In early March, the spread of COVID-19 became an issue lawmakers and educators could no longer ignore. The difficult decision was made in many states to close the doors of public and private schools, moving children to online learning from home. In the hopes that social distancing will slow the spread of the virus, families find themselves dealing with the challenges of working and schooling from home.
In this article, we’ll explore the challenges associated with online learning and the impact of widespread school closures. We’ll also talk about how to establish a homeschooling routine and provide some useful resources for online learning and educational ideas for children and families.
Challenges Associated with Online Learning
As schools all over the country closed their doors, a wave of panic spread through the community. Though many schools announced an initial 2-week closure, others offered no end date.
Not only have these closures resulted in an interruption of education, but they also have a negative impact on other aspects of a child’s life. The stability that comes from a daily school schedule is important, as is the time children spend learning from interactions with others. At school, students benefit from the supervision of qualified professionals and a structured schedule. For many students, school also means consistent access to meals.
Though remote learning is the best option in the current situation, it is not without its challenges. Here are some of the challenges associated with online learning:
- Not all students have access to the same resources. Some families don’t have reliable computers and internet connections at home.
- Some students require more individual assistance than others – remote learning makes it more challenging for teachers to offer specialized guidance.
- Online learning doesn’t provide for the same degree of student-to-student communication which is integral for development in students of all ages.
- Some material is more difficult to teach in an online setting – certain aspects of the curriculum may suffer depending on the limits of technology.
- Remote learning carried out in a student’s home increases the risk for distraction – teachers may lose the ability to control the environment in which students learn.
In the wake of the ongoing pandemic, state boards of education are doing their best to accommodate for the changes. Though some schools have decided to keep students out of the classroom through the rest of the school year, others expect to reopen their doors in the coming weeks. Requirements for standardized testing are being reevaluated with the current situation in mind and educators have every hope that school closures won’t significantly set students back in terms of their education.
How Important it to Stick to a Curriculum?
During the first few days of school closures related to the COVID-19 crisis, parents around the nation posted optimistic homeschool schedules on social media platforms. Most schedules included regular daily activities like breakfast, quiet time, and a daily walk with additional time slated for age-appropriate learning activities like quiet reading and crafts. The idea behind these schedules is sound, but the reality for many parents is much different – especially for those who find themselves working from home.
As school closures drag on and more parents are forced to work from home, many find themselves wondering how important it really is to stick to a planned curriculum during the crisis.
The degree to which you can maintain any semblance of structured education at home depends greatly on your child’s age. Middle and high school-age children can be given independent learning activities to do on their own and many schools have already released online lessons. For younger children, however, it’s difficult to focus on any singular task for more than a few minutes so hopes of a full 8-hour curriculum of lessons and activities quickly goes out the window.
As a parent, it’s your responsibility to do what’s best for your child. At the same time, you need to be practical about the situation. As much as you might want to provide your child with a structured homeschooling curriculum for what could be the remainder of the school year, it’s not easy to do at the drop of a hat. It may be better to find a balance between spending quality time as a family, offering learning opportunities, and maintaining some semblance of a normal routine.
Homeschooling: Where to Start
If you’ve never homeschooled your child before, you may be at a loss with where to start. For the first week at home, it was all about adapting to a new routine and maybe enjoying some unexpected family time. As it remains uncertain whether schools will reopen for the remainder of the year, however, it becomes your responsibility to make sure there aren’t significant disruptions to your child’s education.
The first thing you need to do is check with your child’s school.
Many schools have already disseminated remote learning plans, so communicate with your child’s teacher to find out if they’ve created any lesson plans to give you an idea where to start. For older children, some schools have begun teaching classes by video, though these resources certainly aren’t available everywhere.
Once you’ve touched base with your child’s school to find out what your child should be working on, you can start to develop a new routine.
Your child has been following a similar routine for as long as he can remember, so sudden changes can be scary. Don’t expect to be able to launch into a full-scale homeschooling curriculum right away. It doesn’t hurt to get in the habit of having breakfast together as a family followed by time for chores or independent work assigned by your child’s teachers. Be sure to work in time for outside play and independent reading or other alone-time activities.
Don’t expect to follow the same schedule every day and don’t feel like you need to be right by their side to keep them on task.
The important thing is to set expectations for your children while maintaining some flexibility. You’ll need to find a way to balance your child’s educational priorities with finding time to do your own work. It may be a good time to give your child the opportunity to choose what he wants to study. If he’s interested in the subject, he’ll be more motivated to stay focused on it. As long as he’s doing something educational, you shouldn’t be too concerned about the specifics.
Suddenly finding yourself at home 24 hours a day with your children can be a big change. It’s important to take things one day at a time and to understand that there aren’t any rules for this kind of situation – everyone is figuring it out as they go along.
Should You Worry About Screen Time?
Modern parents are understandably concerned about the amount of time their children spend using technology – it’s referred to as “screen time.” Setting limits on screen time for things like watching television and playing video games is important, but you can’t expect to survive school closures without a little phone or TV time for your kids.
Here are some positive ways to use media during the ongoing crisis:
- Stay connected with your child’s teachers. If your child’s school offers online classes or teacher check-ins, let your child use the phone or computer to stay connected.
- Set up virtual playdates. Your child is going to start missing his friends but it’s important to maintain social distancing practices. Set up virtual playdates or have your child and his friends exchange video messages.
- Be smart about choosing content. If you decide to give your child free screen time, make sure you still have the proper parenting protections in place so they can only access safe, quality content.
- Take your child to work with you. Finding time to do your work while keeping your kids busy can be a challenge, so consider “taking your child to work” with you – let him sit in on a video call or walk him through one of your daily tasks.
