I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking about what’s next for all of our students — and working with colleagues to find creative ways to support kids during this uncertain and disruptive time. Here are some key takeaways that can help parents and their children navigate this new reality.
Whether you’re concerned about the new coronavirus, or about the idea of your children staying home from school for an indefinite period of time, it’s essential to remain calm, frame for your kids what’s unfolding in clear terms and separate rumors from reality.
Explain to your daughter or son, in an age-appropriate way, that in many cases, schools are closing in an effort to slow the spread of this virus in the wider community, even as kids have so far shown milder symptoms than adults. Since many schools have unclear timelines for when they will reopen, it’s also important to reinforce that, in the grand scheme of things, even a few weeks off will one day be a “remember when” story and nothing more.
Declare the first day off a faux snow day. Allow your child to sleep late, wake up to hot cocoa and marshmallows and do the spring equivalent of building a snowman. Enjoy the freedom and frivolity that come with an unscheduled break. One day won’t matter to your kid’s schoolwork, but it will set the tone and ensure that everyone starts with a positive outlook.
Organize your time
On Day 2, think about what defined schedule will work for your family. Research shows that children are more likely to thrive with predictable, consistent routines at home that provide, among other things, a sense of security, and help their social and emotional well-being. This source of stability will be even more critical during what may be a prolonged period without the structure of a normal school day.
Decide what aspects of the daily routine will stay the same, and use your kid’s regular schedule as a starting point. Wake-up time shouldn’t slide too late, despite what your daughter or son might prefer. Even if you allow them to sleep in a bit, make sure they are up, dressed and ready by whenever their first class would typically begin.
After that, use the school schedule to frame the day. Keep the same “periods” between classes, which will help allot set times for different activities and provide both structure and variety to each day. Also try finding different quiet places they can work throughout the day; perhaps morning study time is at the kitchen table, but midday reading is on the front stoop and afternoon study time is in the den.
Serve lunch at the same time as it would be at school, and encourage your child to use that break to catch up with a friend using FaceTime to provide more personal social engagement with peers. Likewise, keep other activities on schedule, if possible, even if it takes some creative thinking. I know one family conducting piano lessons via FaceTime to practice social distancing from a music teacher.
Fill that time with schoolwork but let your child choose, too
The biggest question, for many parents, is how to fill the time, particularly if school is not planning a rigorous remote learning program or otherwise providing lessons that can be completed from home.
Fortunately, there are countless online resources to help — for any grade, and for any subject or interest. Some places to start include Khan Academy, a site with hundreds of videos and online tutorials for K-12 students across a variety of subjects; Bill Nye the Science Guy and Code.org, which focus on science and computer science respectively and offer both lessons and hands-on projects; or the BrainPOP or National Geographic Kids websites, which have educational lessons for younger children. These and many other resources are readily accessible, largely free of charge and can often be downloaded for use offline.
That said, also be cautious about how much time your child spends online, even if your school actively begins a computer-based learning program. Reserve at least one “period” every day for pleasure reading, which has many educational, intellectual and social-emotional benefits. A trip to the library, if it’s still open, will ensure that your kid has plenty of reading options. Many public libraries also have easy systems for downloading books remotely — and some allow you to register for a temporary library card online. Alternatively, see if your school offers a kid-friendly application called Sora, which helps students gain access to e-books. (Need ideas for what to read? Check out these reading lists for elementary, middle or high schoolers.)
Finally, set aside one time a day for a creative, child-led project that helps your daughter or son explore a standard school subject in a hands-on way. Ask your child to research a particular art period and make his own version of what he’s seen using whatever supplies you have on hand, including junk mail or old magazines. Turn the kitchen into a lab and have your kid explore the science behind cooking. Make history personal by asking her to interview family members and investigate the details of her family story.
The key is not to worry about your child mirroring the lessons of school. Instead, aim to feed her interest in and general knowledge about whatever topics she’s studying. When school resumes, the most important thing will be that she continued to engage with the concepts. And, hopefully, you’ve helped foster her love of learning along the way.
How parents make the outdoors part of the school day will also be crucial. While some may be under self-quarantine, many of us will be able to take advantage of an early spring. (For ways to support your kid if you can’t go outside, check out this resource.) Every day should include outdoor time, to burn off your kid’s extra energy and as an extension of whatever educational lesson is suitable for your yard or a nearby park.
This can translate into an at-home version of recess — namely walking the dog, going for a bike ride or shooting hoops. But it can also be a way to bring the school day outdoors. For example, when you switch up where your child studies, designate a “period” for an outside lesson.
Whether you live in a town or the suburbs, there are countless opportunities to use your surroundings for science experiments, history lessons or to otherwise explore the subject of the hour. A simple online search — your children can do this themselves — can help narrow down the options and help your kid feel even more invested in that day’s outdoor lesson.
Many of these ideas may not just seem overwhelming but also impossible for working parents. Even if you have the good fortune of working from home for an extended period of time while school is closed, how can you manage this on top of everything else? And if you can’t work remotely, what then?
Pool resources. Reach out to other parents in your child’s class or a teacher, if possible, to divide and conquer. Perhaps one person can find options for good online math lessons and another can send around recipes for a kitchen-based science experiment that everyone can do with basic pantry ingredients. Also consider how your children and their friends can help one another or their younger siblings. With direct conversations and some coaching, this is a good chance for teens and preteens to step into new responsibilities at home and take ownership of their own learning. Give them a few ideas and goals, with daily or weekly deadlines, and motivate them to take initiative.
Your ability to motivate your child to learn will be one of the most important aspects of the days and weeks ahead, particularly while it is still unclear how long schools could remain closed. It’s one more reason every moment I spend thinking about how to support students during a remote learning situation makes me appreciate, more than ever, the power of a good teacher. This crisis is a welcome reminder of how much our teachers do, for us all, each and every day.
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