Hannah (Bloyd-Peshkin) Tatro ’14 is using her love of technology and problem-solving to try and make the most of remote learning for her kindergarten class in Oak Park, Ill. Meanwhile, Paige McDaniel ’18, is using her elementary education major and mathematics minor to navigate virtual education at a small public charter school in Tiffin, Ohio. Hannah and Paige talked with Laura Swanson, associate director of alumni engagement and annual giving, to provide insights and advice for parents.
Laura: Welcome Hannah and Paige! Thank you so much for your time. Hannah, you said, “In the pandemic era, everything has been turned upside down, and the assumption of kids heading off to school each day can no longer be taken for granted.” You mentioned that parents now have the daunting task of fostering and supporting the learning process while working from home, on top of the stress of living through a pandemic. This is definitely unchartered waters! First question is the big one–how long should we be spending on “school” each day?
Paige: Thank you for reaching out to me. While working on school tasks at home, you shouldn’t expect your child to work for the same hours they do at school. As children get older, they are able to focus for longer stretches of time, but that’s not the case with smaller children. It’s important to break the time into smaller chunks with play time, lunch, snacks, and other breaks dispersed between work times. This is especially important for younger children.
Hannah: I absolutely agree with Paige. The Illinois State Board of Education recently made recommendations for how much time students of all ages should be spending on remote learning assignments, ranging from a maximum of one hour per day in preschool to a total of four and a half hours in high school. I’ve sent along a chart that I think parents will find very helpful. I would encourage them to pay special attention to the “recommended length of sustained attention” column, as younger kids tend to have less endurance and will need a lot more breaks, as Paige mentioned.
Laura: Ok, that’s great advice and I am honestly able to breathe a little better now! What should the kids be doing for the rest of the day? How many of those virtual field trips and Pinterest-worthy crafts should I incorporate?
Hannah: This is where you have the most flexibility to do what works for you. Teachers and avid parent bloggers are providing lots of additional activities you can use to fill the days, like these from LiveScience. If your schedule is flexible and you and your child love art, create a window gallery for your neighbors to see as they walk past. Conversely, if your child wishes you’d just leave them alone so they can build a Minecraft Narnia, now’s the time. Obviously, this all depends on your schedule and your children’s ages, but this extracurricular time is where you do whatever works to help maintain your family’s collective mental health. This is not a productivity contest, so don’t go adding any extra pressure in what’s definitely an “A for effort” scenario.
Paige: Hannah, I couldn’t agree more. While it’s great that the online tools exist, it’s not necessary to use them. If you follow what your child’s teacher has assigned, your child will receive all the instruction he or she needs. If you chose to use the online resources, they would be great enrichment tools, but they aren’t necessary.
Laura: So that Pinterest board I stayed up all night making is great for the weekend or a rainy day. That’s great to hear because in the middle of all this, I am still trying to work. What advice do you have for parents working from home right now?
Hannah: The answer to that question will depend a lot on your children’s ages and personalities, but this is where schedules and independent activities come into play. And, no, a schedule does not have to be one of those beautiful charts you’ve seen folks sharing on Facebook to humble-brag about how they’ve optimized and life-hacked every moment of every day. At its most basic, a schedule just means thinking through when and how much time you need on your own and then aligning your children’s most independent activities to happen at that time. For older kids, their schoolwork may already be the perfect thing to do while you’re tied up. However, for younger kids, especially those who can’t yet read, that’s extremely unlikely to be the case.
Unfortunately, just saying “go play” doesn’t generally cut it because younger kids haven’t had that much practice being independent with anything. That said, this could be a great time to specifically practice playing independently in order to build those very skills. Check out this amazing article from The New York Times for guidance on how to get started when the idea of your children doing anything on their own seems impossible.
Laura: That’s great advice! So what do I do when that still doesn’t cut it? What if I still feel like I am not giving them the education that they need?
Paige: If you are struggling to find time to work with your child while you are working at home yourself, I would recommend first contacting your child’s teacher. We understand that your child’s learning may not currently be your top priority, so if you express that you need some additional guidance, I am sure the teacher would be happy to make accommodations. In general, you could try to help your children in small chunks during your breaks. You could also shift their learning to the evening, if possible. We understand that every home situation is different, so if we know what we need to work with, we will usually find a way to make it work. For some students, this may look like having one-on-one video sessions with their teacher so they can receive instruction if their parents do not have the time or ability to teach them.
Laura: And when we are on that Zoom call with the vice president of advancement (our boss)?
Hannah: Take it from a teacher, students always need help just when they can’t get it. We try to buy time by outlining signals and strategies before the inevitable problem arises. Some options for signals include writing you a note and putting it in a predetermined location; using a stoplight picture to indicate if they’re okay (green), need help soon (yellow), or need help ASAP (red); or putting a small toy on the corner of your desk to let you know they need your attention. It’s important to let them know ahead of time that they won’t get help immediately but that you will get to them within a certain amount of time.
Laura: Oh, I like that idea! Ok, so what’s next fall going to look like? I am going to do my best here, but are they going to fall behind?
Paige: I would not be very worried about your child falling behind next year, as all of their classmates will be in a similar place. Additionally, teachers will typically do pre-assessments at the beginning of the year to see what gaps need to be filled in their education before moving on to grade-level content.
Hannah: I agree, Paige.This is impacting kids and families everywhere and schools know it. You are not alone. You are doing your best and that is enough. Just remember to prioritize your sanity and your children’s emotional health. The road to recovery will be easier if they haven’t been miserable trying to pretend that home is school.
Laura: Thank you both so much for your time and your knowledge. Knox is very proud of all our educators who are rising to this new challenge. Do you have any parting advice for us?
Hannah: With these challenges and competing interests in mind, it’s important to remember that there’s no substitute for full-day schooling in a building filled with faculty devoted to the task of educating children; that’s a full time job (and then some), and setting that standard for yourself isn’t just a matter of putting on another pot of coffee and buckling down to recreate school at home. Remote learning can’t replace school, and it’s not designed to. This isn’t homeschooling, this is learning at home within the context of a pandemic. We’ll get through this and we’ll get back to school.
Paige: Overall, I know that my colleagues and I are concerned about our students’ well-being more than we are concerned about their education. As long as parents are keeping their children safe and cared for during this crazy time, their education can be made up later. We realize that most parents aren’t teachers, so we greatly appreciate the efforts parents are making to help educate their children.