March 17th, 2020
I’ve been getting questions from parents and clients about what to do in order to teach their kids at home for the foreseeable future. Some schools are moving forward with daily assignments, while others are offering guidance or general ideas. Home schedules have been circulating on social media and parents have been making and reposting versions of their own. What struck me today is that too many parents are feeling added stress from the onslaught of emailed assignments and the idea of having to set up a schedule to match those being shared on social media. I wanted to emphasize to you all that there is not one right way to navigate this and all we can do is offer options and ideas to consider.
Here is an email I sent to one parent who called worried about how her kids were going to get to all of the assignments that the school had already begun posting.
“...The priority is doing what feels good and right for you and your family. Staying ‘on track’ academically is not the priority in this moment. Get yourself settled. Figure out what you need and how you can safely distance your family. Don’t feel pressured or judged. No one is going to look back and regret not getting to that page of handwriting practice or division problems. I cannot imagine any teacher getting upset about a missed assignment. They are providing them because it’s what their schools are telling them to do and what some parents and kids either want or need. For some families, that is absolutely what is helping right now. If having the work clearly assigned feels good, then that is great. But this cannot be something that adds pressure or stress to lives right now. Let’s support whatever feels sane for each family (and, I would add, the teachers who are also living through this uncertain time). What may work best is letting the kids play with legos all morning while you work, and listening to a book on tape in the afternoon. It may be doing assigned work or educational apps while parents do work of their own. It may be picking a topic to research and explore. And some days may just be needing to snuggle up and watch a movie.This is a new reality for us and, while routines are important and structure may be helpful, let’s remember that something bigger is happening and what we need to be doing may be something different for each of us.”
Homeschooling, even in ordinary times, does not look like traditional school. Setting up routines, predictable family time, and learning expectations are important. However, we are all under unprecedented circumstances right now, and everyone is responding differently. If a detailed schedule is what your family needs right now, then go for it. If you are creating it because that is what everyone is doing and sharing, then let me offer a different perspective.
Ask most teachers today and they will tell you that the average school schedule is far from ideal. In fact, most teachers complain (often!) about the problem with their “overscheduled schedule,” and there is abundant research raising alarms about the negative impact of overscheduling kids. Ironically, a return to days of adult-free play and unstructured time is what so many in the educational world have been calling for for some time now. Overnight, we seem to have lost all that kept our kids rushing from one thing to the next. While this particular reality is not what anyone had hoped for, perhaps we can use this obstacle as an avenue for our kids to reclaim their time - their time to learn through creativity, independence, responsibility, and play.
So how might you approach the day? Setting routines and expectations about what can or can’t happen during certain times of the day is important. Have times in the day that you know you’ll come together - mealtimes, family walks, or after dinner movietime. If the adults are working between 9 and 11, then the kids need to have options and expectations for what they can do (*specifics on this to come).
When thinking about these times, let’s start from the expectation that our kids want to learn and that learning means so much more than math facts and sight words (although, yes, these are important to learn and, really, are an easy thing for kids to spend time on in the coming weeks!)! Ask your kids what else they want to use the time to work on. Most kids, especially when they have the time, are pretty great about knowing what would be good to work on - whether it be math facts, handwriting, spelling, sight words, or fractions.
What else are they interested in learning about? Do they want to learn all about penguins (who isn't in love with the Chicago Aquarium penguins right now?!) or how to create a garden or how humans learned to fly? Start from a place of curiosity and these types of interests can blossom into weeks of motivated, meaningful learning.
The most important thing I want to impart today is this: please don’t feel like you or your children are “falling behind” or “not doing enough”. Know that trying to replicate or replace the learning that would be happening at school is not reasonable, but that this unique time might hold opportunities for other, more valuable growth and learning. (*I’ll share more ideas about that in the coming days.).
For today, let’s all take a breath and remember that learning is so much more than what happens during math or literacy time at school. As Einstein said, “Play is the highest form of research.” Couldn’t we all use a little play right now?