How to Approach a Productive School Year

Strategies and advice during coronavirus.

Posted Sep 07, 2020

Our education system is facing unbelievable and unpredictable challenges. The following are the questions that concern me (and the parents I consult with) the most.

  1. Can children truly be educated at home using a computer? My answer is “No,” based on my graduate education, my writing and research, and my practical experience as a consultant. The most famous contemporary educator, John Dewey, advocated learning by doing, which I believe is the most effective way to help children learn.
  2. Can parents instantly become teachers in all areas of curriculum? My answer is obviously, “No way.” Parents cannot instantly learn how to teach. Teaching is an art and a science that involves education and experience. While monitoring homework is certainly valuable for the parent-child relationship, children need to work with teachers.
  3. Is teaching students social skills without face-to-face live interactions really possible or effective? Probably not. While it is good for children to meet children or teenagers from other places online, it is not nearly the same as in-person interactions.
  4. What will happen to children who are left alone or with underage caregivers (older siblings) because parents have to work? This compromise is hard on everyone and totally ineffective as an educational strategy.

Clearly, there are no simple or instant answers to the above questions. What might be helpful to parents and children is to understand their child’s reaction to all of the chaos that faces them.

Children and teenagers alike are afraid of the virus even if they have been educated about how to deal with the issues/complications in school to avoid getting sick. Social distancing and masks are not totally effective. There are risks that need to be taken into consideration every day. And teachers and other school personnel are afraid of contracting the virus. Fearfulness, which seems understandable and appropriate, creates additional stress at school for the students and parents.

What I have found to be helpful when consulting with students, parents, and teachers is active listening and concern with empathy. Marginalizing anxiety about the virus will confuse the people you are trying to help. For example, saying “Don’t worry, everything is taken care of and you will be fine” is not only untrue but also standoffish. Being afraid of risk is normal when there is a risk. It is best to empathize with the person’s concern.

Additionally, sharing your fears in a general way may help. By this, I do not mean give them your entire list of worries. You might say, “I am worried about you getting sick and I have tried to avoid as many risks as I can for you. What are you worried about? Can I help you?”

I do believe there are questions that can be answered, which I am sharing below:

  1. Are there any strategies that will help my children be accountable for their school participation and homework? 
  2. How do I decide on realistic expectations? 

Here are my suggestions:

  • Establish a structured way that your child gets online. For example, after breakfast, give them a certain amount of free time. Then have them log on to their class with all of their homework completed.
  • When your children or teenagers have a break from online class, make sure that they get some exercise that has been preplanned and is ready to be executed. For example, playing handball, biking, walking, running, or shooting basketball hoops.
  • Leave a prepared snack for your child to eat before class begins again.
  • Have your kids text or email or call to tell you how they are doing.
  • Make time to listen carefully and give child-friendly feedback if necessary.
  • Reward your entire family for working together by affirming their hard work.
  • External rewards, such as selecting a movie to see or a restaurant to pick up food from, can be a motivational tool.
  • Perhaps at dinner, when your family is calm and together, is the right time to go over the good and difficult parts of the week and possibly make some changes to your procedures.
  • Revise your expectations for your children and family in general and also your expectations for the teachers.
  • Reward yourself for all the hard work you are doing.
  • Avoid negative thinking!
  • Remember, “good enough” parenting is the best kind of parenting.

Conclusion

Try to be positive with your children, who in my recent experience, are completely stressed out and confused about what is going to “happen” at school. How will learning and peer and teacher interaction change? Your child has special concerns that you should try to understand.

There is no one right way to handle the stress of the coronavirus. But saying this, I will add that the amount of information that you share should be child-friendly. Overwhelming young people is not helpful. Try to avoid having your children watch television news if you can.

Focus on the good that has come out of this worldwide crisis. I suggest that parents and children have learned to get along with one another in a more profound and respectful way. What do you think?