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Homeschooling during Coronavirus: Top Tips for Staying Sane

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“Been homeschooling a 6-year old and 8-year old for one hour and 11 minutes,” Shonda Rhimes wrote on Twitter at the start of quarantine. “Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week.” And that was on March 16—now more than a month in the past, although to many parents struggling to adapt to the demands of remote learning, it feels, much, MUCH longer. We hope these tips and words of advice sourced from the PSP community will help you maintain your sanity, or at the very least, feel a little less alone during these baffling times.

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One PSP member reaches out for advice...

“Help. i'm struggling with this home school shit with my 9 year old / 4th grade son.
He is essentially a cyber feral animal. I'm home alone with him during the day since my spouse is an essential worker.
I'm juggling work.
I have to nag my son and / or scream at him to do his work.
I am struggling with the stress since I feel pressure from his teachers with grades and ‘falling behind.’
Normally I don't care about school, he is very self motivated. Even though I don't believe in homework or tests, he voluntarily does the work himself. But now that he doesn't have the structure (the class has like 45 min video calls / day (but not every day-- like today: there is no class video).
I need help. I am judging myself and I feel like a failure since he's just on twitch, fortnite and roblox all day. I am going to try to find some roblox coding classes or something.
I'm reaching out to his principal again.”

 

Members offer solidarity and suggestions…

 

Creating a schedule can help:

“I have three kids all under eight and a schedule helps me keep the chaos down and helps limit the device time. … I've attached a schedule we use on the week days. Does it go perfect everyday? No, but the structure helps a lot. I also add in cleaning time as a team and simple science stuff.”

“Agree on the schedule! It has been a lifesaver for us. I have it hanging on the wall and while I don’t always follow it, I do keep it in mind.”

“One thing that has worked for us (today, at least), is encouraging our kids to get stuff done when they have the energy and focus to do it. Our older one is really on her game in the morning. Right now I am encouraging her to get as much of her school work done before 10 AM. She is really hoping to have time to herself and time outside and if she finishes schoolwork at 10, she can have the rest of the day to do what she wants. Will I go to hell for this devil's bargain? Possibly.”

“The schedule is [the] best visual reminder for everyone that we need to get back to something routine if things are getting too far off the track. Plan the schedule together so they know this is part of their decision and they need to try to stick with it. Space different parts of the activities out more so there is more room for transition and include part of your activities on the calendar as well. They should know parents need their space and time.”

“My kids can’t really keep a schedule (boys ages 7 and 10) and it ends up just being one more thing I’m bugging them about. But things that have worked are:
-discussing in the morning what they’d like to accomplish that day in terms of school work or other activities. Seems to help give a tiny boost to their motivation (which is not high)
-reminding them how good it feels to be done with their work early. only sometimes works but every little bit helps.”

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And there are tools to help you keep things organized:

“My friend sent me this:
Kanban- using post it notes on a board to accomplish tasks throughout the day.

“I use Trello - I use it online and in the app. You can name your own board sections so it’s customized to your child.
Great for lists and things you want to keep track of.”

 

Or you can encourage some loose structure without a full-on schedule:

“I don't know if this would work for others, but our son is also 9 and what we've done is created a list of activities that we've both agreed on - some screens and some non-screens. This list includes some fun things that he chose and some things I want to make sure he does. We cut the list into strips of paper with one activity on each, and we put the slips of paper into two bowls - screens & non-screens. He basically alternates between the bowls all day - he picks one screen activity, does it, then picks one non-screen activity, and does it. Some of the activities require our support and if he picks at a time we can't help him, we put it aside and come back to it when we have time. We don't have a schedule particularly on days when there is no school, but this system creates some loose structure and forward momentum, and he has a sense of control over it. It also avoids the constant "what should I do now?" because the answer is always "pick something from your bowls". And since there is always the chance he'll pick one of his favorite activities it has an element of excitement to it.

I asked him recently if he'd rather stick to a set schedule and he said no, that he preferred this system.”

“If school isn't holding his attention, he's 9. ***He's old enough to generate a list of things he can do without your help.*** Read a book. Read an instructional book and learn a new thing. Draw. Listen to an audio book. Write cards to mail to friends and family. Call a friend. Connect with friends on Roblox. Make encouraging signs for the window. Make everyone a simple lunch. Go do jumping jacks. What's something he's interested in learning on his own? There's always chores....

My kids are looking for in-person attention, snuggling, even just sitting next to me. It doesn't need to be a lot - you have to work too! - but any activity next to me seems to calm them.”

