Home Learning During the Crisis

A structured and reasonable approach to schoolwork for now.

Posted Mar 23, 2020

Most of us parents are scrambling around family routines and schoolwork wherever schools have closed. One fundamental starting point for staying grounded is this: Children will all get caught up when this crisis passes. They’ll adapt, we’ll adapt, and the school system will too.  

Individuals have had to miss months of education in the past (such as for medical reasons) without a long-term impact on their schooling. Do your best these next few weeks. That’s all we can expect of ourselves. 

While that’s true, it will also be valuable for your kids to have routines and structure over the upcoming weeks. Try to keep up with their schoolwork, and maybe fill some of their ample time at home with something fun and educational. But remind yourself often that even a couple of months of lost education won’t undermine their future. You are not your child’s teacher and don’t need to be.  

Recognize as well that online learning requires direct supervision from parents until an individual child shows themselves capable of it. Almost all kids get easily off track or miss details without strong adult teachers involved. Expecting anything else is mostly going to cause frustration; expecting kids to progress as much at home as they would have in a classroom probably is too. But even if it’s imperfect, being structured with their school day planning will help you get your own work done.   

If that kind of supervision cannot happen because you are outnumbered by your children, have your own work, or for any other reason—just do your best. We will all have to catch up when life gets back to normal. You have your own responsibilities, and that’s normal. Create structure, monitor work time as well as you can—and trust that we’ll figure out how to catch our kids up when it’s time for that.

Here’s a home classroom list to consider….

1. Set aside a time for school. Create a daily schedule (such as one of these from the Kahn Academy). Consider laying out time for specific classes—math, language arts, etc. Include scheduled "recess," too. And then, use that schedule to support your own productivity: If your kids focus for even a few minutes on a task, complete one yourself. When it’s recess for your kids, think about getting some exercise yourself. 

2. Create a workspace with a minimum of distraction. Set up a dedicated school area, either permanently or for the day. If possible, allow for some separation from siblings. Take away phones and shut down everything distracting on the computer. Consider setting up a "work" computer by shutting off all non-school-related extras during school hours through built-in parent controls or programs like Freedom. 

3. Create a daily to-do list. Right at the start of the day, check school assignments posted online as a routine. Make a to-do list from it—and play waits until that list is done.

4. Supervise schoolwork. You are a parent, not a teacher, but most kids at least need an adult around to stay efficient. Particularly for computer work, an adult should stay present and able to see the screen. Kids have immature self-management skills by definition (they are kids, after all), and computers are distracting to most of us. 

5. Use timers to support dedicated class/work periods. Children often find it easier to focus and behave if they know when the next (timed) break is coming. Define exactly what they are meant to do at the start of each work period. For the next 20 minutes, do this math sheet only. Consider having a timer visible to them, so they see when their time is up.

6. End each session and the "school" day by keeping workspace organized. Put everything away, where it belongs. Submit completed work online when needed.  

7. Consider supplementing school assignments with online learning. This one is totally optional—but available. There are too many hours to fill each day for most households at the moment. Consider scheduling anything educational that might engage your own child. Online classes, museum tours, national park tours, science… make it part of your education schedule. It should be engaging, maybe even somewhat productive—and keep your kids busy a little longer each day.

8. Encourage reading. Reading alone is one of the most proven ways to promote academic success. Read with your kids and get them books however you’re able. Make it part of your daily educational schedule, too, if it helps—schedule "free reading time." Most library systems provide ebooks if you need them. Read together as a family, off-screen, if possible.

9. Emphasize recess daily. Exercise will help your kids stay happier, healthier, and improve their behavior and learning. Consider planning more than one exercise break daily. Again, use the Internet well—there are many ideas for physical activities and specific programs available online.  

10. Monitor screen time. Set reasonable but defined screen limits. Start with a rule that fun screen time is only for after school work (and maybe family chores) are done. Too much screen time tends to make kids distracted and wound up and gets in the way of sleep and exercise. 

That doesn’t matter much for a few days, but this situation is going to last longer than that. Rules will bend, but neither nor you nor your kids will benefit if your health routines break down entirely.