You guys. I have been completely overwhelmed by the response to my graphic support for whatever we are calling this work-from-home-learn-from-home hybrid. And what we're calling it is, apparently, a pretty big sticking point for many people. Stickler for language that I am, I get it. Labelling it homeschooling puts pressure on parents who are already feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped. Calling it distance learning puts pressure on teachers who are already feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped. Nobody wants to feel added pressure right now, especially not people feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped (seeing a pattern, yet?).
Over the last couple of weeks I've heard from lots of parents and seen several rants on social media about the amount of school work being offered/required; some saying it's way too much and stressing their families out and others begging for more in order to keep their children occupied with something other than Netflix while they try to put in an 8-hour work day. Sometimes these two perspectives are referring to the same teacher and the same class!
I get both sides. It's incredibly hard to work when a child is interrupting you every 5 minutes because they are bored; it's just as hard to see your kid becoming more and more anxious as the amount of work they are being asked to do overwhelms them. And none of us wants our kids watching 8 hours of Netflix a day. As a teacher, navigating these differences is incredibly difficult, since they are two very different ends of a spectrum.
What's a parent to do?
1. Don't try to replicate the curriculum. As much as we would like to believe that learning is this clear, linear set of steps to follow, it isn't. Curriculum differs province to province and state to state, with the same topics being taught at different grade levels depending on where you are. Getting mired in trying to figure out what exactly your child should be learning is an exercise in frustration. Do yourself a favor and just go buy one of those big books of curriculum activities that they sell at Costco; it will be close enough and way less frustrating (except, maybe if you have to wait in line. I've heard the lines at Costco are insane). Alternatively, let your intuition be your guide and get curious alongside your child; grab the "teachable moments" and ask questions that guide your child to deeper understandings.
2. Get comfortable with more technology use than usual. This doesn't mean being ok with hour after hour of Netflix or video games. It means that in the absence of an available adult to teach your child, they are going to have to get their learning from a device (or free play, that's always a good teacher). My kids spent a couple of hours straight on their devices yesterday while I was in a Zoom meeting; ordinarily, 2 hours of screen time would send me in to fits. Yesterday, though? I was ok with it, partially because one kid was learning German on Duolingo and the other was playing a math game called Prodigy, partially because it bought me the time I needed.
3. Find a rhythm that works for your family. Learning doesn't have to happen from 8:30 to 2:30. My kids have been good for a couple of hours of learning in the morning and then they fade. We usually try to get some fresh air together at lunch (a quick walk around the neighbourhood) and then they do their own thing in the afternoon. This might be playing, crafting, reading, watching a show or whatever else their little hearts desire as long as I don't have to supervise. Then, around 4 or 5, they find a second wind and finish off another hour of learning, often with dad home to help.
4. Offer lots of voice & choice. People are more likely to engage in something when they feel like they have had a say in the matter. Allow your kids to guide what and how they are learning right now, within a framework that you establish (may I suggest the graphic above as a guide?). See Part 2 of this post for examples of how to successfully set up a learning routine in your house so that it includes voice & choice.
5. Roll with the punches. Every classroom teacher knows that there are some days where you just push pause on the day's learning plan and head outside for an extra recess (that or risk losing your mind while the kids climb the walls). Take a page out of their book and allow some days to be more relaxed than others. Got a big meeting you need to focus on? Let the kids watch a show. Having trouble getting the little one out of her pyjamas? Hey, schools have pyjama day theme days don't they? Remember, routine is important but so is flexibility.
6. Let go of your notion of "school". As a teacher, I cannot tell you how hopeful I am that we come out of this with the understanding that school today should not be the school of yesterday. We have a real opportunity in this moment to see that learning - real, meaningful learning - happens all the time, in a myriad of different ways not bound by curriculum or led by teachers.
What makes people smart, curious, alert, observant, competent, confident, resourceful, persistent - in the broadest and best sense, intelligent - is not having access to more and more learning places, resources and specialists, but being able in their lives to do a wide variety of interesting things that matter, things that challenge their ingenuity, skill and judgment, and that makes an obvious difference in their lives and the lives of people around them. - John Holt
School is not going to be school right now. It's going to be free play and reading books and drawing pictures and baking cakes and watching birds fly and wondering where they go. It's going to be educational TV shows and not-so educational TV shows and Facetime with gramma and making collections and building Lego and cleaning up Lego and maybe doing that worksheet that the teacher sent because she's finally bored enough to try it. All of this is learning; good, solid, quality learning.
In the end, try to remember that everyone (literally, in the entire world) is in the same boat. When life returns to normal and the kids are back at school, it will be impossible to tell who spent 3 months working through the curriculum that their teacher placed online and who spent those same 3 months reading books, playing games and exploring their interests. Do what you need to do to keep yourself and your kids sane. Try to get some learning in every day but don't sweat it.
Still not quite sure how to structure learning in your house right now? Want more of a plan? Check out Part 2 of this post for examples of how you can put together a system for learning that will keep your kids occupied and loving learning.
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!