Tens of millions of school students are now home. Even more adults are now working from home. This is 2020: The Year of the Coronavirus. This is our reality right now.
Public, private, and charter schools across the country have closed in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, and most don’t know when, or even if, they’ll reopen in order to finish out the 2019-20 school year.
Many of these schools have implemented “remote learning” or “distance learning” plans, though several school systems have done so hastily as they didn’t have a plan in place to begin with. So while there are plans, they’re certainly not perfect, and parents now either have to fully homeschool their children, or manage their “distance learning” program.
Because so many kids are now home, parents who had been working outside the home are now at home with their children because a) they can’t leave their kids home alone and b) their places of business are also closed as part of the efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic. This new homeschool situation can be a very difficult and challenging one for both parents and their kids to navigate. It’s a situation we don’t encounter much as a whole–the very different worlds of school and work, adults and children, are now colliding. “How do I homeschool when I still need to get work done at home?” It’s a valid question with no real right or wrong answers. But there are some things that you can do to make the transition smoother and be sure you’re focusing on both your work and your kids.
Be With Them
This sounds simple, but being in the same room (or at least the general vicinity) with your kids as you both work can help. If you’re accustomed to a more secluded office-type setting, you may have to make alternative arrangements. Set up a mobile workstation in the same area where your children may be doing their schoolwork. Or sit at the same table as them. Just be visible and present as much as you’re able to. Remember, this is a whole new world for kids, and having a reassuring parental presence nearby can help calm any anxieties or fears they may have.
Be Available to Help
Same thing as Be With Them, right? Not really. Being there physically is one thing–that’s serving as more of a calming presence. But being available to help them is another thing altogether. As you’ve undoubtedly experienced, kids have questions with homework. The same goes for class work. Except their teacher isn’t there to answer those questions. You are. Sure, most teachers make themselves available during school hours for any questions or problems that their students may have, but you’re right there. So if you’re able to help, do it. It’s never easy putting work aside, especially if you’re in the middle of something important. And sometimes meetings and phone calls are unavoidable in your line of work. In those cases, simply explain to your children at the start of the school day that you need to do some important work from X time to X time, so that could be a good opportunity to read or play outside or even just take a break. Otherwise, it’s important for your kids to know you’re still there to help them. Keep in mind, this is uncharted territory for them too, not just you.
Create a Schedule
You can’t just wing it. Kids may be home for too long of a period to let them dictate how each day is going to look. Setting a schedule is beneficial and important to both you and the kids. If you know that they’ll be occupied with reading for an hour, that’s the perfect time to hold a virtual meeting, make some calls, or focus on your work. A few suggestions as far as creating a schedule:
- Start the day at a reasonable time. It doesn’t have to be 6 am, but it shouldn’t be noon either. Set aside a block of a couple hours dedicated to their schoolwork, and then let them take a recess break. Without the normal social interaction that they’d get at school, kids are going to get antsy. So let them take an hour to go outside and play, read a book, or even de-stress with some video games. That should recharge their batteries enough for another couple hours of studies.
- Follow the order of their typical school schedule. If for no other reason than to create a close proximity of what their normal day would look like, have your kids do their work in class period order. This might get them into a routine that breeds familiarity and a sense of normalcy, which might make them more comfortable.
- Work chores into the mix. Hey, education comes in many forms, right? Well, these are life skills. After an hour or two of work, have your child do a load of laundry, wash the dishes, or vacuum. The benefits are four-fold–it teaches them valuable skills, it gives them a break from the books (or computer), it provides you with some time for work, and it’s less you’ll need to do later in the day! Learning to work hard and be responsible is perhaps the most important lesson kids can be taught, so you might as well work that into their school day.
