Coronavirus: Tips to Make Homeschooling Work

Coronavirus means many parents are homeschooling their children for the first time ever. Which is a problem, since most parents A) have no teaching experience B) never thought to become teachers, and C) have no inclination or natural talent for teaching. How then, are we supposed to make this work???

We’re not teachers. Not to mention: we’ve got work to do, if we’re lucky enough to work from home during the coronavirus lockdown. How do we balance it all and still stay sane? How are our kids going to get properly educated?

It’s a problem all right. But it’s not like we have any choice in the matter. And no one knows how long this awful, tragic, horrifying, no-good global pandemic will last.

Take Your Time

So, barring a miracle, we’re just going to have to keep on keeping on with a little help from the experts. Until this coronavirus thing is over. With that thought in mind, here are loads of tips from experts in the field of homeschooling and remote learning. Our suggestion is to wait until the kids are in bed for the night (will the hour ever come???), pour yourself a nice glass of wine (or for the teetotalers, a cup of coffee or tea), and take your time to sift through this wonderful compilation of actionable tips.

There’s something here for everyone. (Even teachers, who may need help with this distance learning thing, too.)

Step Inside Their Shoes

Therapist Kyle McEvoy works with many parents around the current coronavirus issues of homeschooling while juggling jobs and family. McEvoy says the key to finding solutions for these parents is to try to understand the minds of their children and how they perceive the current situation.

“What are their struggles, what do they do to cope with it, how long is their attention span, what are their interests?” asks McEvoy. “We’ve been attempting to step inside of their shoes to help us come up with creative ways to engage in homeschool activities.

“What we’ve found the most effective is making learning fun—yes we’ve all heard this all before, but we need to talk about this in a radically different way. Do children have to study all day? Can they take breaks? Go for a walk or take a gym class)? Watch some TV? Help in the kitchen (which teaches culinary skills)? Race against the clock to clean up the house (which involves strategy and planning)?” asks McEvoy.

Father and daughter focused on schoolwork during coronavirus homeschooling session

Create Friendly Competition

“Create friendly competition around writing work—perhaps a parent’s work emails versus a kid’s creative writing class. Look for interesting, fun activities to engage children that at the same time, allow you to get your work done. Changing up the schedule makes a big difference, because in times like this, monotony is dangerous, unmotivating, depressing, and BORING,” says McEvoy.

“Be comfortable with changing things up and trying something new knowing that sometimes it will work, sometimes it will fail, but the main thing is you’re teaching your child to how to regulate emotions, adapt, create, tolerate distress, and most of all, persevere.”

Brothers doing schoolwork at home during coronavirus lockdown

Teachers Need Help, Too

Teachers—the good ones, anyway—go into teaching because they love interacting with children. It can be off-putting to have to make a sudden entrance into the world of distance learning. Annie Castro, a math teacher at Providence Day School in Charlotte, NC, has lots of experience with virtual classrooms and offers the following tips to teachers going virtual for the first time:

  • Be realistic. Keep it to no more than two synchronous “live” sessions a week, and limit them to 20-30 min to maximize attention span. You can’t read the reactions in the room in a digital lecture, so keep things short to make it manageable.
  • Flip the way you taught in-person. Use the “live” time for face-to-face check-ins with students. Record your lectures and keep them short – no longer than 15-20 min – for students to watch when they can, because the same time doesn’t work for everyone anymore.
  • Don’t micromanage integrity. Set clear parameters for take-home assessments: allow calculators, make sure questions are original and unique, and allow open notes. If you make the assessment original, but not impossible, and give students a way to call out to you and ask questions, you can ensure accountability.
  • Make tech tools optional. Be accessible for all learning styles, and have students use what works for them: paper notebooks, computers, and tablets all work! Note-taking apps that can serve as teaching tools, for instance Notability, can enhance handwritten notes with various digital capabilities such as audio recordings.