 

But allow room for flexibility:

“I think another important aspect is (if possible) not feeling totally tied to the schedule provided by school. For example, our school will give us activities in time blocks - all organized - but some are harder than others. I also have a 2year old running around so I pick and choose. Point is, we start school at 9:00am and do not wrap until 4:30pm simply because the breaks are longer, she may be enjoying a craft, or I may be dealing with a meltdown from one (or usually both!) the kids.”

“I agree with previous replies that schedules should be seen as ‘suggested.’ Sometimes my kindergartener doesn’t do her schoolwork until after dinner. Who cares?! She does it when she’s ready... sometimes that may even be a day or two after the assignment was ‘due.’ (Putting that in quotes, too, because time is far more elastic now and schools need to realize that).”

“Sometimes they finish before noon, sometimes not till 4ish. But for us, having them accomplish something helps everyone’s brain. Even if they resist, in the end they are glad they accomplished it. Half the time they only do half of their assignments which I’m fine with.

At the end of the day, if you had some laughs, and you’re both healthy, that’s all that matters really. We just need to safely pass the time to get to the other side of this.”

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And accept that it may not be realistic to accomplish all the curricular goals that would’ve been met in school:

“I started feeling better about school when I came to the realization that all the school stuff is more to keep them busy, engaged, somewhat give them a sense of normalcy, and not totally regress while they’re out of classrooms. But it would be so inequitable for the schools to expect to pick up curriculums where remote learning left off - so many kids don’t have access to the right tech, have no internet access, are sharing devices among family and maybe friends, have parents who may not be able to spend the time with them to ensure learning, have language issues, have special needs, etc. that the schools will have to shift curriculums to make sure everyone returns on roughly the same level.”

“And who's ‘falling behind?’ Everyone stopped going to school. Online school is hard for elementary. I'm erring on the side of supporting mental health and good relationships over getting school done. From the camp of people who had gaps and lapses in their education for lots of reasons, I'll say it's fine. It works out. Learning to steer your own interests without being told what to do next is a great skill too.”

 

Breaks for play, snacks, or movement can help:

“What works for us, is that before school starts we do 30 minutes of dancing or movement of some sort. It just helps my 7 year old focus.

We do more movement breaks during the day as well as resets. They aren’t long. Five minutes (or one song), when my kid is getting stressed or frustrated (which is also when she starts looking around for games).”

“This isn’t easy on the kids either, but I do feel that rewarding them with breaks (with free play and snacks) helps a lot. My older daughter and I have a deal that if she gets the majority of her work done early, the rest of the school hours are hers to do with as she wishes. Often that means TV or video games, but I’m cool with it right now. It took a few days of me checking on her frequently, but now we’re in the groove a bit more and there’s less arguing. This isn’t forever - so when some kind of normalcy returns, I’ll deal with weaning the kids off easy access to games and YouTube then.”

“We take plenty of brain breaks - 5 minute dance parties, snacks, roll around on the floor, whatever it takes. … We go outside for at least an hour, both for her sanity and mine.”

 

As can connecting with someone outside the home:

“Another idea, if there’s a lesson he’s struggling with and you need to work, can he FaceTime another classmate or perhaps a family member and they can work it out together? I’ve found this helps.”

“We also relented on the Facebook Kids messenger app so she can talk to friends or we FaceTime with grandparents.”

 

Other resources:

“I also find Dr. Laura Marcum’s Aha Parenting blog SUPER relevant. She’s currently publishing articles around COVID and how it’s affecting children. I find it fascinating especially her topics on child regression, which we are seeing big time. And also her non-punishment strategies.”

“My own take on the screen time is that it’s a necessary evil, but there are more beneficial ways to spend it than on fortnite ;). Roblox coding is a *great* idea, or other high-interest things like that. There’s a website called Zearn for math and another called Epic! for ELA that are both giving free subscriptions at this point (not sure if you need a teacher to invite you, though).”

“PS - for the parent with tape diagram (or other math) questions, www.greatminds.org has informative tip sheets and video lessons that explain everything clearly. Ask you child’s teacher what Module, Topic and Lesson the work is from and you’ll be able to find help much more easily!”

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Ultimately, this is an entirely unprecedented situation, and doing your best is absolutely enough.

One member recommends an article by two University of Georgia professors in the Department of Educational Theory and Practice, who say: “What is happening is not home schooling. It is not distance learning. It is not online schooling. … Schooling and its purposes can change in the blink of an eye when a society is in shock and crisis. So, let’s call this what it is: Covid-19 Schooling; or better yet, Teaching and Learning in Covid-19.”

“Don't be too hard on him or yourself. These are unusual times so it's really about a good mixture of learning/practice and peace of mind for you and him.”

“You’re doing great! Don’t be so hard on yourself (or your son), this is all so awful and stressful, and absolutely not normal or what any of us ever though we would have to deal with.”

