As parents take on the role of educating their children at home, while they participate in “distance learning” during school closures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, many are seeking advice.
Jamie Heston, a home-schooling parent who is on the board of the Homeschool Association of California and is a home-schooling consultant, addressed some of the most common questions parents are asking. Below are excerpts from that interview.
Q: What advice do you have for parents who now find themselves essentially home-schooling their children?
A: I have five basic tips:
- Do not try to replicate school at home. Home-schoolers are not even really home-schooling right now because normally, our world is our classroom. Think about it as “quarantine schooling.” Think about the fact that you’re a parent, not a teacher. Think of yourself as your children’s facilitator of learning. It’s going to be messy. Don’t worry about it. We’re all trying to survive a pandemic and people are trying to work. Everyone is in the same boat regarding children possibly getting behind. Maybe you’re a single parent. During this epidemic, keeping money coming in comes first. Academics may need to come second.
- Be gentle with yourself, your kids, your partner and your coworkers. This is unprecedented. Both parents should share in the duties, whether for homeschooling, childcare, or housework. I’m very concerned about women in this situation because we just take it all on.
- Ask your children what they would like to learn. This is a wonderful opportunity to not just do worksheets. Do real life. Make a meal, make a bed, fold laundry, serve meals, clean up, do chores and do repairs around the house. This helps parents and gives kids skills in gardening, sewing and fixing things, along with reading, playing, inventing, building things, singing, dancing and experimenting. I have created a resource list that is 20 pages long with categories for “what to do with my kids.” But you also have permission not to use any of them, if using them is more harmful than helpful. Khan Academy videos are utilized quite a bit and there are more resources popping up all the time. You can also use documentaries and movies while you’re stuck at home.
- Recognize that learning doesn’t just happen with a teacher or a book at a desk. It can happen anywhere. Children are learning even when they’re playing with Legos. That’s hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, spatial engineering, design and creativity. Real life learning experiences have school subject applicability. You don’t have to teach your children everything. If you’re not ready to do algebra with your child, there are resources you can use. You don’t have to take it on yourself. Self-directed learning is the best kind. When children are interested, they are motivated to learn. Find out what interests them.
- Be flexible. Learning doesn’t have to take place during regular school hours. If you’re staying home and working, maybe you can shift schoolwork to weekends, evenings or afternoons. This is a crisis. You do what you need to do. Use the internet or games as a tool, but don’t feel guilty if you need to rely on them at times to get things done. People need to work.
Q. How can parents help children meet their teachers’ goals?
A. I would be really communicative with the teacher. Ask, “What is really necessary here? Could we do baking and double recipes instead of a math lesson?” I would be talking with the teachers about what you’re doing at home and what you could use to meet a requirement they may have. Everybody’s kind of reacting differently. Keep communicating with your children’s teacher about the best way to meet requirements and what you can do instead, if it’s not working for you or your kid.
Q. Should parents establish daily schedules?
A. What is so awesome about homeschooling is that what I do is different from what you do. You should do what works for your family. If your kids need a schedule, do it. If they like online classes, do them. If online classes make them agitated, don’t do them. That’s the beauty here. I can’t tell you that you should do a schedule or should not. You do what’s best for you. It takes trial and error. There’s no right and wrong. From child to child, it may be different. There is no one size fits all. That’s what’s so great about it, but also scary. You’re doing what is perfect for them in the moment.
Q. What about children with special needs? Many parents worry they won’t get the services they need if they’re not in school.
A. Children who have special needs benefit from differentiated instruction, including those who are gifted. They take more time and attention and that can be stressful for the parents. I recommend trying to help them continue learning in real life (#3 above) as much as possible. But when there’s resistance in our children, take a break and do something different. Don’t just push through because the child probably is not learning in that moment. A lot of kids will have IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) in schools and need special accommodations because of the environment in a classroom with 30 kids. Sometimes, when kids are home, these (behavior-related) accommodations are not necessary. For example, a child could be bouncing a ball while I read to them. You couldn’t do that in a classroom with 30 students. So, that’s a positive. Hopefully, this situation will be short-term and they can continue to receive help. But some of their needs might be mitigated by homeschooling. Again, try not to replicate school at home with special needs children (#1 above).
Q. What about mental health concerns for students who may become depressed, anxious or stressed about missing school?
A. It is important to support children’s emotional well-being. There are resources for meditation and mindfulness. It’s also important that everybody gets their priorities right regarding the academics of the child. The priority should be that everybody be OK. I have done consulting with families about a year ago (before the coronavirus) who had children who were suicidal, based on major life issues. We would talk about what’s best for the child now. If the child is in therapy, what are the things they love to do and are interested in? Because if they’re not on the planet, it doesn’t matter if they know Algebra II. It’s really about remembering priorities — that they be OK first. If not, it doesn’t matter what they’re learning. That applies in this (coronavirus) situation. Families have got to be fed and work has to get done. Kids can still learn a lot within that framework. If you’re dealing with these types of major mental health challenges, you’re going to do things you love and are interested in. Gradually, as your child gets better, you add in other academics, as your child can handle it.
Q. Is there any way to view this situation as an opportunity that could benefit kids and families?
A. Someone posted to my Facebook group a blogger’s response to this idea that kids might get behind. The post said, “What if instead of ‘behind,’ this group of kids is advanced because of this?” It said these kids could have more empathy, enjoy family connections, be more creative and better able to entertain themselves, love to read and express themselves in writing. They may enjoy simple things like their back yards and notice the birds and flowers and “the calming renewal of a gentle rain shower.” They may learn to cook, to organize, do laundry and to stretch a dollar and get along with less. They may learn the value of sharing meals with their families, and place great value on teachers and public servants who were “previously invisible,” like grocers, custodians and healthcare workers. And “what if among these children, a great leader emerges who had the benefit of a slower pace and a simpler life?” What if this slower pace is a huge gift? I just love that take on it. Possibly. We shall see. Maybe so.