Get Personal

Dry facts just don’t cut it for making their way into a child’s mind. Are your kids yawning through your earnest attempts at imparting knowledge? Michael Kawula of Help a Teen, offers this fun lesson idea that engages kids by having them delve deep into a parent’s personal history:

We think it’s worth a try.

Coronavirus Homeschooling Tips

Meanwhile, Amanda DoAmaral, of Fiveable, which offers resources to AP students and teachers, shares these three simple homeschooling tips to help keep teenagers interested and engaged:

  1. Try to keep a routine. You don’t have to wake your child up at 7:00 a.m., but create a schedule and set it together. Decide on a time that school “starts” and also set aside specific times for breaks. This keeps everyone on a schedule that’s predictable. Students need some sense of normalcy right now and this will help.
  2. Don’t feel like you have to replicate everything that would be happening in the classroom.The best thing you can to for a high school student is to keep them engaged — keep them writing, reading, and thinking. Discuss what’s going on in the world by watching a piece of news together or reviewing a documentary. Perhaps teach them about something within your profession or even within your culture that excites you.
  3. Get creative. Practice self-care and encourage creativity through non-school-related means. Encourage your student to record music, write, create art, or record a podcast. Anything where they can funnel creativity into their time is going to help because they can only study and worry about their grades for so long before it becomes too much for them or they lose interest altogether.

Mother and daughter coronavirus homeschooling project

Don’t Reread or Review: Rely On Recall

Remote learning platform Cerego has evaluated data gleaned from over 1 billion lessons to offer the following tips to parents teaching their children at home during the coronavirus lockdown:

  • Test kids by reviewing in bite-sized chunks, and do so often—86% of what we read or listen to, is gone from our memory in a matter of days, so it’s important to review material frequently. The magic number for long-term retention? Three to five minutes of review spread over at least 4 sessions.
  • Quiz in the morning, study in the evening—The time of day when kids are learning most is not actually the same as when they’re answering questions correctly.
  • People are more accurate in the morning (between 7-8am) so that’s when you’ll get the best testing results. But, they’re most effective in the evening (between 8-9pm). That’s because recalling answers (even incorrectly) helps the information stick.
  • Stay away from rereading, instead rely on recall—Rereading doesn’t challenge the brain; recalling information encourages long-term memory.
  • Mobile learning is leveled-up learning—Learning by mobile app is more effective learning compared to desktop. Mobile learning enables kids to absorb new info in the bite-sized chunks that are most effective for learning—and helps them make the most of time potentially lost otherwise (i.e. waiting for class to start).

Getting Down to Basics

In the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and massive school closures, Professional Learning Board offers a free, five-hour online training course to help teachers become more effective online instructors. So there’s that. But parents need help, too. Here are some of the Minneapolis-based online education and training company’s most basic homeschooling tips for parents:

  • Know your child’s online school schedule.
  • Install filtering software.
  • Be able to see what your child is working on.
  • Have the teacher’s contact information.
  • Set up your child’s accounts together.
  • Know their usernames and passwords.
  • Structure the hours for device use.

Go Traditional (Or Not)

Brian Galvin, of Varsity Tutors, and a leading expert in virtual homeschooling, has helped thousands of students advance their education outside the classroom. Galvin believes that virtual homeschooling provides the freedom to tailor a child’s online education day to his or her likes, dislikes, learning style, and needs. But it takes some trial and error for homeschooling parents to find an educational structure that works for them. “Two virtual structures that are used today include the traditional approach, where a student follows a structured, school-like curriculum created by his or her parent, and the “unschooling” approach, where students choose what and when they would like to learn,” explains Galvin. “Many families also adopt techniques in-between these two approaches. But the goal is to settle on a structure that works for your child and their schedule and stick with it.”

Galvin created the following video of his top suggestions for homeschooling parents:

Coronavirus Homeschooling? K.I.S.S.