“Hang in there - whatever you’re doing, you’re doing the best you can and that means you’re doing great (under the circumstances). Don’t forget to give yourself a break as well.”

“Just echoing the refrain, You're doing great! And you're not alone. We're all coping with the unknowable and a generational-changing event at the moment.”

“Ach, you sound like me and basically every parent in my circle of friends. I think those that claim to have it together are either superhuman or have figured out some secret they should be forced to share with the rest of us. I have 2 kids (they are 4 and 7) and I’m newly working from home, so aside from trying to feed them, give them exercise, keep the house in order, work, shop, do laundry and so on, I’m also trying to preserve all our sanity. Homeschooling isn’t helping. I had no idea how bad I was a math until I tried to explain tape diagrams to a 2nd grader. What the hell even ARE tape diagrams?!
Anyway, please don’t judge yourself. We’re all in survival mode right now and it’s the time to congratulate yourself if you make it to the shower before noon. Little victories matter!”

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More thoughts on homeschooling younger kids from a late April 2020 thread:

"So, we have definitely been riding this out with more of a day-to-day outlook, and never took the time to really set up routines or "lessons" for our 3 year old. He's honestly always been an angel-child and time with him is usually a pleasure.

Well, this is not usually, and we need help, y'all!!! We're both working full-time, and, while until now he's always been great at independent play, we find he needs attention from one of us almost 100% of the time. Not sure if it's his age, the situation, or both, but it's defiintely time for a routine and some more organized stimulation.

So far, we've loved: Mark Morris youtube toddler classes, cosmic yoga (though he often just watches), reading books, playing/planting in our garden (so lucky! we know!), playing with his cars and duplos. HE loves, going nuts with all the pillows in the house, harrassing the dog (this is another new problem - need tips)."

 

Members recommend short, structured activities and virtual meet-ups:

"Definitely a struggle! For us, it does help that there's a daily 10am zoom class with our daughter's preschool to help structure the day. The teachers also send us videos of story time (these days mostly youtube) and activities we can try at home.  If your day care doesn't provide this, perhaps there's a group of parents you know who have kids the same age who could set up a regular group zoom and come up with short, focused activities to do each day together--i.e. reading books, dance party, yoga, picking a letter of the day and doing show and tell with things that start with that letter, simple charades games, etc.

Besides that, I haven't been great at keeping my daughter on a strict "schedule" though we've written out something that's more like milestones we want to hit each day. For example my goal is to do at least two "activities" with my daughter per day that expose her to new things and require some supervision, usually one in the morning, one in afternoon. Could include zoom or instagram/fb live singalongs (she likes The Buttons on Instagram and Rolie Polie Guacamole on facebook), cosmic kids yoga, some kind of arts & crafts or science/cooking project (some of the things she's enjoyed: painted macaroni necklaces, painting seashells, making and baking play doh pizzas, making a "volcano" with baking soda/vinegar, baking cookies, and especially making a "swimming pool" out of a large plastic bin in the bathtub where her bath toys can play). We try to get outside either before/after lunch and lunch is followed by "quiet time" where I tell her she needs to play quietly while I work on my computer usually for 30 min to an hour. Luckily, she's gotten really good at playing by herself for pretty long stretches with Paw Patrol pup toys, mainly. But I still can't do super focused work during this "quiet time," and sometimes resort to screen time...we also usually have TV in the morning and evening."

"Our recently turned 4-year old daughter is not very good at independent play but there are a few things that she does by herself:

  • Sorting- I discovered this by accident, but she’ll sort for a really long time. We have a couple of bead sets and we sort them into tupperwares and egg cartons. We’ve also sorted duplos
  • Mazes- this requires a little bit of adult supervision when she gets stuck, but otherwise she can do this for a while
  • Paint by sticker: Paint by Sticker Kids: Under the Sea: Create 10 Pictures One Sticker at a Time! She loves these sticker books and can do about half of one at a time
  • We’ve bought just about every workbook available from Amazon and the ones she likes the best are the Gakken ones- again this requires some adult supervision to explain each task, but you can be working alongside them. Play Smart School Skills Age 4+: At-home Activity Workbook"

 

Plus checking out fun online learning opportunities for the preschool-age set:

"A helpful source for activities (similar to other activities I've seen online): The Children's Museum of Manhattan (sign up for their daily emails!) We also love the Cincinnati Zoo live feeds at 3pm every day (a zookeeper talks about a different animal per day and answer questions)."

"The website Zero to Three is an excellent resource for early childhood development. Lots of gentle and doable advice backed by science and research. I always found it useful and comforting back in the day (my kiddos are 8 now!)."