Social Distancing is the newest term in everyone's vocabulary. The health situation has changed – and continues to change – at such a rapid pace that it’s hard to know which end is up. One of the biggest areas where families are experiencing this transformation is in the education of their children. Even those who have chosen to homeschool are not used to the newly mandated isolation. We find ourselves in uncharted territory. All of a sudden, millions of kids are at home, and many parents do not know what will happen with their child's learning for the last quarter of this school year. Despite the unknowns, it’s important to remember that this unprecedented transformation is temporary, and, indeed, manageable. As a homeschool mom for 13 years, I have some tips and suggestions about scheduling, organization, and connections to help handle this new way of learning.
For starters, create a daily schedule. One of the best things you can do to help alleviate some stress is to establish a routine that will help both adults and children feel safer. Figure out what works best for your family, and write it down − on a whiteboard, a sheet of paper – or even print it out. Set times to wake, to eat, to do school, and to play. A quick Google search will yield examples of different types of schedules. Find one you like and tweak it for your family. I would encourage you to include your children in the schedule-making process, as once you have their buy-in, they will be less likely to resist it.
Many students are on an extended break for the time being, while school districts decide what to do moving forward. Once you know the way your child will be finishing the school year, either virtually or as a homeschooler, you can manage the schedule to include time for learning. There are a few things to consider when designing this schedule: how long, when, where and what.
- How long: Studies show that our brains, both young and old, can only focus and absorb for about 25 minutes at a time before needing a 5-minute break. And we can also only sustain this cycle four times. So, your school schedule should have these 25-minutes-on/5-minutes-off cycles for about 2 hours. Then be done with "academics" for the day.
- When: For the majority of us, our brains are at their best in the morning after breakfast up until lunchtime. After that, we hit a pretty low point before coming back up to about half the level of morning productiveness by late afternoon. Therefore, the best time to schedule academic pursuits is in the morning.
- Where: While this might seem obvious at the moment - aren't we all schooling from home? - where you set up school in your home can make a big difference. For younger students, set up different stations around the house. Allow your child to create a "library/reading" station. Get creative: you can set up a Lego station, an art station, a math station, etc. For middle and high school students, picking one or two areas is best. Due to the high level of isolation already - try and keep them out of the bedroom. Otherwise, allow them to choose where they work.
- What: For those who have schools sending work or going virtual − this is easy. For those whose schools have decided to not do anything for the rest of the year, this can be more challenging. There are many online resources that have stopped charging due to the Coronavirus. Check out "Scholastic: Learn at Home" and "Brainpop." Both are now free and can be used for all ages. There are also other home school resources that you can find with a quick Google search.
- Lastly − Keep it simple. This is a stressful enough time. Don't try and add a bunch of extra work to your days, with potential for more pushback from your kids. For younger students, you want to focus on reading, writing and math. Allow history and science to be guided by your child's interests. For older students, you want to stay on top of the core subjects: math, English, history, science and a foreign language.
- Don't forget to include screen time. Love it or hate it, screen time is a part of our lives. And now, much of school will be done in front of the screen. I suggest coming up with a system to earn "fun" screen time. You can set up a "screen time" jar and each time an assignment is completed, a chapter is read, a chore is done, outside play has happened, etc., put a penny in the jar. Your child can then redeem those for a 30-minute TV show or 30 minutes on the iPad, for instance. Other kids do better with a visual chart on the fridge. Whatever works for your family is fine. But having a system will help keep everyone on track.
- A final thought in terms of setting up a schedule. It is inevitable that you will get off schedule. That's OK!! The schedule is there so you know where to return when distractions occur. Show grace to yourself and to your kids. In this time of upheaval − remember that your students are feeling it too. Our emphasis should be on making sure they feel safe. Everyone is in the same boat.
As students go back to school virtually or at home, organization is key. What do you do with all of the worksheets they are doing? How do you keep track of it all? There are two great ways to do this. One: grab a binder or accordion folder. Use dividers or label the folder with each subject name. When something is completed, have your child add it the binder/folder. You can also create a space online by using Google Drive. You can create folders on there for students to save their work.
This is a surreal time causing anxiety in many people. Connecting with others helps us to deal with that anxiety and to create a feeling of normalcy. Thankfully, we live in a time when technology allows us to connect while social distancing. Here are a few suggestions for connection:
- Do you have a child who loves to read? Create a reading club and connect via Skype, FaceTime or Zoom once a week to discuss the book.
- Does your child love to cook? Have him or her film a cooking show and share it with friends. They can stream themselves while making a dish!
- Is your child a builder? Start a contest for the most creative or original Lego design. Have kids build and do a time-lapse video to share with others. Students can set the parameters and parents can serve as judges. Or, include a non-partisan neighbor in the process, so that they can feel connected as well.
- What about really active children? Allow them to create workouts or games to share with their friends. They can also even workout "live" together via FaceTime, etc.
This new world we are in will look differently for everyone, but together, we’ll get through this. Ask for help. Look for and share new ideas. We are going to be OK!