Suddenly, as a result of the coronavirus lockdown in early 2020, millions of children got their first taste of virtual schooling. Parents were unexpectantly thrust into a world of balancing their children’s education with working – often both happening in the same place.
While many school districts have already been using online learning platforms to supplement teaching for some time, the precipitous change to remote lessons delivered en mass globally is now almost absolute, with 191 countries seeing some form of school closures.
As parents and children – and even teachers – learn to adapt to the reality of virtual learning, this shift in education delivery presents opportunities for everyone to make the most of this unique situation.
The challenge for many parents is the often-overwhelming process of taking charge of a child’s education. Lesson plans, online resources, study materials, schedules, Zoom meetings, curriculum…it can be a lot.
As someone who has written a lot about hybrid homeschooling, I am not instilled with a great deal of confidence about the plans that school districts have been presenting for school this Fall.
At NEAT Services, we are asked by many parents for simple, fundamental things to consider when beginning the hybrid homeschooling journey.
1. Have a Curriculum or Learning Materials
- Don’t think that you have to recreate the wheel. A good curriculum is a must, as it will give you a framework and a scope and sequence, which will help keep your child on track. Whether it is a curriculum provided by your local school district, or a combination of the plethora of curricula out there, knowing which one to choose can be challenging! Find a curriculum that suits your family well. Does your child work better with an online curriculum or does he need to work with textbooks, paper and pencil, or manipulatives? Reaching out to homeschooling groups about curricula can provide some valuable information about what would work best for your child and your family. Discuss with your child and set goals but, most importantly, ease into it.
2. Create a Visual Schedule
- Work with your child to develop a daily schedule. Set realistic goals and plan for some breaks. Make sure everyone in your home can see the weekly calendar with lessons, activities, appointments, and outings. This will help your child learn to budget his time and help everyone in the family be prepared and on time. You don’t need to fill every moment of every day with activities and end up burning everyone out. This is the perfect opportunity to let them learn what it feels like to be occasionally bored, giving them the freedom to use their imagination to devise ways to entertain themselves without constant adult involvement or direction.
3. Create a Designated Workspace
- Your child will need a desk or table, free of distractions. He will need a form of technology, whether it’s a Chromebook or a desktop. Your child will need to know that this is his personal workspace. There are a ton of online resources about clever storage options, but find a centralized place for art supplies, books, and a comfortable place to read, write, and study.
4. Use Online Resources
- There is a multitude of resources available to families during this quarantine. Many museums are offering virtual tours and learning opportunities. There are a variety of educational websites available that are free. You’re not going to recreate school in one day, so start small. Don’t get bogged down by the flood of downloadable PDFs and lesson plans available. Instead, find a couple of resources that work and build from there. Focus on your child’s greatest need and her biggest interests or passions. Look for resources that will keep her connected to her real-life community, such as piano lessons or local dance classes that are offering online classes. Ask family and friends to lead activities like storytime and craft sessions.
5. Provide Social Opportunities
- Homeschooling can be isolating if your child has limited social interactions. Find opportunities for her to communicate with other children, even if it is tough during this pandemic. Online meeting websites like Zoom or Google Meet can link friends and classmates for fun, collaborative conversations. Not to toot our own horn, but NEAT Services provides homeschooling parent support groups, virtual field trips, workshops to keep our families engaged and motivated. Find social activities in your life that can provide your children with the same. You are not alone and there are many fun and educational ways to get together virtually, even in a pandemic.
6. Make Learning Fun!
- Homeschooling represents an exciting experience and a unique opportunity for your child to excel. But it also can be intimidating for some parents and children and can cause anxiety and concerns about how different everyone’s lives will be. Before you actually start to homeschool, take some time to explain to your young student what your plans are for the school year. Find out from them what direction will be the most productive. What kind of learner is your child? Dr. Howard Gardner of Harvard University proposed the theory of Multiple Intelligences which stated that children use a combination of visual, auditory, kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, mathematical, existential, and naturalistic factors to learn. Find out what your child’s best learning style is and teach to it. Learning doesn’t have to always be with a pencil and paper. Do meaningful projects with your child that align with your child’s strengths and their current lessons in their curriculum. In our center, we use Project-Based Learning (PBL) to tie everything together in a project-focused direction as a way for children to demonstrate mastery and understanding of a concept. And it’s a lot of fun for the kids to tie it all together and find real-world applications to the concepts they’re learning. Teach independence and find fun family activities that will reinforce concepts learned during the week.
7. Give Yourself a Break!
- Understand that you have gone from being your child’s parent to also her teacher. Sometimes the techniques you use may not succeed. Don’t give yourself a hard time, and try again, doing it a different way. Be forgiving with yourself and your child! Take time out during the day for some “me time”, some time to recharge. It will give you a chance to mentally prepare, and it will give your child an opportunity to learn independently.
We see common roadblocks for beginning hybrid homeschoolers. First: watch out for feelings of isolation. Make sure you’ve followed the advice in Step Five above and join a support group. Stay in touch with other adults…it’s not just for the kids, although socialization is critical for them too.
Also, don’t commit to a curriculum or study materials too early. We often see parents new to homeschooling purchase expensive packaged curriculum right away, only to find that it doesn’t fit their child’s unique learning preferences or the family dynamic. Experiment for a while before you plunk down a lot of cash, and consider mixing it up with a variety of different learning activities and websites to make it interesting and fun.
Finally, know that you’ll need to learn as you go. Adjusting to the freedom and flexibility of homeschooling is a challenge, but there are so many ways to approach it and countless ways to measure success. Remember that you’ll be defining — and constantly redefining — yourself as you go.
For millions of students and their parents, homeschooling will only be a temporary stopgap, and the real work will begin when children start going back to school. For those who have worked hard during this time, their hard work and progress will shine.
Wendy Broder-Stock, M.Ed., is the owner of NEAT Services, and has been providing educational therapy, advocacy, and specialized tutoring services to children with special needs and their families for over twenty-five years.