Back to school during COVID-19

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Back to school during COVID-19

Editor’s note: This post is different from our regular fare. Our organization provides technical training for software developers. But we’re also employees with families, grappling with back-to-school uncertainty. We invited an education coach to share some tips with our staff on how to navigate the learn-from-home and hybrid school formats that many of our kids will experience in the coming days and weeks. We thought you might like this information, too.

An employee’s guide to navigating Round 2 of home learning

For many families, last semester was an educational disaster.

Five months ago, when everyone came home to shelter from COVID-19, parents established home offices in spare bedrooms, kitchens and even closets. Schools hastily moved to a virtual format. Full-time employees started moonlighting as homeschool teachers—by necessity, not choice.

Quarantine School during COVID-19 was an emergency stop gap that didn’t work well for students, teachers or parents. A common sentiment: “I wasn’t cut out to be an elementary/middle/high school teacher.”

Trying to maintain a balance between the kids’ educational and emotional needs and the parents’  professional productivity led to conflicted emotions. “Should I be putting my kids or my work first? How do I make sure I teach them while still keeping my job? Are my children going to have the education they need and deserve?”

Last spring, parents, kids and teachers were in crisis mode. They struggled to create workable arrangements. Now that we’ve had a few months to adjust to the realities of COVID-19, we have the opportunity to start the school year with better structure. With some forethought and planning, parents can work productively, while also participating in their children’s home-based education. And everyone can stay sane.

Here are 9 tips for a navigating learn-from-home school during COVID-19:
1) Ease into a school year sleep schedule before school starts.

Kids will be in a better frame of mind for learning if the first day of school isn’t also the first day in three months that they’ve had to go to bed on time and get up early.

2) Take your family’s pulse.

What is each person excited about? What concerns do you and your kids have about school during COVID-19? Take this information into account for #3, #6  and #9 below.

3) Decide and communicate a family routine.

You have two competing goals: To work a full day, contributing meaningfully to your employer…and to ensure you are meeting your child’s social, emotional, physical and educational needs.

In a school setting, students work on a subject for a certain amount of time and then they move or change gears and subjects. That’s particularly true for the youngest students. It is not reasonable to put a first grader in front of a screen for several hours straight.

In a classroom, teachers divide subjects into 20- to 30-minute segments. Between each segment, kids get up to gather books or move to a different part of the classroom. Even high school students move, changing classrooms and subjects every 50 minutes. The Academy of Pediatrics recommends that younger children get up every 20 minutes for a 10-minute physical break. Place these physical breaks into the schedule. Every 90 minutes, send kids outside for 20 to 30 minutes. Or, if that’s not possible, build in an equivalent amount of indoor, unstructured, no-screen play time.

Set up a schedule that allows an age-appropriate number of check-ins and times for movement with your student throughout the school day. Build in specific snack and meal times. A consistent routine will allow parents to schedule important meetings during school “work times” and be available during scheduled breaks. Consistency is key.

Every teacher has a well-thought-out routine and schedule, which helps students know what to expect and what to do. School-at-home should be no different. Post the schedule so that everyone knows it.

4) Set expectations around behavior and interruptions.

Make sure your kids understand the routine and when you will check in with them. The kids agree to no whining and complaining. You agree to adhere to the schedule so your children know what to expect and know they can trust you to deliver. Your arrangement will quickly fall apart if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain.

Have consequences, such as a chore, pre-planned for whining or a lack of diligence. Conversely, reward positive attitude and effort. For example, put a marble in a jar for good behavior, and then provide a special treat after they accumulate a specified number of marbles. For pre-K through 2nd grade, consider a treasure box filled with inexpensive toys. Make sure to find something to reward your child with daily.

If a child becomes stuck, can’t move forward with schoolwork, and knows that it’s not time for your help, you need a Plan B. Establish a list of activities they can do while waiting for you. For example, keep a box of books at their reading level handy. Assemble an activity kit with math facts flashcards, a handwriting practice worksheet and a puzzle.

5) Find creative ways to share responsibilities.

Not everyone has the luxury of a full-time nanny to help with school during COVID-19. One couple with preschool children parented in two-hour shifts. From 8 to 10 am, dad took the kids outdoors for exercise and art projects while mom focused on work. From 10 to noon, mom did read-alouds and team cooking projects while dad had Zoom calls. They traded off like this from sunrise to bedtimeeach working full-time, while collectively meeting their kids’ needs.

Some families are combining forces with neighbors, enabling longer blocks of work time in exchange for engaging a group of children for a set period each week. Invite grandparents to help by having a scheduled daily Zoom call to do reading time or math facts practice. Be creative.

6) Make the first day of school fun.

Even though many children will be learning from home this year, you can still celebrate with special snacks, new school supplies and start-of-school photographs. Make it a day to look forward to.

7) Plan meals to save your sanity.

On the weekend, take the time to plan out a menu and buy the ingredients you need for the full week. Create self-service options, such as yogurt with toppings, pre-made sandwiches and breakfast burritos, and fresh fruit and veggies (washed and cut). List the available options for snacks and easy meals on your posted family routine. Make liberal use of your crockpot, so meals can simmer while you are working. Invite younger children to help you read recipes and measure ingredients. These activities build their literacy and math skills. Assign teens to be responsible for preparing specific meals each week.

8) Leverage supplemental resources, especially for STEM topics.

Today’s curriculum often includes information or methods that differ from what we learned as kids. If you are bamboozled by the “Lattice Method,” for example, help is available. Check out the resources below and bookmark the ones that resonate:

  • khanacademy.org: Learn for free about math, art, computer programming, economics, physics, chemistry, medicine, finance and more. If you need a quick brush-up on a math concept, Khan Academy has almost every topic at your fingertips.
  • Complexly.com: Check out the Crash Course and Crash Course Kids YouTube Channels for fun, engaging videos on everything from science and engineering process to history and literature.
  • Multiplication.com: Find great math games and activities. The free content has ads, so some users prefer the paid membership. It’s an engaging way to learn addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
  • SpellingCity.com: Explore extra vocabulary, and practice spelling and reading (requires a paid membership).
  • Code.org: Learn how to code with this free, project-based computer science site.
9) Check in with your family every day.

The evershifting COVID-19 landscape has been challenging for people of all ages. Many children miss seeing their friends regularly. They may feel sad or anxious but not know how to express their emotions in words. Our family has ‘favorite and least favorite moments of the day’ check-in at dinner. These help us know what to adjust in our family routine and can help in gauging each individual’s needs on a day-to-day basis. If your child is regularly struggling in a subject area, reach out for help from a teacher or guidance counselor.

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DevelopIntelligence thanks guest author Dawn Hudson for this post. Dawn is a homeschool coach and robotics trainer. She taught her kids from K through 12. Her oldest is now a Software Engineer for Zoom. Her twins are sophomores at University of Colorado—Boulder. One is studying Aerospace Engineering, and the other is majoring in Creative Technology and Design Engineering. Dawn is a customer support specialist and trainer for Left Hand Robotics. She serves on the Board of the Gear Alliance, a nonprofit committed to inspiring young people to pursue STEM careers through competitive robotics. She mentors a FIRST Robotics Competition team and numerous FIRST Lego League teams.

Photo credit: iStock.com/chameleonseye