Help Your Kids to Thrive During Coronavirus School Closures
Coronavirus has caused many disruptions to our normal schedules, including kids staying home from school. While I can’t help with the financial or childcare problems that families are facing, I can offer some advice on making this break time a productive, learning experience for children.
I homeschooled 4 boys and ran a private school to assist homeschool families for over 20 years. The same tips that help a family transition to homeschooling, also help families who are unexpectedly looking at weeks of school closures.
The greatest transition for new homeschoolers was not teaching their children, it was having their kids home all day. Establishing a new normal is challenging, however, there are a few things that can help parents remain sane, and children learning.
The following are merely suggestions. You know your family and what will work for you. Adapt what is offered to best serve your needs.
Establish a routine
After spring break, it’s time to get back to a routine if you want kids to thrive during this time. If this week is one children would normally be in school, treat it that way. Wake up, dress, have breakfast, just as you would any other school day. Keeping these simple habits in place will set the tone for your day.
While a Saturday morning of cartoons and pancakes is a fun break from routine, it doesn’t work well for weeks on end. Oddly, kids get grumpy and into more mischief when they get too much of a good thing’ Children actually crave structure in their lives. (Cartoon schedules are not structure, despite what my granddaughter might think.)
Instead, set up some routines and be intentional about the time you’ve been given during school closures. If possible, try to approach the next few weeks as an opportunity for your children to learn in a different way. Block out time for school, recess, and creative play activities. Having a few planned blocks in the day will save you headaches, not create them.
Have a Family Meeting
After you read this article, jot down a few of the suggestions that you think could work for your family. Then gather everyone together and come up with a plan. If kids are included in the planning, you will have more ‘buy in.’
Take your children’s input seriously. Is there a topic they are passionate about that they could dig into over this break? They might surprise you. Even kids who dislike school are curious, tap into the curiosity. Video games, dinosaurs, sports, music, all are easily converted into learning.
Having everyone home means more housework, more meals, more mess. The added confusion is stressful. Be upfront, explain, (within reason and without laying a guilt trip on them) how, as a family, each of you needs to pitch in and help each other. The more kids you are dealing, the more mess. The mess is probably the biggest reason parents heave a sigh of relief when school is back in session.
Get your child’s agreement to help out while having your family meeting. (I’m just assuming your spouse is on-board and that since we live in the modern era both parents do housework.)
My suggestion, particularly if you have elementary school kids, is that you at least plan on a three time a day sweep of the house. Everyone takes a room, set a timer, put on some music, and put everything back where it goes. Pretend company is coming over last minute and clean everything up as quickly as possible. The boys had it down and could sort the house in about 15 minutes. I did this prior to meals, no food until order was restored. Worked for me.
Then, depending on the ages of kids, hand out a broom, disinfectant spray and rags and do a quick clean up of surfaces that have gotten the most use. (A coronavirus addition to the clean up.) Kids love spray bottles and will likely be happy to disinfect doorknobs and tables.
Cover School Subjects With a Twist
Plan on a bit of ‘school time’ each day. Reading, writing and math skills can deteriorate quickly, but that doesn’t mean your kids need to start doing worksheets, or other ‘school work.’ I’ve linked to articles with some more related tips, including this one, that will perhaps ease your anxiety about not working through your child’s school curriculum.
Instead, let kids pick a topic they would like to learn more about and brainstorm some ways to explore. You’ve been given the gift of time to explore things that there normally just isn’t time for, take advantage of that.
With just a bit of research it’s easy to pick a books, articles, or websites to accumulate some reading materials, I’d aim for 30 minutes of reading time per day. If your children are non-readers read to them. There is a great deal of benefit for children when adults read to them, no matter their age. My adult son just reminded me he remembers my reading each of the Harry Potter books to his brothers and him, and he was in high school when the last books were being released. I believe the times we shared together reading were critical, not just for their academic development, but for their development as human beings. Sharing books and discussions taught them to question, a key to a good education.
For more tips on raising readers you can check out this article. The main thing is for your child to enjoy some literary time each day.
