You have suddenly found yourself unexpectedly home with your children for an extended period of time amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. You’re now working from home, possibly for the first time, as well as expected to help your child through virtual instruction. Numerous businesses and social sites have graciously been providing resources at this time. Yet, many of us wonder…
where do I even begin!??
In my own house I’ve found my children are already bouncing off the walls and practicing to be stunt actors. It’s time to do something because, as I told them, this is not the time I want to be taking a trip to the ER for stitches. As both a school psychologist, and a parent myself, I’m here to help you make sense of it all.
First and foremost, you will want to take the advice of your school district and child’s teacher in how they plan to continue your child’s education at this time. However, many of us may want to provide a supplement to what the school district will be providing as well as keep our kiddos busy.
How do you handle juggling working from home while supporting your child through virtual instruction? My daughter is in elementary school and has down syndrome. She’s going to need help from me and I still need to work. I also have a middle school student who will be able to handle this change mostly independently, but will still need us to check on his work and help him manage his time. If you, like me, are trying to balance this new-found role we’ve found ourselves in, read on.
1. Create a Work Station
Choose a quiet location where your child will have space to work. You’ll also want the necessary supplies close at hand. Younger children and those with special needs may need more from you. For the times of the day that I plan to have my daughter working, we’re going to need to work side by side. My thought is to use the kitchen table and limit distractions in that area while we’re working.
It’s important to note that your child doesn’t need to be working for the entire length of the typical school day. You will be able to accomplish quite a bit in focused learning time. You will also be able to chunk the time depending on your child’s stamina. A young student may only work for 15 minutes before needing a break, while an older student can handle a 45 – 50 minute period before needing one.
You may understandably be worried about policing your child’s activity online. My daughter would certainly be quick to switch to Minecraft on the iPad. How do you know if they are really working on the app or program they should be on? If your child is using an Apple Device you can turn on the Guided Access feature under Settings > Accessibility. This will make sure they stay on the site or activity that they are supposed to be working on rather than venturing off to play a game. The equivalent to this on an Android device is Screen Pinning.
2. Make a schedule
A schedule will help both you, and your children, maintain a sense of normalcy, as well as reduce anxiety. It may help to chunk the day with built in free time or play breaks. For example, once they finish an activity scheduled from 12 – 1 (or begin to lose stamina) they get a play break until the next time.
Here’s a sample schedule I came up with for my kids. This is a modified version of the COVID-19 Daily Schedule floating about on social media. My apologies as I could not find who to credit with for its creation. Please adjust to what works best for your own home.
As you can see in my schedule, I will help my daughter get set up and work during her academic times. She will most likely work for 20 – 30 minutes of that time and then be able to play. I’ll assist both kids in transitioning between activities, but otherwise be able to work. If you do have a conference call or need to talk with a client and you’re concerned with child interruptions, don’t feel guilty about using that as their TV time.
I’ve also built in time after dinner when we can work on academic tasks if needed. During a typical school day, this would normally be our homework time. As my kids are 10 and 12, they can handle this time a little later than what they could when they were younger. They can also handle a later bedtime. Younger children will most likely need this time adjusted.
3. Academic Tasks
Your child’s school will most likely be providing some guidance in the virtual instruction planned for your student. However, many of us may feel the need to supplement this instruction with additional activities. My best advice to you is don’t overdo it. While I certainly want your child to be reading, writing, and practicing math every day, they also need time to play and be a kid.
The best way to improve reading is to read.
Let your child choose a book or a topic that they want to read. A magazine or graphic novel is also perfectly acceptable. The best thing you can do at home is to help your child develop a love of reading. Here are just a few ideas to help you get started.
- Read together.
- Take turns reading.
- Turn your reading into a play where you each take the part of a character.
- Start a family book club. Watch the movie after you’ve read the book and talk about the differences.
- Ask your child about what they are reading. Not like a quiz, but as a conversation. Ask them to tell you about the story or what they read (works on recall- important for comprehension).
- Ask your child what they think will happen next. Would they have made a different ending? Why?
You can find 21 more questions to ask your child before, during, and after finishing a book here at lexile.com.
Likewise, the best way to improve in math and writing is to practice math and to write. You can help your child improve in their writing through activities such as journaling, writing letters to family members, writing a story or play, etc. A gratitude journal can both improve writing skills and mental well-being. Your young child may pair a picture that they draw with a few words or sentences.
Many companies are generously providing free online resources or trials at this time to help children continue to learn virtually. My advice to you is to keep it simple. If you want to add additional programs onto what your school recommends, choose only a few that work for you. You can find a great list at Kids Activities Blog.
With children moving to virtual in many cases, it will be more important than ever for you at home to provide the face to face reading, paper to pencil writing, and talking through math problems.
4. Continuing Therapy
You may be concerned about your child not receiving their therapy as they typically receive such as speech and language service, occupational therapy, or physical therapy. Your child’s therapist will most likely be providing you some guidance for home activities. However, there are many strategies that you can use throughout the day to continue to work on their skills.
We will often ask my daughter to repeat a word she has mispronounced. We’ll say, for example, “Let’s try that again. Mother. Muh-ther. Mother. You try.” You can work on language while you are working on reading and using the above questions. If you hear an error, you can also model the correct way to say it and ask for your child to try again. Occupational therapy skills can be worked on throughout art time, writing, and even chores throughout the house. Similarly, with physical therapy use your play and exercise time to work on your child’s skill development. Many games will also help your child work on and further develop their skills. As always, follow the guidance and recommendations of your own child’s SLP, OT, and PT.
5. Play Games
One unintended benefit of social distancing is more quality family time. We plan to use this time to play our favorite board games and many others that we haven’t had the time to play in quite some time. During the work day, I have scheduled time for the kids to play games on their own. We can add in more family game nights on evenings and weekends.
There is a lot of learning in playing games with your kids. The “banker” is using their math skills, many games require reading, and most will utilize problem solving skills. Games improve a child’s focus and allow you to work on social skills. When I have had social skills groups with students, my favorite activity was to use games. Game play allows for a natural setting to work out problems and practice skills such as communication, turn-taking, patience, fair play, being a gracious winner, and a good loser.
6. Get Plenty of Exercise and Outdoor Time
Social distancing does not mean you can’t get outside and get some fresh air. I plan to take my laptop outside with me if I need to supervise outdoor free time during the work day. I’ve also built in family time to be outside once my work day is over. If the weather is not cooperative, you can still exercise indoors. Have a dance party, get out your dusty exercise videos, or have the kids create their own workout video.
7. Bonus Activities
Another benefit of being at home more is the opportunity to teach your child additional skills that you may not usually have the time to teach. This is a great time to teach your child how to cook. As an added bonus, cooking also works on math, reading, science, fine motor skills, among many other benefits. You can teach additional life skills such as cleaning and laundry. We plan to use this extra time at home to get organized. Even a very young child can help with categorizing and putting items in different piles.
You may also want to use this time to teach your child more about what you do for a living. Oftentimes, children know you go off to work, but don’t really have an understanding of what you do all day. This can be a great learning experience to see what you do and learn more about different careers.
One of the most important things you need to do for yourself at this time is to take care of you. If you and/or your child is prone to anxiety, limit the media and news. Stay calm and don’t worry about whether or not you’re doing enough. Get plenty of rest, make healthy meals as a family, and enjoy this time together. Embrace this challenge as a family. You’ve got this.
If you have any additional ideas and strategies to help other parents get through “Suddenly Homeschooling,” please share in the comments below. We’re all going to get through this – together.