Take Advantage of the Internet
Because so many schools hastily put together a remote learning program, there are definitely some gaps. Meaning, in most cases, what the kids are doing at home is not going to amount to the full six- or seven-hour school day that they’re accustomed to. Odds are, they’re looking at something closer to three or four hours of actual school work per day. And while you don’t necessarily have to make them sit through an entire six- or seven-hour day, you also don’t want to make the school day too short. That’s not productive for anyone. Fortunately, most people have easy access to high-speed Internet! Take full advantage of it. Educational entertainment for them + time to dedicate to work for you = win for everyone. Here are a few ways:
- YouTube: no, not for cat videos and whatever other ridiculousness they’re accustomed to watching. Educational videos! There are TONS of incredible learning resources on YouTube. From National Geographic nature videos to The History Channel, literally thousands of resources are waiting to be used. Check out this list for some awesome YouTube learning channels. This is another great list with channels just for younger kids.
- Virtual tours: Unfortunately, many of the wonderful museums and institutions in our country have also closed due to coronavirus. Luckily, they have made virtual tours available for everyone! Use your child’s art elective period to take a tour of a world-renowned museum right at home. This link features 12 of the world’s most famous art museums, a great place to start. If you REALLY get into art, check out Google Arts & Culture’s list of 2,500 art museums! Each museum showcases its artwork, which you can explore up close at the click of a button. If your child wants to go beyond art, this article provides a truly awesome list of attractions with virtual tours…from aquariums to natural history museums to The Happiest Place on Earth! Virtual tours are educational and entertaining. And you can use this time to either tour alongside your kids or get some work done.
- Documentaries and movies: If your child is in the midst of a Civil War lesson, dedicate a couple of hours to stream the Ken Burns PBS series on Amazon Prime. In fact, Ken Burns has created a huge variety of critically acclaimed documentary series about American history, all worth watching. Netflix currently offers a selection of World War II documentaries among many other interesting topics. If you have Disney+, that streaming service is home to some amazing nature documentaries and movies as well as the National Geographic catalog. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with watching some TV as long as it’s educational.
- Learning supplements: There are tons of great online lessons and educational supplements kids can enjoy. The best (I’m biased) is Elephango. A Bridgeway Academy partner, Elephango is packed with incredible lessons written by professional teachers. Each one is engaging, entertaining, and educational, and filled with video clips, interactive quizzes, and activities spanning a huge variety of topics. I highly recommend Elephango, but here’s a list of other great homeschool supplements from Common Sense Media.
No matter the age, reading benefits everyone. Odds are your children have some assigned reading from school, but that doesn’t mean they can’t expand their horizons. Work one hour of reading time into their new school day. Again, they’re learning and you have an hour to have a meeting or make some phone calls. Common Sense Media has an awesome list of classic books for kids of all ages–from Corduroy to The Grapes of Wrath. The New York Public Library also put together a comprehensive list of 100 children’s classics.
Kids need their exercise. They’re accustomed to getting that physical activity in gym class or during recess at school. It’s important to make that a mandatory part of each school day at home as well. Set aside 30 to 60 minutes dedicated to physical activity–it’s a great excuse for you to step away from your desk and take a break as well! If you have the means, let your kids shoot some hoops outside or take a bike ride around the neighborhood. Even better, take a walk with your child and discuss how the school day is going–that may even provide some valuable insight on how you can make homeschooling better for them. If the weather isn’t conducive to outdoor activity, create a short workout that can be done indoors. Sit-ups, push-ups, etc. Or find a workout video online! You could even play some video games that require activity, like the titles made for Nintendo Wii or Xbox Kinect. It doesn’t matter how kids get their physical education, it’s just important that they get it.
For parents who are now working at home alongside their kids learning from home, it’s definitely a whole new world. There will be some bumps in the road, but it is possible to create a comfortable, productive environment that allows both you and your kids to get all your work done without much interruption and while allowing for communication. As I write this, my two kids (15 and 11) are at the kitchen table working diligently on their assignments while I am using the family room coffee table as my workstation. I can watch them both by simply turning my head, and they can easily ask me questions, which I’m happy to answer. Except for math. (Trust me, they’re better off.) I’m physically here and readily available, and I think that gives them a sense of comfort. When it’s time to read, they’re off to their rooms for some quiet solitude, which is important as well. And all the while, I’ve been able to write this article while answering emails and messages without much trouble at all. It can be done. It’ll just take some time adjusting to this new normal.
How have you and your family adjusted as new homeschoolers? Share your thoughts in the comments below!