Then depending on the ages of your kids, have them write a summary of what they gleaned from their readings. If kids are young, have them write the first sentence, then you play scribe and let them finish their summary. The reason for this is that if a child knows that he will physically have to write a summary they will shorten what they discovered to a brief sentence. When given the freedom to speak what they’ve learned, while mom or dad do the writing, they will expound freely. This allows you to accurately assess what they have actually taken in. Beyond that, telling or narrating what they have learned is a solid, pre-writing skill. Don’t discount the value of conversation in literary development.
Also, allow the child’s description of what they have learned to stand. A bit of trust is needed here. None of us absorb every detail when we read something, yet we expect children to. We continue to ask about details, fill in what we think is pertinent, and test the minutia. Try to put a hold on the ‘testing’ mentality that is ingrained in us and focus instead on enjoying the journey of discovery.
Trust that children will take from the material what is appropriate for their development. The relationship between teacher, child, and parent can be fraught with tension. As teachers (and parents) we frequently diminish a child’s role in the educational process. We, with the best of intentions, approach a child’s mind as if it were a bucket that needs filling. We fail to recognize the mystery and complexity of the mind and the learning process. Children need engagement, a rich variety of materials to interact with, and from there they will take from the experience what is appropriate for them, not for you. Believe me, if you trust your child, over time you will be astounded by what they have to teach you.
Lastly, find a way to make a math connect, and play with numbers. Pinterest can be a big help here. If cooking fits your selected topic, double a recipe. If your child wanted to study snakes, see if they could add up all of the costs of acquiring a snake…aquarium, hot rock, snake, crickets, etc. Math connects with life in hundreds of different ways, but it is often taught in isolation leaving children questioning why they have to learn it. Help them see the connections between math, life, and their own interests, and you will go along way toward developing a positive attitude toward mastering mathematical principles.
If you have Junior High Students, this is a great time to solidify some of their skills. Here’s an article about those unique years.
School On The Cheap
With the shut downs going on, many of us are affected economically. Believe me I get it. Homeschooling for a few weeks doesn’t have to cost anything. If you have a computer, paper, and writing instruments around, you have the tools necessary to get started.
The library, even when closed, is your friend. They have thousands of online and audible books available for you to check out. You can even apply for your library card online at most libraries.
Likely you have lots of books in your home that you haven’t read yet, or that could be studied more closely.
Contact a few families and pool resources. If you want to study dinosaurs and your neighbors kids are keen on science arrange to swap a few books for a week.
Reading articles, viewing YouTube videos, and searching homework websites will likely yield more information than you can cover in 10 years, let alone the next few weeks.
Of course, you can always order books online and have them delivered.
Get outside everyday, even if it’s just your yard or a patio. The outdoors is a natural stress reducer and children get cabin fever quickly. If kids are healthy, they need some time to run off energy. While social distancing is the goal ,we can remain away from people while outside. Taking a hike, visiting the beach. or playing at the park, (wash hands before and after playing) will help keep everyone sane.
This would be the perfect time to create a nature journal, no formal instructions needed. Kids (and parents) can paste in things they find, record any wildlife they see, and draw pictures of trees and flowers. Make it as simple or elaborate as you want. Just having crayons and paper on a hike can be enough of a novelty to have kids intrigued.
A twist on the nature journal that is awesome for kids who are hands-on learners, is to create nature bottles. Collect a couple bottles or jars and head into your backyard or nearest uncrowded nature area and get busy. Let’s say your area has pine trees, have kids put a few pine needles, a pine cone, and a bark rubbing in their bottle. Then draw a picture of the tree, label it and attach it to the bottle. Do this with a few more trees and by the time you go home kids will be able to identify several trees by their leaves, bark, and other characteristics.
If kids are sick or your situation doesn’t allow for outside play, be sure to get kids moving. Dance, yoga, or kids’ exercise videos on YouTube are a good emergency substitute.
Art, STEM, and STEAM
Getting creative is a sure fire way keep kids occupied and their minds busy. Look around the house, sort through your recyclables for bits of cardboard, foil, toilet paper tubes, and either let kids do their thing, or if they are struggling, issue a challenge. Nothing complicated: Who can build the largest tower, can we make a boat that floats, can we recreate a Disney castle?
If you want more ideas just do a quick google or Pinterest search for STEM or STEAM ideas. Many are done with simple household items.
