I am the youth services lead at the McHenry Public Library in McHenry, Ill. My team and I have jumped into virtual programming with both feet, developing database tutorials, storytimes, crafts and more on both Zoom and our YouTube page. We are also working hard to transition our summer reading onto Beanstack, an online platform that allows patrons to log minutes read with incentives like gift card drawings and a free book from the Friends of the Library. As the school liaison, I am in direct communication with area teachers and librarians and forwarding them information about services such as our temporary e-library card, our emergency food service during closure, and more. To see what else we are doing, follow us on Facebook or check out our YouTube page.
And, on a personal note, I have sewed about 25 masks for friends and family who need them and have more requests for masks incoming!
From Joel Estes, Visiting Instructor and Chair, Educational Studies
Families have varying abilities to address their children’s educational needs during the pandemic. Some are limited by internet access, some have limited time to work with kids at home, some have vastly changed home circumstances (additional people in the home, at home job responsibilities, unemployment, etc.) Many families with children in K-12 schools are facing difficult and dire circumstances. With that being said, I would give the following recommendations:
Connect with your child’s school and district. Try to follow their guidelines and use their resources. Most school districts in Illinois have adopted elearning systems and some have even provided tablets and internet access. Some are providing food for kids during the shutdown. Use those resources!
Parents should make sure to continue to do what they’ve always done as their children’s first teachers: read with them, play games, allow them to help with family chores like cooking, yardwork, and cleaning. This will not only keep kids’ brains stimulated, it will make them feel like they’re a part of the team. They need to know that we’re all in this together.
Finally, I would advocate that parents limit their children’s screen time. With elearning there will already be a healthy dose of that, and there’s lots of research out there that proves the negative effects of too much time watching TV, using the computer, or being on cell phones. Parents should also be aware of the media that they have playing in the home. Just having the television turned on to nonstop news coverage and running in the background may have negative effects on your child’s psyche.
In addition to academics, parents should focus on the social and emotional needs of their children. This pandemic is tough on everyone, but children are the most vulnerable and can easily absorb tension and worry from their parents. Above all, parents should model patience, adaptability, and positivity. They should make sure that they are reassuring and positive with their children. Make sure that your kids know everything is going to be okay.
From Eric Dickens, assistant professor of educational studies
Tips for parents teaching kids at home during COVID-19:
Deciding what your child could and should be learning is a big challenge. Some schools and teachers may be sending work home that keeps students moving through their plan for the year, but some parents may not be getting this kind of material and guidance. If not, try reaching out to your child’s teachers to learn as much as you can about what learning standards and assignments the students had been working on and were going to be learning about for the rest of the school year. Most students will enter new grade levels next year, and your child’s teachers will expect/assume a certain amount of background knowledge from what they learned this year. It’s a good idea to make sure your child is making progress toward being ready for next year, and not just doing “busy work.”
Homeschooling parents and teachers might be tempted to try to replicate the classroom assignments at home, but obviously the classroom and home setting are very different! Try to “rethink” your child’s learning at home–learning not as copying what students do in the classroom, but as engaging “home work.” Research on home work best practices says it is most effective when it takes advantage of learning a child can do only at home, instead of being “classwork done at home.” Instead of having your child working on “paper and pencil” assignments like worksheets, reading textbook chapters, and watching instructional videos, try to create ways to play with the same ideas using things found only at home–family members, outside spaces, objects from around the house. There are YouTube videos and homeschooling websites to help generate ideas for at home learning that is play- and project-based and takes advantage of people, spaces, and objects kids have at home.
Developmentally speaking, children and adolescents really benefit from having a structure to their day. At school, children usually have set schedules, but at home those time blocks may be gone and replaced by large chunks of time. Create a daily schedule and routines for your child, maybe ones that copy their daily school schedule. Do your kids start the day with a morning meeting? When do they have recess? How long are their class periods or blocks? Giving your child a structure with “progress checks” and deadlines throughout the day will help them self-regulate their own learning.
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.
I’m a children’s librarian in Covington, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati. While the library is closed, we are programming on social media. I’m doing storytime on Facebook Live three times a week.
I was surprised at how emotional I felt during the first session. There were the names of families I know and see weekly plus many more, and then so many more from the wider community. I found I was nervous and relieved that my hands knew how to play the ukulele through nerves I have not felt doing storytime for years.
After the first session, parents sent photos of their children watching–some are gleeful but most seem to be comforted—calmed by some familiarity. Parents are watching even when their kids are not. Distant family members are tuning in.
Storytime has always been my strongest skill at work. I get to use all of my teaching skills while implementing the improv skills I learned with my friends in college. Now, I’m realizing what a touchstone it is for me. Three times a week, in between homeschooling the children and caring for our home, I make myself decent and make my community feel a little better. I’m also making myself feel better.