Home Learning for Beginners
It is a wild time for families right now due to the coronavirus outbreak. With school closures, parents are now finding themselves in the position of a school teacher. Many parents feel they are ill-equipped for this job. I'm here to tell you you are not. You were your child's first teacher and you have never stopped teaching them since the day they were born.
But I get it. This feels different.
Teaching your child to walk, to talk, to clear the table, to say please and thank you-that all feels like part of the job description for parents. Reading, writing, and algebra ... those you thought were passed off to the experts, right? Well, that's not the case anymore.
Some schools, both public and private, have set up their students for remote learning with online classes, homework packets, live-streaming lessons, etc. However, other schools and school districts have not. So what then? I'm here with answers.
Tip 1: Get out of PJs! When kids spend all day in the PJs, it's hard for their brains to shift into learning mode. Get up and get dressed like you would a typical school day and things will start on the right foot.
Tip 2: Do not over complicate things. Home learning is not supposed to look like a traditional school day and kids do not belong at a table working on academics for 6-8 hours at a time. Most families who homeschool by choice will report that they can get through academics rather quickly. Usually in just an hour or two depending on the age of the child, leaving the rest of the day to pursue an interest, extracurricular activities, social outings, and field trips.
Tip 3: Create a basic routine with sticky-notes that break the day up into blocks of time, but do not assign a specific time to those blocks. That way, you can adjust as needed throughout the day. If your kids are really into a particular project, why cut them off? If they are losing focus, it might be time to move on. If you want to change the order of activity blocks in your routine, you can move the sticky notes around to make it fit your day as you go. Here is what my routine looks like for my pre-k and 1st grade girls:
The basic routine categories are: 1. Two academic learning blocks: Here is where you can slot in work assigned by your teachers, learning resources found online, etc. If you don't have a clue what academic work to have your kids do, keep it simple—read something, write something, do some math. Anything else can follow kid interests. (Further down in this post, I have specific curriculum suggestions and resources if you need help figuring out what to teach.)
2. Creative time: Drawing, painting, singing, dancing, playing instruments, sewing, knitting, legos, cooking, general crafting. Kids love being creative and the sky is the limit here. Favorite children's book author Mo Willems is even offering daily lunch doodle lessons for kids that have been a big hit for my kids. Here is the link to get your kids going on those:
3. Physical activity: Kids need to move. It's the perfect "brain break" and a great time to find yoga videos, kid work-outs, walking, running, playing sports as a family, etc. Here is a favorite resource for physical activity and brain break exercises called GoNoodle: GoNoodle Website. 4. Breakfast, snacks, lunch-time: This is obvious—kids need to eat. So build those blocks into the schedule so kids know when they will eat and won't be as likely to be the "I'm hungry" broken record.
5. Read Aloud: Kids love listening to books being read aloud. This is an excellent opportunity to share a beloved book with your kids that might be a bit more advanced than their current reading level. We dug out The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. We read a chapter during snack time. If kids are done eating, they sometimes draw in a blank journal as well.
6. Chores: We make a part of our routine chores and jobs and everyone pitches in with whatever is top of mind or out of sorts. When we all work together, it doesn't feel like a battle and we get a lot accomplished. Music playing in the background is recommended for extra motivation.
7. Outdoor time: While we are practicing social distancing, that does not mean we need to stay inside all day long. We have been getting outside to take walks and play hide-and-seek in our local parks, (although we're avoiding playground equipment or congregating with others), and our family's favorite—exploring hidden pocket beaches. For those still permitted to leave your homes, take advantage of fresh air while you can.
Tip 4: Empower your middle school and high school-aged kids to also make sticky-note schedules. They should follow the same basic six categories as the routine suggested for younger kids. Be sure to give older kids autonomy to arrange them in a way that works for them.
Tip 5: Set screen time limits for all! Yes, a lot of school and learning resources are found online. Additionally, a lot of our favorite distractions and forms of entertainment are found on a screen. However, we all know that excessive screen-time can increase feelings of anxiety, depression, and agitation. Add to that a lot of scary and distressing news is all over the internet and media channels right now, and you have a recipe for disaster. My advice (if possible) is to stagger screen-based learning activities for later in the day and save screen entertainment for after school hours.