Allison Wilson, real-life mom, educator, and senior director of curriculum at The Stratford School, suggests the following tips to make homeschooling simpler and less stressful for parents:

  • Set Family Agreements: It takes weeks to set classroom expectations and routines. You can do the same at home by inviting your children to come up with family agreements. Encourage specific, positive language, such as, “We will pause and try to solve the problem before asking for help.” Tack up your family agreements in a prominent location and review them regularly.
  • Create the learning environment: Find the spot in your home that is the most conducive to your child’s learning. Review with children daily what supplies they have and where they should be returned and stored at the end of learning time.
  • Consider the 5 to 1 Rule: In education there is the 5 to 1 rule. This principle suggests that every negative piece of feedback be offset by 5 positives. Children are often looking for the familiar and for our praise. Praise them for their efforts and achievements, and acknowledge that this is hard.
  • We are all in this together: Reflect with your family on what worked well and what didn’t go well during the day. Host family meetings to discuss the highs and lows of the day. Recounting the highs of the day is good mental exercise. Celebrating daily bright spots can boost everyone’s energy.
  • Grace and Humor: These are uncharted waters for all of us. Extend grace to your family and to yourself during this coronavirus pandemic. There will be good days when your children are engaged in their work and you are a rock star on your conference calls. There will also be days when your child interrupts your conference call for a glass of milk about 100 times. Take each frustration lightly and power forward.

Mother smiles at son during coronavirus homeschooling session

Poof! You’re a CEO

Educator Kimberly Berens, Ph.D. suggests parents become CEOs of their households in order to effectively manage their children’s behavior. Berens offers the following tips to parents who are homeschooling for the first time, due to the pandemic:

  • Rather than stressing over rigorous schedules, parents should simply set clear boundaries between work time and break time. Kids don’t need to complete the assignment in one sitting, they just need to work consistently.
  • Use a timer! When your child needs to work on school assignments, set a timer for an amount of time that is reasonable for your child and will increase their chances of success, which may only be a few minutes for some learners.
  • Parents can learn to design effective incentive systems that lead to the strengthening of important adaptive skills with their children. For example, when the work timer goes off, set the timer again for a short period of break time where your child can stretch their legs, play or use their phones.
  • If your child is putting forth effort to complete an assignment but they don’t seem to understand or are unable to complete it, then you should email your child’s teacher that your child requires their help. Let yourself off the hook of being required to act like your child’s teacher and attempt to teach the lessons.
  • It’s important for parents to be able to distinguish between skills deficits versus motivational issues with respect to schoolwork because each requires different strategies for students to be successful.
  • Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourselves. None of this new coronavirus situation is easy – not for you and not for your kids.  Set some clear, simple boundaries and use lots of positive reinforcement.  A promise: It will make this whole situation a lot easier to survive.

A for Effort

Made it this far? Pat yourself on the back—you’ve earned an “A” for effort. The hope is that you’ll go back to these tips for inspiration, whenever you feel your energy flagging, like it’s all too much to bear. None of us know when this coronavirus thing is ending, we’ll just have to take lots of deep breaths and keep moving forward, from day to inexorable day.

And while some of those days will be awful, some will be better, and with a lot of will and some luck, some days will even be great!

The main thing is, you’re doing the best you can. And that’s all anyone can ask. Including your kids, who will remember your effort and endurance in “playing teacher” during this oh-so-stressful time, the coronavirus global pandemic.

May we all stay safe and well.

Found what you just read useful? Why not consider sending a donation to our Kars4Kids youth and educational programs. Or help us just by sharing!

Found what you just read useful? Why not consider sending a donation to our Kars4Kids youth and educational programs. Or help us just by sharing!

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About Varda Epstein

Varda Meyers Epstein serves as editor in chief of Kars4Kids Parenting. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Varda is the mother of 12 children and is also a grandmother of 12. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Learning Site, The eLearning Site, and Internet4Classrooms.

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