- Watch something together. Relax and unwind together as a family by watching your favorite movie or television show – you could even stream a free Broadway performance.
In troubling times, the best thing you can do is stay positive. Your child may be having trouble adapting to the current situation and it’s your job as a parent to provide as much stability and support as you can. Part of that responsibility involves providing your child with activities to do during their days at home.
Try These Screen-Free Activities to Keep Kids Busy
Every parent dreads hearing the words “I’m bored” during summer vacation. It’s easy to simply throw in a DVD and sit your kids down on the couch, but they won’t learn much from watching The Little Mermaid for the twentieth time. It’s important to limit screen time and find ways to stimulate your kids’ minds with opportunities for learning and education.
If you find yourself running out of ideas to keep your kids busy while maintaining screen time restrictions, here are some things you can try:
- Teach your kids a new board game and play it together as a family
- Have your children take turns reading their favorite books to each other
- Bake a batch of cookies or cupcakes and let your kids go wild decorating them
- Print out free activity sheets appropriate for your child’s age
- Give your child crayons or craft supplies and a theme to create a project
- Use sidewalk chalk to draw out a town on your driveway
- Ask your child to draw a self-portrait or a picture of the whole family
- Give your child supplies to decorate their bedroom door
- Create a list of chores that need to be done every day and assign them
- Set up a tent in the living room and pretend you’re camping indoors
- Have your kids put on a fashion show with their favorite clothes and accessories
Technology can be a distraction, but it does have its uses. Though you want to avoid having to grab the phone from your child’s hand in the middle of a math lesson, there are a number of educational resources online you should take advantage of. Read on to learn more.
Online Resources for Homeschooling Parents
Limiting screen time for your children is very important, especially when it comes to cultivating an attitude of focus. With television shows and social media, it’s easy to flit from one thing to another in a matter of seconds. Setting screen time limits encourages your children to learn how to focus on the task at hand until it’s completed but, in the right setting, technology can be a tool for learning as well.
Here are some online resources you can use as a homeschooling parent:
- Adventure Academy – Typically available as a 30-day trial, this program is currently free for schools closed due to COVID-19 and provides online lessons for students up to age 13 in meth, reading, social studies, and science.
- BrainPOP – Designed for upper elementary and middle school students, BrainPOP offers videos, quizzes, and related reading on a variety of topics.
- Khan Academy – With courses for students of all ages, the Khan Academy has opportunities in every subject including math, reading, science and engineering, arts and humanities, even economics and finance.
- Elementari – This program enables students to turn home writing assignments into a visual experience complete with illustrations, animations, and sound. Your child can even write a choose-your-own-adventure story.
- First in Math – An online supplemental math program, First in Math offers over 200 self-paced, grade-level math games to boost understanding of numbers, patterns, and shapes.
- ReadingIQ – A comprehensive digital library of books, magazines, comics, and more, this resource has everything for kids aged 2 to 12. It also offers options for teachers and parents to monitor what and how much students are reading.
- Scholastic Learn at Home – This website provides approximately 20 days of learning spanning a variety of content areas with three hours of learning opportunities per day including projects, virtual field trips, geography challenges, and more.
When utilizing screen media for educational opportunities at home, it’s important to strike the right balance. You can’t expect to keep your kids busy every minute of the day without a little help, but you should take advantage of every opportunity to turn screen time into an educational experience.
Here are some simple tips for healthy screen time:
- Watch videos and play games together. Co-viewing offers opportunities for engagement and learning, spurring conversation about the content to expand your child’s understanding.
- Ask questions and encourage interaction. After your child finishes a screen activity, talk to him about it. Encourage him to think of technology as a device for learning and not simply a way to fill empty time.
- Take advantage of online libraries. Screen time doesn’t have to be spent watching TV or playing games – your child has access to online libraries with plenty of books and educational content.
- Try read-alouds for younger children. Reading books with your children is extremely important, but you can’t do it every minute of the day. Many online resources are offering online read-alouds your child can follow along with while you get a little work done.
- Teach your child new skills. There are plenty of apps out there your child can use to learn and develop skills like drawing, music, and even learning a foreign language.
The key to keeping screen time healthy for your children is to make sure it is active rather than passive time. Passive content consumption includes things like watching TV while active media consumption involves engaging in a virtual lesson or using online tools to complete a project.
Educational Activities to Try with Your Kids
There are plenty of opportunities to engage with your kids while they’re home from school – you just might need to get a little creative. From educational opportunities like video museum tours to “just for fun” options like ride-through videos of the rides at Disney World, you can find ways to fill the time doing more than just catching up on TV.
Here are some educational activities to do as a family:
- Cook a meal together. Have your kids go through recipe books to pick out things they like then cook a meal together and enjoy it as a family.
- Tour a museum together. Many museums are offering free digital tours right now, so take your family on a digital tour of an art or natural history museum.
- Explore one of America’s national parks. Google Earth provides virtual tours of many of America’s national parks, so take turns picking which one to tour.
- Visit the animals at the zoo. Most zoos around the country are closed to the public but many including the Cincinnati Zoo offer educational videos or live streams of their enclosures.
- Watch an online art demonstration. Gather up your favorite art supplies and watch an art lesson video together then create your own works of art.
- Go on a scavenger hunt. If you live near a local park and it’s safe to do so, create or find a free nature scavenger hunt online and complete it as a family.
- Order a subscription box. Provide your children with opportunities to learn new skills like art and coding with mail-order subscription boxes delivered on a weekly or monthly basis.
No one knows what the future holds – all any of us can do is make the most of the circumstances set before us. As a parent, your child’s safety and wellbeing is always your primary concern. While he’s home from school, make every effort to continue his learning without stressing too much about keeping up with a specific curriculum.