Apr. 22, 2020We spoke with a homeschooling expert about the differences between pandemic schooling and homeschooling, and the easiest ways for parents to adapt when they’re juggling everything.
Nobody was ready when states started shutting down schools. Nobody was ready for their only source of childcare, in many cases, to suddenly fall off the map.
But for millions of parents in the U.S. last month, that’s exactly what happened. Schools stopped, everything stopped, and, for many states, the education system is officially out for the remainder of the year.
As many parents struggle to adapt to the massive wave of changes brought on in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, one thing remains practically impossible: how to homeschool your kids when you’ve got work to do.
Veteran homeschooling parents are issuing an important reminder: this is not what homeschooling is supposed to look like.
Pandemic-schooling, as it’s being called, is a sharp transition from conventional school to distance learning in a home environment, and homeschooling parents say, there is a big difference between the two.
Jennifer Duncan is a homeschooling mother of a now college student. She runs the blog Life Beyond the Lesson Plan, and she’s here to reassure parents with sound advice.
#1 — Recognize That It’s Going to Feel Different
One of the key differences between homeschooling and conventional schooling is that homeschool curriculum is tailored to the child, whereas in group education, the child must conform and keep up with the curriculum.
“The boundaries are fuzzy. We learn all day, but really only sit down for a few hours to do our work, whereas conventional schooling has these strict boundaries between class time and personal time. In the home, it doesn’t always work out that way.”
#2 — Let Teachers Bring the Process, You Bring the Structure
What’s most challenging about pandemic schooling is the suddenness of it, but also teaching a standardized education in a home environment.
Duncan says the best thing parents can do is to let teachers bring the learning process with the curriculum, and enforce its implementation at home with structure.
“At school, teachers do both, but since students are at home, it’s up to parents to create some structure for their kids, and let the curriculum fit into that,” she says.
#3 — Be As Flexible As You Can
Jennifer says that while structure and routine is helpful, it won’t look the same for every learner. She suggests taking this opportunity to work one on one with your child as a chance to get to know how they learn and create a structure that’s based on them.
For instance, if your child is most focused earlier in the day, use that time for sit-down school work. If they’re night owls but struggle with waking up early, let them complete their coursework late at night.
You may not get your routine right the first time. You may need to actually say to your child, “It’s okay to tell me this isn’t working. What do you need from me to help you learn?”
Use as much flexibility as your child’s school allows to create a routine for them that works with what they’re most likely to stick with.
“Transitioning into homeschooling or pandemic schooling is a huge leap — feel free to give yourself and your kids grace!” says Duncan.
#4 — Don’t Freak Out If Coursework Doesn’t Take Very Long
One thing a lot of parents are noticing is that suddenly those seven hour days spent at school are drying up in two to three hours spent at the kitchen table pouring over lesson plans.
You’re not doing anything wrong — Duncan says this is just what learning looks like in a one on one environment.
“It’s a lot more efficient to teach one child at a time than a whole classroom of them, so it’s not unusual to only spend a few hours a day working on schoolwork with your kids,” she says.
Duncan says parents can reasonably expect children up to junior high to take two to three hours per day to complete their coursework, and high schoolers to take as much as five, but as little as three hours.
#5 — Test Their Knowledge With Narration
Many schools have dropped testing in light of the current situation. If you’re worried about how well your child is absorbing the information they’re learning, try narration as a way to test their abilities.
Duncan describes this as a homeschooled child teaching something back to you to prove their knowledge. You can use this exercise to pinpoint gaps in their education and review specific concepts, rather than going back to the drawing board on entire subjects.
#6 — Try Theme-Based Learning Exercises
If you find your child is struggling to focus or grasp a particular subject matter, Duncan says it can be helpful to utilize theme-based learning to help them apply it to real life. For example, if your child is interested in dinosaurs, use dinosaurs to interest them in exercises across math, language, and social studies.
Have them multiply female dinosaurs times the average number of eggs per nest to estimate herd growth. Ask them to write a report on the evolutionary story of crocodiles. Take them on a history lesson as they explore paleontology through the ages.
Make it relevant to them, and you may find they’re more engaged with what you’re trying to teach them.
#7 — Make a Checklist for Each Day
Many parents have to engage with their own work while their child is learning. You can give them extended direction by simplifying their routine and giving them a simple checklist of tasks to complete each day. Ambiguity is not your friend here: be clear, specific, and keep it simple.
And accept that sometimes it may not go well.
“Finding the way that they learn best can sometimes take a while,” says Duncan. “It’s not you, it’s just a difficult situation. If they hate it, it’s not you.”
#8 — Give Them Frequent Breaks
Some people (ahem, most people) struggle with sitting down to focus for long periods of time. You’re pandemic schooling now, which means you’re making the rules anyway — give your kids as many breaks as they need to learn well with you.
For some kids, this may mean taking breaks as often as every 15 minutes, but during that time, focusing intensely on what they’re doing.
Pomodoro timers are productivity tools based on the concept that many people focus well when given small, frequent breaks, and one longer break. These timers can be a great way to track how much time you’re spending working with your little students, and give them motivation to focus until time is up and it’s time to play.
#9 — Keep Snacks Around 24/7
“Hungry kids have a hard time focusing, always,” says Duncan.
Hunger can be a great way to get out of doing work, but it’s also really hard to focus when you have a lightning fast metabolism and a bottomless stomach.
Jennifer advises keeping snacks within arms’ reach while your kids work, so they don’t have to stop studying to snack.
#10 — Give Them Hands-On Exercises To Do
One of the definite upsides to this situation is that we as parents now have the opportunity to make our child’s education super relevant to real-life situations. If your child is learning about the water cycle, try one of these water cycle experiments.
If your child is struggling with geometry, build some planters in the garage together. Get them involved in the household budget and work through some addition and subtraction with them. Have them average their score on their favorite video game.
Give them the worksheets and assignments their teachers give, but don’t be afraid to get hands-on if you find they’re struggling to grasp a certain concept. A little context can go a long way.
How are you managing the transition with your kids to pandemic schooling? Tell us on Facebook or Instagram, and tag us in the post! @AvocadoMattress and @LifeBeyondtheLessonPlan