by Meg Flanagan
Kids are loving this super-extended break from “traditional” school. No alarms or homework? Yes, please!
Parents? Not so much.
We still have our jobs to do, albeit remotely, while also having children home 24/7. Right now, you’re probably missing the battles over homework just as much as I am. Ah… the good old days: when kids left to go to a separate school building while we also went to a work building, meeting back at home for sports practice carpool and a quick bite before music lessons.
Unfortunately, it seems that we are going to be stuck in this moment of simultaneously needing to do our own work while actively educating our kids through, well, the rest of the school year.
Homeschool parents everywhere, we salute you. Truly. Tell us your secrets, please. Which brings us to the central question and the thing you’re all asking:
Do I really need to teach my child during the school shutdown?
Full disclosure: I’m a teacher currently impacted by the COVID-19 school closures, attempting to get through this just like you. Also, let me be really honest here and say that this is hard. It’s harder to educate my own kids at home, at a teacher, than it is to teach a full 25+ student class of 4th graders. 100% harder, hands down.
Now, let me answer your question: Do you really need to teach your child during the school shut down?
Fast answer: yes, but not how you’re thinking of it.
You’re Not Copying the “Traditional” School Day Model
School as you’re thinking of it lasts from 8-3 and every minute is divided up for active learning tasks or lessons. That’s not homeschooling’s model at all. In fact, as a former professional private homeschool teacher, I can guarantee that you do not need to spend seven full hours on active learning, a la “regular” school, every single day.
Instead, think of your day as short bursts of hyper-focused learning time surrounded by all the other things in your life.
Fewer Kids = Less Time
Here’s the thing: teachers are trying to serve 25+ kids in a classroom. And while the kids are all placed on the same “level,” they’re actually not working at the same level. Some kids need harder, more advanced work while other kids need time spent reteaching concepts or skills.
Then there are a whole group of kids who fall somewhere between the most advanced and the most behind. Add in students with various disabilities or education plans, too.
You’re starting to get a picture of just why it takes seven hours (6.25 once you subtract lunch and recess) in the traditional school model. So much time is spent differentiating to each child or group of children that getting one concept mostly mastered in everyone can take hours and hours of lesson time.
Contrast that with your homeschool “class”. Even if you have students on different levels–like a 4th grader and an 8th grader–you have more flexibility to teach to your child’s strengths.
You don’t need to limit your intensive reading group lesson on Monday to 15 minutes (yep, that’s a real time limit for focused reading groups) because you have two or three other groups to see next. You’re also not juggling your child’s needs with anyone else in that particular group. There’s no stopping your conversation with them to remind another student to please not long-jump around the room. You don’t have to switch rapidly between the 3-5 students in that small learning group either.
Instead, it’s just you and your child. They have your full-ish focus and attention.
There Are No “Lessons”
Okay, yes, you’re probably going to have to explain a few things to your child through their school work periods. But it’s not a “lesson” the way we’re used to thinking about it. You’re not going to be lecturing from the front of the room, drawing on a white board, and then asking 25+ students questions to check for understanding.
Again, the small “class” size works in your favor.
Instead of a “lesson,” think about it more as a conversation:
- Share the concept, skill or topic you’re discussing today.
- Provide an example OR allow your child to reach their own understanding
- Chat about the ways that it’s easy or confusing, providing more examples as needed
- Allow your child access to materials they can work through on their own to further or show their understanding
That’s the lesson.
Repeat for all the school subjects.
Tech Is Your Friend
My secret weapon right now? Khan Academy. Especially when it comes to math.
It’s free. There’s an app for that. And it’s got the “lesson,” practice and test all built into one sleek platform. Math lessons: done.
Yes, you’ll want to also observe and chat with your child about the math (or other online learning), but the heavy lifting is done for you – virtually!
Use tech to help you teach. It’s what teachers around the world do every day. My fave resources include:
- Khan Academy and Khan Academy Kids
- Reading A-Z
- BrainPOP and BrainPOP Jr.
Your child’s school might already have ways to access these accounts from home, for free. Send the teacher or principal an email to check.
Everything Is Educational
Did you know that learning isn’t restricted to a workbook, textbook, or website? Literally everything can be made into an educational experience:
- Laundry: color sorting, chemistry, time management, organization
- Cooking: measuring, fractions, chemistry, experimentation
- Nature Walk: science, observation, PE
- Chores: time management, home economics, PE
All of these are things you’re going to need to do to survive as an unexpected homeschooling family. Make these chores work for you as educational moments in your daily life. My personal favorite unusual educational activity? Quiet time. Because I need to get stuff done and they need to learn to self-regulate and be happy playing (quietly) on their own.
Managing Distance Learning Options While Doing All the Things
In an “ideal” world you’d be 100% in charge of what your child needs to do for “school” right now. Unfortunately, it’s not an ideal world. Instead, we have distance learning, which means that your child’s teachers are providing actual assignments that need to be done, with varying degrees of flexibility available.
You’re also running a house, dealing with military life hiccups (hello, surprise 12-month deployment because stay-put orders appeared), and doing your own work. Oh, and staying sane/keeping all the children and pets alive until reinforcements arrive.
Your best friend is block scheduling and checklists. Yes, you’re going to want to create a schedule. Something fluid and flexible, but that also makes your family accountable for the must-do things every day.
You can grab a free printable teacher-designed learning schedule here. Each day is just one long block of time. Add in all the things your child needs to do that day and have them cross each item out as it’s completed. Once the tasks are done, they’ve got free time.
Or use block scheduling, assigning 1-2 tasks to a specific time period. For example, do Khan Academy and today’s teacher math assignment from 9-9:45. If they finish early, they get extra free time.
Having your daily tasks arranged like this for your kids will make things predictable, which means that you’ll be able to slip into a routine, allowing you to keep on doing all the things you need to do without losing your mind.
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Meg Flanagan is a teacher, blogger and military spouse. She owns Meg Flanagan Education Solutions, an education advocacy service dedicated to serving families on the K-12 journey. You can find Meg on Facebook. Meg is also available as a freelance writer and personal education advocate!