I’m a single mom with other kids at home,” Annie Snyder, a doctor of educational psychology and senior learning scientist with McGraw-Hill, told HuffPost.
She got in touch with her child’s teachers and told them, point blank, that the workload was impossible for her to handle right now. Her child’s teachers were really receptive to finding ways to better work with her family’s situation and schedule.
2. Focus on your relationship above all else.
“One of the very first questions I ask parents is: Think back to your favorite teacher. What were the qualities of that person?” said Allen. Almost without fail, adults will recall a teacher who was kind and who they could tell really cared about them, she said.
So your first priority in your weird new hybrid parent/teacher role is to focus on your relationship with your kid and keeping that strong, she said. If they’re pushing back against home school on a particular day — or you find yourself kind of going head-to-head with them to get them to finish a particular assignment — step back and remember that what matters most right now is that you guys keep your relationship strong.
Also, it just simply doesn’t work all that well to badger your kid into learning.
“If your child is feeling stressed, they’re going to have a hard time learning anyway,” Allen said.
3. Try a “let it go” board.
Snyder said this one works particularly well for younger kids, and the idea is simple: If there’s an assignment your kid doesn’t want to do at a certain moment in time, give them the option of sticking it on the “let it go board.”
“Ask them, ‘Do you want this to be a ‘let it go’ task?’” Snyder said. If they do, write it down, tack it up on a board or sheet of paper, and then move onto something else. You’re not letting them off the hook forever; you’re just letting them come back to the activity when they’re in a better place for it.
“They know that at some point, you’ll go back and tackle that ‘let it go’ task,” said Snyder, who has been having a lot of success with this with her own second grader. And they’re always proud when they finally do.
4. Get playful.
Sure, that’s a pretty broad directive. And it can certainly challenging when you’re running on empty. But if your kiddo just isn’t responding to school as it’s being offered to them at this moment in time, use the fact that they’re not in a traditional school setting to your advantage.
If they resisting an assignment, could you ask them to play teacher and lead a class walking a younger sibling through it? They’ll still digest the material, and suddenly it feels more like a game. If they’re resisting a math assignment, could you give them a dry-erase marker and let them work out some equations on your bathroom tiles? Snyder recently tried a version of that with one of her own kids.
“You can be playful at home and blend in learning,” she said, adding that it may take a lot of trial and error to figure out what works, and that’s OK. She also suggested reaching out to your child’s teachers to see if they have specific tips about blending learning and play.
“Teachers have a lot of good ideas for that,” Snyder said.
5. Reminder: Learning doesn’t just happen during school hours.
Both of the experts who spoke to HuffPost noted that parents often have this idea that learning is something kids do at school, then home time is more for hanging out (and homework). Give yourself more credit than that. Kids learn with you all the time. And it is OK if the bulk of the learning happening at home right now isn’t coming during traditional school hours, or even focused on traditional academic topics.
If they’re doing laundry with you, that’s learning, Snyder said. If they’re eager for screen time — and you can get them in front of a kid-appropriate documentary — that’s learning, too, Allen added.
Or return to one of the most basic learning exercises of all. Just read together.
“It’s one of the best ways to work on learning,” Allen said, “and to work on that connection.”
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