In Colorado and all across the world, schools are shutting their doors and asking families to do school at home so we can flatten the curve. Online resources are offered, recommendations for schedules are shared. But let me say this to people new to school-at-home...
...you are not a teacher. Don't try to be one.
Instead, be you. Be a caring parent, invested in your child's education and well-being. Here's how.
1. Consider You
Take a moment to check in with yourself regarding your presuppositions about school-at-home and education in general. Consider:
- Your knowledge of various subjects. In what subjects are you comfortable guiding your child? Where are you uncomfortable?
- How do you feel about your new responsibilities? I'd guess that there are a LOT of feelings swirling around including anxiety, frustration, and overwhelm. It is OK to have those feelings. Just notice them and let them pass so you can get down to the business of solving problems.
- You are an adult with a LOT of experience to draw from to tackle this strange new endeavor. Don't sell yourself short.
- You CAN figure it out.
- You CAN ask your child's teachers for help.
- You CAN show your child how to do something difficult.
Also take a moment to think about self-care.
- What do you need to maintain your cool? Morning exercise? A cup of coffee enjoyed in solitude? Frequent and regular short breaks to listen to a quiet song? A siesta every afternoon? A way to recharge in your own special way at the end of the day? Come up with what you think you need to get you through these strange times...
- Make a commitment to yourself.
- Be flexible with what you need - some days you might need more self-care than other days.
- I like to be prepared so part of self-care is looking ahead at the school work I'll be helping my child with. That way I can hash out what I can/will do with my child when we're at the table together.
2. Consider your relationship with your kid(s)
You are not a teacher. You are a parent. So your relationship, even in the context of school-at-home, should be about family dynamics, not academic rigor.
- Nurture trust. They should trust you but you also need to trust them. (See The Self-Driven Child or Brainstorm for encouragement (rooted in science) regarding trusting your child.)
- Be their guide. Share (say aloud) your process for learning something new.
- Develop boundaries together. Outline the school requirements for your new situation. Then work with your child to create a plan for meeting those goals.
- When discussing school requirements, you might also touch on life requirements - cooking, cleaning, relaxing and watching TV, etc.
3. Set reasonable expectations
Set reasonable expectations for yourself as well as your child. These are the two most important things I wish someone had told me years ago. (I'm a sit down and get-it-done type of person, which doesn't work well for school-at-home.)
- Work with your child to set expectations. What works for my autistic son is a combination of setting a goal (finish this page of math problems) AND a timer (work for ten minutes). Whichever is finished first wins. If he finishes his math early, he is done. If the timer sounds before he's done, he gets a break and comes back later for another ten minutes. This might take some experimentation. But working it out together will pay huge dividends for everyone's sanity.
- Your child's attention span is probably about 10-20 minutes. What works well for us is to work together for 10-20 minutes on a task and then take a break. (I prefer movement - a walk, swing in the backyard, dance to some songs but sometimes we retreat to our rooms and either listen to an audiobook/podcast or watch a 20-minute show on TV.)
- Your child is unlikely is do academic work independently. Just plan on sitting next to them, without distraction, while they work. You can help them interpret questions, figure out answers, or just give moral support and words of encouragement. You might even help them notice that they need a break. Since you have nowhere to be, there is no rush here.
4. See the opportunities in front of you!
There are some wonderful opportunities here. These are my top favorites to celebrate with my public school parent friends:
- Learn with your kid! I love learning stuff alongside my kid. The picture books are beautiful. The videos are clever. It is just so fun to have a second childhood.
- Create the "perfect" school day! Kid not a morning person? Let them work when their energy is good. (Discover the secrets of perfect timing in When by Daniel Pink). Need more movement? Go get it!
- Have an idea you want to investigate with your child? Finally teach them about your passion? Your enthusiasm will go a long way AND you might be surprised how it buoys their academic work.
So that's the nitty gritty of recommendations for those of you who are new to school-at-home. Frame it the right way and it will be amazing! Challenging, yes. But also amazing!
No one should slave over worksheets so I wrote the guide for learning math from everyday life...because when the world is your classroom you are free to learn math that matters.
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