By Michelle Reese
Due to the temporary closure of schools because of the coronavirus pandemic, parents throughout the area are suddenly becoming unintentional homeschoolers. In many cases, this is while navigating their own challenges of working remotely and/or caring for other children.
So, what’s a parent to do?!
Well, here are a few tips from elementary school teachers that can help as you figure out the situation in your own home.
Establish a Routine
This was a common theme with all of the teachers we talked to. Schedules will obviously vary depending on a child’s age, but also based on what works for individual families.
“I think going from school routine every day to absolutely nothing would definitely be difficult and it may be harder to get into a routine if it isn’t established from the beginning. Even if it’s as simple as morning is for academics and afternoon is for play it at least gives kids a little direction.” – 3rd Grade Teacher
Here’s one example of a schedule for a 1st grader provided by a 2nd Grade Teacher:
8:30-9:00 Morning Meeting/Share Time
9:00-9:30 Phonics (which is Fundations for my kiddo)
9:30-10:00 English Language Arts (My son and I are reading a chapter book together and sharing strategies that go along with the book. We are also using a story map to stay on track. If you google printable story map, a ton of them will pop up.)
10:00-10:30 Snack time
10:30-11:00 Math (I am following along with the curriculum that my son’s school uses. Luckily I teach in the same district he attends.)
11:00-11:45 STEM (hands on projects that we are looking up online that we can use things from our house to do)
11:45-12:00 Recess (outdoor or indoor free time)
12:30-12:45 Special (Art, Music, Gym, Computers, Library)
12:45-1:45 Quiet Time (independent reading, painting, puzzles, etc.)
1:45-2:15 Online Academics (educational websites)
2:15-3:00 Free time (indoor or outdoor)
3:00-4:00 Social Emotional Learning/Character Education (I go to Youtube and look up books that are read aloud and then we discuss them.)
4:00-5:00 TV time
5:00/5:30 Dinner Time
6:00-On Family Time
You can find more examples of schedules like this on websites such as teacherspayteachers.com or just googling. (We’ve also seen a lot of them shared on Facebook lately.)
And here’s an example of a more flexible routine for a 4th grader and 7th grader provided by a Primary Learning Support Teacher:
“We have been trying to organize the days with reading time, a craft time (can include LEGO!), outside time, some screen time, and family time (take a walk, play a game). My 9-year-old son and I have also taken advantage of the virtual field trips being offered on-line.”
Make It Fun
The uncertainty of just about everything right now leads to a lot of stress for people – both big and small! Remember that your kids might be feeling a little uneasy with their normal routines being upended, missing their friends, and so many restrictions on what they can do. Learning shouldn’t add to the stress!
“There’s so many fun ways to do learning at home! -Make up math questions and hide them around the house like a scavenger hunt. Lead your child to a yummy snack as they answer questions correctly. -practice spelling words/vocabulary words/math facts outside with exercises. Do jumping jacks while you answer as many questions as you can, have races with a friend on FaceTime. -there are lots of great games to practice skills online, or turn a card game or board game into some extra learning.” – 3rd Grade Teacher
“If I can give one suggestion, it is to make the learning time fun filled with projects you look up online on Pinterest, YouTube, Google, etc. Also, don’t feel like you have to pressure your children into sitting and doing work for an extended period of time. That is why the schedule I created is shorter increments of time than it would be on a normal school day. I am also utilizing brain breaks via Gonoodle.com. You can sign up for free and do it from your computer or Smart TV. My son absolutely adores these brain breaks and I use them in my classroom as well. We have also been very lucky that the weather has been nice. We have been taking walks, playing basketball, and playing outside as much as possible.” – 2nd Grade Teacher
Here’s a link to our list of 14+ Days’ Worth of Things to Do at Home with Kids.
As tough as this all is, at least it’s not in the middle of winter! Everyone benefits from getting fresh air and some daily Vitamin D. Whenever you can, take the learning outside! Grab some chalk and do math problems, practice letters, and experiment with mixing colors in the driveway. Go on a scavenger hunt with varying themes depending on the child’s age: Find something that starts with these letters, colors, etc. Go on nature walks where you take pictures of different flowers, trees and birds. Research them when you get home. Read a book on a blanket.
Here are some links to more ideas:
And don’t forget the importance of recess! There’s no need to plan activities for the entire day. Sometimes kids need to just get the wiggles out.
Playing Is Learning!
Don’t feel bad about just letting your kids play. Coloring. Play-doh. Constructing the best ramp for their cars. Building forts. Puzzles. Crafts. Getting out all those LEGO sets and putting them together again. They’re all educational in their own way.
It Isn’t School – And That’s Okay!
You might be reading this and thinking, “But these are teachers talking! I’m not a teacher!” But remember, you were your child’s first teacher, and you already teach your kids at home every day.
Not all learning has to look and feel like school. (I mean, there’s a high chance your family might be living in PJs right now, am I right?)
Here are a few ideas:
Bake together – they’ll inadvertently learn about things like measuring and fractions.
Watch a movie – a friend shared a great idea on Facebook about watching Disney movies with your kids. After enjoying the family time, older kids can research a related topic. For example, Chinese foot binding after watching Mulan.
Find some documentaries based on their interests. Disney+ includes National Geographic content.
Listen to music! Put in on while you’re all working independently. Take dance breaks. Practice an instrument. Learn about different genres, composers, etc.
If possible, teach your kids about your job and show them how you’re adapting by working remotely.
In an age (and anxiety level) appropriate way, talk about what’s going on right now. Learn about germs. Research past pandemics in history. Talk about ways you can help in your own community. Here’s a link to some ideas.
PBS Kids has tons of educational shows. Super Why is a great one for toddlers through beginner readers.
Teach them some real-life skills! Sewing, laundry, cooking, cleaning, yardwork. There are a lot of things that parents just do and leave the kids out of it, but they’re going to have to learn it someday!
Use the Resources Available
What is being provided by children’s teachers is varying depending on district, school and teacher. But luckily, we live in a time where there are tons of resources right at our fingertips.
Here are some (of the many, many) links that can help:
Holland Center Pharmacy is hosting an Stay-at-Home Art Work Competition for kids ages 5-14 via their Facebook page.
Hunterdon Art Museum is offering virtual tours of its exhibits. Check it out at https://hunterdonartmuseum.org/virtual-exhibitions/.
Raritan Headwaters has posted a list of activities for kids to learn about nature, whether it be in their backyard, local park or inside.
Elmwood Park Zoo is doing live Facebook videos every day at 11 a.m. introducing different animals.
Bucks County Dance Center is doing live Facebook videos, Music & Storytime with Miss Sandy nightly at 7 p.m.
6ABC’s Adam Joseph is doing live storytime on Facebook each morning at 9:30 a.m.
Kids’ author Mo Willems is releasing a new “Lunch Doodle” video each weekday at 1 p.m.
Cape May County Park & Zoo is doing daily virtual tours daily at 11:30 a.m.
Fluency & Fitness is offering 21 days of free unlimited access to their site with lessons in reading and math that incorporate movement.
Go Easy on Them … And Yourself
This is new to everyone, and you can’t expect yourself to find out on a Friday that schools were closing and master homeschooling in a week. Some days you might follow a schedule, learn tons of school stuff, and laugh a lot while doing it. Other days, you might have a deadline of your own, and your kid might play video games or and watch Blippi all afternoon.