In a recent episode of the Extraordinary Educators podcast, we spoke with Grade 4 math teacher Anna Redding about at-home learning.
Anna is a member of Curriculum Associates’ inaugural Extraordinary Educators program (which recognizes innovative educators who are evangelists for high standards and student achievement) as well as a parent. Even though she has been teaching for 12 years, she felt the same way many family members have when she learned that she and her husband would be in charge of her three children’s at-home learning during school closure: overwhelmed.
Despite missing her students more and more each day and thinking that she “didn’t know anything about homeschooling,” Anna has figured out how to make at-home learning work for her family. We’re sharing her advice and tips here.
"I want to encourage parents who are trying to do something with their own children not to put so much pressure on themselves and not to feel like they have to do this, that, or the other."
Create a Schedule
Once she realized that she’d be teaching her children at home, Anna knew she’d need to create a daily schedule at some point, but she wanted the first few days at home to feel like vacation. A day of “winging it” turned out to be not as successful as she had hoped, so that very night, Anna sat down and created a schedule for her twin boys and daughter. “I came up with specific activities for specific times of the day—or not specific times, but specific subjects that we were going to talk about,” Anna said.
She was delighted, and a little surprised, by how big a difference it made to have a schedule. “Everything has been so smooth. My kids have thrived this week. I haven’t had any meltdowns, and that has been so nice. That’s never happened when we’ve been on a break. So I think just having a schedule has really worked well for us.”
Teachers will be the first to say that planning for at-home learning helps the days run evenly and gives children the kind of structure they’d have at school.
Give Yourself Structure, Too
As Anna was preparing to teach her children at home, she received advice from a friend who homeschools her children. “[My friend] said that she gets up every day, gets ready, and makes her bed so that she can’t crawl back into it,” Anna said. “I’ve done that since Monday, and I have not needed a nap at all. I have felt productive. . . . My kids see me ready, and they know that we’re going to be active today throughout the day. That’s helped us a lot.”
Make Time for Fun (and Explore Free Resources)
While improvising didn’t work for Anna and her children, she’s been careful not to overschedule. “That’s the most important thing: Make it be fun,” Anna said. Otherwise, kids are going to shut down. If children are staying active and are engaged in their learning, that’s no small feat.
For example, Fridays are normally “test days” for Anna’s sons, but when they asked her if tests were on the schedule, she gave an emphatic, "No."
“Friday’s going to be a fun Friday," she told them. "We're not going to do any quizzes. This is homeschool. And we’re going to do something fun, like bake cookies or go for a nature walk on a trail or something.”
Many education publications like The 74 and District Administration have lists of free resources, so be sure to check them out if you need ideas for fun activities that are also educational. Teachers who are supporting families without laptops or tablets can print Curriculum Associates’ math and reading activity packs and send them to students. Districts and families alike might find CNN’s round-up of the best affordable devices, "These devices should be your go-to computing options for remote learning," helpful if they are looking for options that fit within tight budgets.
Remember: This Is All New
The swift move to at-home learning has put a lot of pressure on families. They might think that children should be doing educational activities from sunup to sundown, and many primary caregivers have jobs for which they cannot work from home, which means they need to enlist older siblings, neighbors, and others for help.
“I want to encourage parents who are trying to do something with their own children not to put so much pressure on themselves,” Anna said, “and not to feel like they have to do this, that, or the other.”
Families need to remember that at-home learning will require trial and error and patience for children and adults alike. We’re all navigating new territory and doing the best we can.
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