If you want something a bit more structure I have an Overview of Western Art that is a simple download and has hours of Art history learning. I’m offering the program for 50% off during the school shutdowns. Enter the coupon code “coronavirus” (no quotation marks) to get your discount.
One year I told my boys we were going to take a 4 week break from school to study anything they wanted..they chose baseball. Honestly, it was a super easy topic to turn into ‘school.’ Here are the steps we took to study baseball for a month, aside from assisting here and there, and teaching them how to figure averages, they did a great deal of this on their own and had a blast.
- Reading: We went to the library and got a stack of books on baseball. (This was pre-internet, now you can do this online.) These included autobiographies of players, Casey at the Bat (our poetry for the month), a couple children’s novels, The Baseball Rule Book, and an assortment of others. The children’s librarian was our research consultant. We read out of these books every day. This reading was a combination of my reading out loud and their reading on their own.
- Writing: This was one of the best things we ever did. Together we formatted a letter to baseball teams telling them we were studying baseball and asking if they had anything they could share to make the experience memorable. We literally wrote to every professional team. Each day, each boy copied the letter, addressed the envelope, and we sent it off. After a few weeks the packages started arriving: shirts, pennants, stickers, books, posters etc. For the next 3 or 4 months packages arrived. It was truly amazing.
- Math: Baseball is the sport of stats so math was an easy add. We figured batting averages for all of their favorite players. Some of the boys were technically too young for this, but they were determined and managed to master the idea. Younger kids averaged at bats during 1 or two games to keep it reasonable. With older children this would be a great exercise to introduce a calculator.
- Geography: We set up a map of the U.S. with push pins in every ball park, then ran yarn between cities when the Dodgers played away games. (This could have gotten out of hand tracking travel, but it was fun.)
- History: So much here! We studied the Negro Leagues and the stories of the first black players. We studied the Women’s Leagues during WW2. As America’s pastime, baseball has played a unique role in our history, and the stories of baseball often offer insights into our culture we wouldn’t gain from a history book.
- Art: We looked at art related to baseball. I actually had a coffee table book that was focused on baseball art, so that was easy. Then we tried our hand at replicating a few of the examples. We discussed the uniforms, logo, and branding of the teams.
- P.E: Not surprisingly, this month was filled with their practices and games because they all played baseball.
- Music: We talked about the famous organ at Dodger Stadium, Steve’s family has a personal connect with the organist, so that was cool. And we explored other songs that focused on the game.
- Philosophy: Although I don’t remember doing this it would be fascinating to have discussions about some of the ethics involved in sports: diversity, cheating (hello, Astro’s), ticket prices, salaries, etc.
- Other: We read about announcers, umpires, stadiums, and amazing fan stories.
We spent a little money on stamps, but didn’t purchase any curriculum. We didn’t do any worksheets, or focus on any ‘learning standards’ but the boys learned an amazing amount that month.
Don’t Invent New Learning Experiences, Tack Learning Onto What You Are Already Doing.
One of the keys to successful homeschooling is taking advantage of daily life as education. Tweaking how we view our everyday activities allows us to see all of living as an education.
You need to prepare meals, incorporate the kids into that. Reading recipes, measuring ingredients, writing out a shopping list are novel, interesting chores for a new chef and ticks off a few educational exercises at the same time.
Going to the park or into your yard, pack a notebook, crayons, magnifying glass, and jar and spend some time observing and recording nature. Put a few bugs in the jar and make a study. Make a few bark and leaf rubbings. Take a census of the birds you come across in an hour, can you identify them?
Practice kindness and connection during this time of social distancing. Make a card or drop off a homemade treat to someone who could be feeling lonely to let them know you remember them.
The benefits from that month break from our regular school was immense. The boys love of learning was re-ignited. They were studying something that was important to them and that made all of the difference. Reading, writing, and gleefully figuring stats the boys made some significant educational leaps. Reading the stories of black ballplayers touched and changed their perspective, broadening their understanding of the country they live in. U.S. geography was suddenly real and relevant.
My prayer is that this stressful time could also be a magical, thriving experience for your children. As we hunker in to ride this out we tend to focus on all that we can’t do, but there is still so much that we can do! So many resources that are still available to us.
If any of you choose to explore a fun topic and need to brainstorm, we can trade ideas in the comments. Let me know what you’ll be digging into this spring.