Last week I was on TODAY talking about parental worries about sending our kids back to school or assuming the role of teacher while they learn at home. I shared with Jenna Bush Hager ways we can all stay sane while homeschooling – and doing everything else on our agendas. A few parent sanity saver tips follow, but the most important is that our kids need to hear us say I lot more, “I know it’s tough, but you got this.” And we need to keep telling ourselves, “This too shall pass,” and it will.
Parent Sanity Savers to Help Learning and Reduce Bickering
Adding homeschooling to our already existing roles (working, childcare, cooking, cleaning, parenting, etc, etc, etc) during COVID-19 has us all jittery, but there are some teaching tricks to help us stay calm and help our kids learn.
- Instate one family rule: “Work first, then play.” Maintain a firm, serious attitude about learning. “We may be quarantined, but school work is a priority in our home.”
- Be clear on learning outcomes. Know how to connect with the teacher and understand her expectations. Then use the Goldilocks Approach: Expectations should never be “Too Hard” (which increases kid stress),“Too Easy” (which produces boredom), but “Just Right” (slightly higher or one step above the child’s learning level). Always aim for “Just right.”
- Stick to a routine. Uncertainty builds anxiety and routines reduce it, so set daily learning routines, and stick to them. Help your child set a daily schedule on a dry erase board or paper, then teach how to list core assignments in order of priority, and check tasks off as completed. Younger kids can write or draw each task on a Post-it, put them in order and pull each one off as completed. (Encouraging your child to do the hardest thing first” helps reduce anxiety. Once done, the child won’t worry about it anymore).
- Build brain breaks. Exercising helps everyone blow off steam, so set a specific time for “recess breaks.” Pop in a workout video, learn yoga, shoot baskets, lift weights, take bike rides or play hopscotch with sidewalk chalk. Some parents take turns assuming the role of P.E. teacher by leading the “Zoom” recess with small groups of kids.
- Join forces. Find parents who are willing to create small learning pods of children in the class. Parents then rotate “teaching” roles based on their expertise (like math, geography, art, speech debate).
Make Your Role Be "Teacher" Not Doer
The ultimate mantra to help your child become an independent learner is: “Never do for the child what the child can do for himself.” So, see yourself as a teacher, but not the manager and doer. Once you get that role straight, your battles are half over. The strategy to help your kid learn any new skill involves three steps:
1. Teach the new skill
2. Ensure your child understands the concept.
3. Back away. “You do the first problem (row) alone, then I’ll check.” Keep weaning until you can finally say: “You do the whole page, then we’ll check together.”
The best way to learn and retain any new concept is by teaching it to someone. So, after your child learns any skill, have him teach it to a younger sibling, explain it to Grandma via Skype, zoom with a friend, or explain it at dinner.
Also, involve your child in setting up a workplace. A quiet, well-lit space with all school supplies available and away from toys and electronic devices. Cardboard study carols can help reduce sibling distractions. TV, phone and other devices should be turned off during study time.
An evidence-backed way to stretch stick-to-itness is emphasize your kid’s effort not the end product. So, instead of “Good job!” Be specific: You’re working hard. Just don’t praise the score, grade or end product, but the effort and you’ll see your child working longer and harder without you.
Help Kids Balance What They Miss Face-to-Face
Kids are by nature social beings and relationships are essential for their well-being. Most kids are going to be disappointed about not going back to school. After all, they’re missing major milestones like fall sports, sleepovers, and seeing friends, so we need to empathize with their concerns, and let them vent. Listen actively and give them space to share their feelings without interrupting. Acknowledge their disappointment. Then help them find solutions to their biggest concerns. (Feeling “in control” is a great stress reducer). For instance, if their biggest issue is “I’ll miss my friends,” you might suggest holding Learning Pods while maintaining safe social distancing in your backyard. If it’s missing their band, then offer Google Hangout band sessions. Kids are most likely to remember how we respond to their disappointments and realize that we are really are trying to find solutions.
While social distancing and online classes are challenging, there are creative ways to balance what kids may miss face-to-face. The easiest way is reaching out to other parents and setting regular kid online connection opportunities.
- Set regular virtual playdates. Younger kids can play blocks, draw or play dress up with a buddy on the other side of the window while FaceTiming or social distancing.
- Create learning partners. One way to learn any skill is teaching it to someone. Find a parent with a kid in your child’s class to become his learning partner. At a set time each day, the two can practice spelling, math facts or vocab words through Skype or FaceTime. Your child’s teacher can provide connection ideas.
- Learn a hobby. Identify an interest your child wants to learn like knitting, woodworking, or an instrument. Each child’s parent provides the materials (such as knitting needles and yarn). Then find a parent skilled in that hobby who acts as the online teacher. Each parent can take turns teaching a different expertise.
- Add recess. Use zoom to connect with other families and hold recess time together at the same time each day. Parents can rotate the role of P.E. teacher.
- Hold virtual book clubs. Choose books your kids love-Wonder, Holes, Harry Potter, The Outsiders- or ones identified by the school as required reading. Then set up regular virtual kid book discussions.
Science finds that single greatest correlation to how a child endures in difficult times is a calm, caring adult is in their lives who lets him or her know, “I’m here for you and we will get through this.” That’s the message our children need now, and that means we need to take care of ourselves so we be what our kids need most: parents who “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Keep reminding yourself and your children: “We got this!” And we will!