As the COVID-19 situation evolves, some schools are closing and some parents are choosing to keep kids at home. The decision to attend school may be especially tricky for kids with chronic conditions or serious medical needs! Hopefully, any interlude from school will be brief. But time away from school doesn’t mean that learning has to stop. The following suggestions are not meant to offer the structure for a long-term homeschooling curriculum, but to guide families in helping their students keep pace with their school’s existing curriculum for what we all hope is only a short time away. Additionally, because every student and every family is unique, there may not be any single, perfect structure or procedure for learning at home; rather, following are some of my best suggestions that I hope can help you structure and manage your learner’s (hopefully brief!) at-home learning experience.

Setting the Stage

Continuing to push forward with an academic curriculum is very different than supporting homework or taking advantage of learning opportunities that happen to present themselves. Most students will need a structure to frame their learning. Consider the following:

  1. Have a specific place in your home for learning materials so you do not spend time looking for a pencil.
  2. Make a calendar: As a family, sit down with a calendar of the month and decide what days you will be doing school work and for how many hours. Obviously, this can have some flexibility if needed, but as much as possible stick with the calendar to keep a predictable schedule and less room for negotiations or arguments. Give your student the opportunity to offer input on this schedule and then ensure he/she agrees with whatever you decide.
  3. Make a schedule: Discuss with your child what classes they usually have at school. For each day you are learning at home, create a detailed schedule. If your child is K-2, time increments might be 20-25 minute blocks; for 3rd-5th grade, perhaps 30-40 minute blocks of learning; and for 6th grade through high school, 45 minute blocks of focused work time.
  4. Set due dates: On your calendar, be sure to mark due dates for any multi-day assignments. This is a wonderful opportunity to support your child’s organizational skills and study habits.
  5. Review the material alone before you sit down together to learn each day. This experience is different from supporting your child while they are doing homework. Homework is given to the student to REVIEW material they learned during class. Now your child is LEARNING the material with you and then reviewing the material to gain mastery. In other words, you will need to be familiar with the content because your student will need your support. That said, you don’t need to be an expert or be able to answer every question. Sometimes the best learning happens when you are working together to understand a concept.

What Teaching Looks Like

Learning at home may require different levels of support. Sometimes the instruction your child’s school provides, either through distance-learning options or through a textbook, may be enough for your student to be able to complete accompanying work. Or your student may have one or two small questions that you can support, or be able to reach teachers through virtual office hours to explore their questions with guidance. At another “level” of support, the content or material may be very new for your student and they may have a lot of questions; in this situation, you may need to work with your child and take on a more active role in their learning. 

Managing the Teacher-Student Relationship

A major concern for families learning at home can be the challenge in expanding the parent-child relationship to encompass the teacher-student relationship. One successful way to manage this transition is to frame learning as a team effort, focusing on the following:

  1. Child-Centered: Help students find a sense of ownership of their learning by giving them choice whenever possible, for example, “Do you want to do math first or writing first today?”
  2. Authentic: Help students see the real-world purpose of their learning “Why do you think it is important to learn fractions?”

What can you do when your child is struggling?

Learning can be difficult! Your child may get frustrated and struggle, and up to a point, this is a sign of learning. In educational lingo this is called the zone of proximal development. It may be uncomfortable for a student to be in this zone of proximal development, and you may see natural resistance that requires you to support their emotional needs. Here are ways to support your child when he or she is struggling academically:

  1. Make them feel seen and support their emotional needs, for example, “I heard you say you want to stop, you are working so hard. I am really proud of you.”
  2. Help them find what is difficult about the work, e.g. “Can you talk me through this problem so I can better understand how I can help?”
  3. Set clear expectations, e.g. “How about we work on this one problem for the next 5 minutes and then we take a snack break?” (Pro tip: use a kitchen timer or clock) 
  4. Reward the effort, e.g. “If you work on this problem with me for 5 minutes we can take a break and read a book together.”
  5. Avoid Distractions (for both the learner and the teacher)! This means that when your child is in the “zone of proximal development” they NEED your focused support. 
  6. Allow for choice whenever possible, e.g. “Which do you want to do first today, 20 minutes of math or 20 minutes of writing?”
  7. Stop! After trying all of the above, you may find that right now the material might be in the “Learner cannot do” zone and you need to take a break, maybe move their body or have a snack, before returning to work.

Additional Tips

  1. Learning doesn’t have to happen sitting down quietly. Sometimes learners need to stand at the table, play with a fidget, have a snack, listen to music. Your job is to make observations and help your learner understand when a tool helps them focus and when a tool distracts from learning.
  2. Flip the script! Maybe sometimes have your learner teach you the concept. This is a great way to both check for understanding and creates a supportive learning environment.
  3. Whenever possible, allow time to discuss the big picture, for example, “Why do you think it is important to learn about fractions?” or “How do you think this writing assignment will help you become a better thinker?”
  4. HAVE FUN!! Learning is fun! In 6 months, the best memory your child has from this experience may be laughing with you about your time learning at home.