More tips for schooling at home

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. 

Schooling at home tips

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.

Advice on educating from home

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 McDaniel ’18

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.

Hannah (Bloyd-Peshkin) Tatro ’14

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.

Online teaching

From Courtney Wiles Taylor ’02

As a teacher, it’s been rough trying to go to online or distance learning especially for my kindergarten class. But parents have been really responsive. We communicate through an app called Class Dojo. I have been able to create a Google Classroom and have been successful in having some students join.

I teach in Las Vegas in a Title I school that provides free breakfast and lunch for all students. Our school district is the 5th largest in the country. We were able to provide 300,000 out of our 320,000 with free food at 20 high school locations, as well as free distance learning opportunity weekly packets. This is accessible for all students, especially because many don’t have computers or tablets, or online connectivity.

It’s been wonderful to receive photos of student & their work from parents. I do daily read alouds and post them. I plan on calling students next week to check in & see if they learned their March sight words. My husband is the Title I PE assistant at my school and does one hour of custodial work. We are union & able to still get paid. We are keeping busy with online learning.

The governor of Nevada did the same as governor of Illinois: only essential places are open. Hopefully people will understand the severity of this virus and stay home or social distance themselves. Thank you for checking up on us. I am blessed to have a loving husband and coworkers. We meet on Google Hangouts for meetings and even Happy Hour yesterday after school hours.

Wishing you & everyone at Knox a safe journey ahead.

Remote education

From Kate Hutton ’16

I am a paraprofessional at Kirksville Primary School. When the school closed, the staff created packets of work and resources for our kids. The special education team delivered these packets to our students’ houses, so they did not have to leave to pick them up. We are now all assisting our kids remotely, through phone calls, video chats, and recording videos.

Library resources for online students

From Erin Bell ’13

Hello! Class of 2013 alumnus here. I am a medical librarian an a nursing college in Chicago. We transitioned to a 100 percent online teaching format last week, which included the library services. I am still assisting students virtually in much the same way as when I was physically in the library on campus (research database help, locating articles, looking for e-resources). 

However, now that we are working remotely, we are increasingly using our connections with other libraries in similar situations to glean as many free resources as possible. This includes locating all the required textbooks as free/open access ebooks through other institutions and vendors, finding free webinars, conferences, and meetings that our faculty or student body might be interested in, and simply exploring the many ways that we can connect virtually with our students. 

It’s been an adjustment for us all, but I’m hopeful that some of these new discoveries we have made as a library team & as a school will continue to grow even after we’ve rejoined on campus.

“Hope is the Thing”

From BJ Hollars ’07

As a writer, I’ve been trying to find ways for people to connect, even from a distance. And so, I started the “Hope Is The Thing” Project, a statewide, collaborative writing project in which Wisconsinites share what’s bringing them hope during this dark time. Borrowing from Emily Dickinson’s poem title, “Hope Is The Thing With Feathers,” writers are asked to replaced “Feathers” with that which is currently giving them hope.

The submissions have been incredible. We’re publishing a new piece every day. Here’s a new video/article on the virus which I created for Volume One Magazine here in Wisconsin.

Blogging to help people get through

From Benjamin Reeves ’11

I’ve started publishing a free daily newsletter with recommendations on what to watch while people are in quarantine. It’s something small, but hopefully it will help people get through their time indoors a little easier. I’m also inviting film professionals and screenwriters to provide guests posts in an effort to give people otherwise out of work some exposure.

The person really doing the hard work, though, is my wife, Mary Florence Sullivan. She’s a social worker for the NYC Mayor’s Office and runs a domestic violence program for three boroughs. In the past week, she’s converted the entire program to remote and is operating it out of our living room with a stack of laptops and cell phones. Incredible.