Kids are feeling the effects of social distancing – canceled playdates, postponed birthday parties and missed classroom time.
For parents, it can mean suddenly playing both caregiver and teacher. While playdates can be held virtually and birthday parties rescheduled, figuring out a way to give children “classroom time” at home is trickier.
Cara Lougheed, Michigan’s 2019 Teacher of the Year and a teacher at Stoney Creek High School (who was released from her classroom this year to do district and state work) says maintaining school time at home is about more than just learning.
“Kids need to know we have this under control – they need to know we have a plan,” she says. “If you’re not doing anything and they are left to free roam all day, they’re going to get bored and it won’t give them a sense of security.”
“It’s a scary time – kids need to feel safe and loved, first and foremost,” she adds.
Since structure is so important, many districts are encouraging learning from home using online learning platforms like Clever, i-Ready, Schoology, Google Classroom, and more. Many districts – like Detroit Public Schools Community District – already had online learning in place, so are using many of the same learning tools.
Plus, for those families without reliable internet, Comcast is offering low-income families two months of basic internet service.
Lougheed, a mom of two boys – Adrian in 6th grade and A.J. in 9th – has 22 years of teaching experience and her husband, a teacher at Stoney Creek High School, has 22 as well. And while not all families are lucky enough to have two teacher parents, she says parents can follow these concrete steps to make the transition easier.
Establish a routine
“In our house, we sat down at dinner and we made a list of what’s important to us as individuals and as a family,” Lougheed says. “To me, it was to have reading time, so at 7 p.m. every night, we read for at least 20 minutes. (Meanwhile) my boys wanted time to be on their phones and video games. My husband wanted time to practice baseball with our youngest son.”
She says allowing every member of the family to control part of the schedule gives kids a sense of ownership over their day and can help diffuse tension, too.
“My 11-year-old son bristles at having to do school at home,” she says. “But we can say, ‘we made this plan as a family – we’re all in this together – and we put this in the schedule for you, so you do this for us.’”
“With preteens and teens, if you treat them with respect you’re going to go farther,” she adds. “You have to remember that kids are human beings, they have their own needs and wants and strengths and struggles.”
That said, if a child is really acting out there need to be consequences.
If you need help, many districts, like Rochester Community Schools, students in middle and high schools still have access to school counselors and psychologists. Two of the days of the week are set aside for “support hours,” and teachers can’t schedule Zoom meetings (a video conference call tool) with students on those days.
Have structure but be flexible
As for the day-to-day school work, Adrian and A.J. tackle two subjects a day, normally spending about two to three hours working on school work daily. They wake up at about 8 or 9 a.m., and have to be dressed by 9:30 a.m.
Adrian often works at the kitchen table, while A.J. works from the desk in his bedroom. They take a walk at least once a day and have family reading time at 7 p.m.
Other than wake up and reading time, the rest of the day is purposely flexible, Lougheed says.
“Most parents are discovering that you can make a schedule, but if you’re not willing to make it flexible, it won’t work,” she says. “Roll with the punches, see how your kids are feeling.”
“It’s what we do as teachers,” she adds. “If kids come in and don’t roll with the plan, you have to change the plan.”
While a looser schedule can work for middle or high school students, elementary age kids might need more structure and more tactile playtime built into their day.
“Younger kids need more structure and I wouldn’t recommend more than 2-3 hours working,” she says. “In younger kids that work might need to be in the morning, then in the afternoon go outside or do a science experiment.”
“That’s what my friends with younger kids are experiencing,” she says. “Making learning be something they look forward to but having the patience, grace and humor to say, ‘You know what? Let’s just watch cartoons today.”
“I’ve been telling all my friends with little ones: ‘If it doesn’t happen Monday through Friday, give yourself a break. It’s OK.”