In the past few weeks, it’s become clear that schooling from home is the new normal for almost every child in the United States. We have officially moved from crisis teaching at home to … long-term crisis teaching at home.
I’m a parent, a former public school English teacher and now the vice president of education at Sylvan Learning, and I’m here to tell you that together, we can do this. It sounds (and probably feels) ominous, but it doesn’t have to be. Parents who are concerned about keeping their child’s education afloat can preserve some hope and sanity by remembering a few points.
►Schooling at home isn’t the same as home schooling. The expectation in home schooling is that the students will be home every day throughout the school year, and that mom or dad is choosing the curriculum and delivering the instruction. The parents made a conscious choice to do this, and probably spend a great deal of time prepping, planning, and delivering instruction for their children.
Our current situation is obviously different. None of us chose this, and a lot of us have no idea where to start nor the time to devote to it. It’s OK if your child’s day is somewhat unorganized. If students are getting a few hours each day to engage in educational activities, you’re doing well.
►Schooling at home isn’t the same as school. Some parents have built a structured, day-long schedule for their children to ensure that they’re getting enough learning time in. The motive behind that impulse is 100% understandable — no one wants to let their child fall behind if it can be prevented. Keep in mind, however, that in school students have regular breaks and variety built into the day. Class, recess, art, music, there are many opportunities to switch gears, stay fresh and connect with friends.
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All of those are valuable experiences, and they all give students variety and time to relax between bursts of productivity. Asking your child to sit at the dining room table for six hours straight in front of a computer is not realistic or beneficial. Schooling at home isn’t the same as school, and it shouldn’t be. Give your child breaks during the day (and give yourself some, too).
►These are not normal times. We shouldn’t expect a “normal” level of learning right now. Not all students have easy access to devices or the internet. Some students are in charge of their younger siblings during the day because their parents are essential workers. Other families are coping with sudden unemployment or food insecurity.
Teachers and school leaders understand this and are planning accordingly. A large part of that plan is to provide support for as many students as possible, and without leaving large swaths of kids behind. Expectations will be lower for this school year because they need to be.
►Seize the opportunity. If your child was behind before the schools closed, this is a terrific time to catch them up. In ordinary times, catching students up is a hard process because they’re always chasing the class. Students who are behind need to learn faster than the class to catch up.
Now, however, many classes have slowed a great deal, or are focusing on review vs. new knowledge. It's the perfect moment for a struggling student to gain lost ground. Ask your child’s teacher or a trusted tutor to recommend strategies and materials to keep your child moving forward while they are home. (Even when catching up, build in breaks during the day.)
Modest proposal:Give parents a coronavirus break and kids an education boost. Add days to next school year.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking to teachers over the past few months. They all have variations of the same message: Leave it to us. Teachers know that almost every child will come to school next fall having missed two or more months of formal schooling. They are already prepared to handle it and get students back on track.
As one teacher friend, Christine Osenburg of Patterson Park Public Charter School in Baltimore, put it, “It’s MY job to catch them up in the fall. You handle their physical and emotional health, and I’ll take care of their education. Breathe. We’ve got this.”
Emily Levitt is the Vice President of Education at Sylvan Learning.