Tip 6: D.E.A.R. This acronym is widely used in elementary schools and stands for Drop Everything And Read. Reading is an worthwhile pastime and people who homeschool by choice will often report that their kids read a lot. I mean hours of reading. We should follow their lead and get our kids reading more. If you are feeling stuck with what to do next for a learning block, have them read! It's always the right call. My new motto when I get stuck in a what-to-do-next conundrum is "keep calm and read on."
Tip 7: Take advantage of free and low-cost online resources. There are so many resources, that it can become overwhelming. If you love hunting for the perfect online learning sites for your family, check out this list. It has more free online resources than you could ever possibly need
I'll be honest, though. That list stresses me out! So if you are like me and too many websites and options are overwhelming, here is a curriculum plan that will be more than adequate for most kids:
Basic Curriculum Recommendations:
Reading: Read anything. If you don't have books available, free reading libraries in your neighborhood may be an option. You might also consider ordering a book online or calling a local bookstore. Our neighborhood book shop is taking orders and payment over the phone and offering front porch drop-offs. If you want to download ebooks, the app and website, Epic! has a digital children's library with over 35,000 books for kids under age 12 and is offering a 30 day free membership at this time.
Writing: Write anything. Grab some blank paper and have your child go for it. However, if journaling or open creative writing is not your child's jam, here are a few great resources:
For younger kids in grades Pre-k to 8, I recommend the site or app, Book Creator. This site allows children to create their own books, magazines, and graphic novels. Younger writers can even use a voice to text option.
Another fantastic program for kids in any grade up through high school, I recommend the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program. This program helps kids write a novel in 30 days and keeps them motivated along the way.
Math: For math lessons, nothing tops Khan Academy. They provide free math education broken down to daily lessons for kids ages 2-18.
World Language: If your child studies world languages or is in a language immersion program, here are two great resources. Rockalingua is a music-based Spanish program for younger kids with videos, games, songs, and worksheets. Another great resource is Babbel, where students can learn 14 languages. The program is not free, but they are offering 50% their already very reasonable rates right now. Students get assessed for their current level, and then the lessons start from there.
Tip 8: Take advantage of this time to deepen your connection with each of your children and with your family as a whole. One of the gifts of this pandemic crisis is an abundance of time with our families. Many of us live highly scheduled lives with everyone going a million miles an hour. Kids spend the majority of their day with peers and taxed with school and extracurricular activities. All that business can lead to a disconnect in our family relationships. So make time for family games, projects, volunteering, family movies, sing-alongs, etc.
Last week, we heard that organizations that feed people experiencing homelessness were not serving hot meals due to volunteers practicing social distancing. Instead, they had moved to provide brown bag lunches, but the few volunteers running this service needed help. So, we, as a family, packed a bunch of brown bag lunches and encouraged many of our neighbors and friends to do the same. It was a unique way to come together as a family and help those experiencing more hardship than we could ever fathom.
Tip 9: Know when to take a break on the home learning program. If it's becoming a struggle getting your kids to follow directions, you might need to scrap the learning agenda for the time being and just focus on reconnecting. Once you have your relationship in better shape, you can try the learning routine again.
Also, if you are feeling overwhelmed and just need a day to stay in PJs, watch movies, play games, and eat cookies, do it! These are stressful times right now and you might need to prioritize everyone's mental health over academics at times. A day or two off of learning might be just what you need to get back on track.
Tip 10: Accept that it will take time to get into a home learning rhythm. Families that have moved their kids from traditional school to homeschooling report that on average, it takes about one month per year a child has been in school to adjust to home learning. Give it time, most of us have only been at this for a week or two! This will take a while to adjust to and some families will not fully get the hang of this before it's time to return to school.
So you may need to lower your bar. Then lower it again.
Go easy on yourself and your kids and know that some days will be better than others.
We'll make it through this. In fact, I'm confident we will come out on the other side stronger than we were before it started.