April 8, 2020
Making the Most out of Unintentional Homeschooling
While I acknowledge that these are downright scary and dangerous times for many people in the world, those of us who are lucky enough to be healthy and still making some income have a golden opportunity to invest our most precious commodity into our children: time.
There are countless memes circulating the internet right now about how difficult homeschooling is. And each jabbing hilarity does have much truth behind it. Teaching one’s own children is, for some unknown reason, far more difficult than teaching an entire classroom of approximately 28 - 30 children with no blood relation. Something about shared DNA makes parents inherently less patient and children inherently less respectful, it’s just science. But since parents are in it for the long haul now (about 12 weeks give or take) we might as well find the silver lining. In my opinion, the silver lining is that your child, or children, can now receive infinitely more one on one attention than was ever possible in the classroom. You have the opportunity, while you're forced to be home all day, to dig deeper into your child’s education than you ever have before.
Most of us parents, my self included, leave the teaching to the teachers. Even as a teacher by profession, I am usually too consumed by the needs of my students to pay too close attention to what my children are doing in school. Their grades are good, their teachers never complain, so I assume all is well. This is not ideal by any means, but life is busy! Usually. But these days, not so much! Common sense tells us that when a student’s parents are involved in their education, they will do better in school. So how can you make the most of these weeks at home with your kids? There are many advantages to being home with your kids on this homeschool adventure, let’s explore how you can spend the rest of the school year setting your kids up for success for the rest of their school careers.
In a world of instant gratification most students (and adults if we are being honest) struggle with their attention span. In 2016 the CDC found 3.3 million 12 - 17 year olds to be diagnosed with ADHD (Additude, 2020 ). Even if your child is one of these children diagnosed with ADD or ADHD you can help them practice paying attention for longer and longer periods of time. Why doesn’t their teacher do that in the classroom, you might ask? Well sure, the teacher would love to, but with potentially 11% of their classroom suffering from attention issues, this feat is much more difficult than it is at home with far fewer kids. So take this opportunity to help your student learn stamina. Think of it like running. You cannot simply go and run a marathon without ever having trained. Little by little you gradually run more and more and your stamina builds. You may start off by running a mile and getting a stitch in your side. But after a week of running a mile every day, you can do it no problem.
You can practice this same theory with your children during this time at home. Set a timer for 20 minutes, have them read, write, or work for 20 minutes straight. If your student has serious attention issues you can certainly start lower. Then, gradually, as sticking to one task for 20 minutes becomes easier, turn the timer up. If your child is resistant you can give them a reward at the end of the allotted time to sweeten the pot. Allow some television or video game time, or maybe a break to Facetime friends.
If you keep this up, by the time summer hits you will have helped your student build stamina they otherwise may have never learned. This will help them pay better attention in school and to tasks to help them be more productive individuals, all thanks to you using this time in isolation prudently!
What kind of learners do you have?
Another way you can help your children become better students during this time away from the classroom is to help them figure out how they learn best. Good teachers know that students learn in different modalities. Some prefer visuals to help them learn while others need to hear the information to soak it up. Still other students need some tactile way to learn new things, to hold it and feel it in their hands. The best teachers try to appeal to all modalities, but this isn’t always possible in a classroom setting. At home you have more flexibility to help your students find the way they best process information.
You can find out what learning modalities appeal to them using an online test such as this one. Or you can simply observe and give them information in a variety of ways, which way helped them learn best? A presentation with many pictures? When you read it out loud to them? Did they need to practice it and manipulate a physical object to understand a concept? Try a few different things until you think you know. It is certainly possible that they learn in multiple modalities, not just one. But if you can help them understand which way works best for them, this will help them be better students.
Of course when they go back to the traditional classroom they will not get to choose which modality their teachers present information to them in, but they can choose how they study, and they will need to be good at studying well into college. So why not help them now to figure out how to do it best! Then once you both know, you can help them with new information by presenting it in a way their teacher did not yet.
Teach your kids to push their limits
Teenagers are notorious for doing the bare minimum. Sometime between 4th grade and middle school most students stop wanting to impress their teachers and start wanting to impress their friends instead. This leads to less studying and more socializing. Especially now when everyone’s everyday life is so peculiar and the future is uncertain. Students who are out of their normal routine will be resistant to doing large amounts of work. Many will not want to do any at all, but schools are not closed, students are still expected to learn and work. And what better time than now, when we are all stuck inside, is there to fill our kids brains with knowledge and help them practice those essential skills that make them better at school and can propel them to a better future.
So if your student is done with his or her mandatory work by noon, see what else they can work on to push their brain. Help them find a novel to read or complete a research project. Take a virtual field trip together and have them write about what they learned. During this crisis there are hundreds of free or cheap learning apps to take advantage of. Some of my favorites are:
Audible’s free audio books for students. - Have your student listen to a book and write a review of it. Who was their favorite character? What was the plot? Where was the story set? What would change about the story if it was set in a different time or place?
Although kids cannot go to Disneyland, they can learn what it takes to be a Disney Imagineer through this interesting Khan Academy course.
Take a tour with your children to one of 12 famous museums here. You can have your student write an analysis of their favorite piece of art or explain the historical significance of the most interesting artifact they found.
Explore and develop their interests
While you're teaching your child not to settle for the bare minimum you can also help them explore their own interests. In the traditional classroom, where every minute of the day is mapped out for them, students do not get much opportunity to explore topics that are of interest to them.
Encourage your student to search the depths of the internet about topics they care about. This will help them utilize research strategies along with reading and even writing skills, while still entertaining them. If your child loves space exploration, perhaps she can learn everything there is to know about the galaxy, and when she is done with that, help her research what it takes to land a job at NASA.
If your child loves horses, let him explore the various breeds and all their intricacies. Then show him the interesting and secretive world of ferriers. What does it take to become one? What other kind of jobs can one have that allow them to work with horses?
The point is, you can take this extra time to help your student explore interests they often do not get the time to look into. Thanks to the internet, just about any piece of information is at our fingertips.
Have more ideas to share? How are you making the most of your time indoors and with your children? Let us know below!