Melissa Packwood, MEd, is a certified teacher in Florida who has a master’s degree in reading and literacy as well as a graduate certificate in special education.
She said it’s important to remember that traditional homeschooling and quarantine schooling from home are two different things, and that the latter has been borne mostly out of necessity. But she pointed out there are still benefits to be reaped from our current situation.
“Families will have more time together to bond, children will have more free time to explore hobbies at home. Children will also have the opportunity to work on life skills such as cooking, cleaning, building, organizing, and entertaining oneself,” Packwood said.
Walsh agreed that our current situation is nothing like traditional homeschooling, where, she pointed out, kids are often still getting a ton of social interaction through homeschooling groups, team activities, and play with friends.
“Trying to teach a class full of kindergartners over Zoom is stupid,” she said. “It’s chaos.”
But as she points out, it’s not about teaching 25 kindergarteners popsicle stick art. “It’s about giving them the opportunity for those social interactions they’d otherwise be having.”
Having witnessed my daughter in classroom Zoom sessions over the past few days, I can attest to the truth behind that statement.
I’m not sure she’s actually learned anything from any of those sessions, and I give her teacher all the credit in the world for even attempting to host them — but my little girl’s face sure has lit up every single time she’s been met with a screen full of her classmate’s faces.
I quickly recognized distance learning as something my daughter actually needed in this time of crisis — as the structure and normalcy that might just help her adjust to our current way of life. But that doesn’t mean I had any idea how to make it all work when it started.
I still had a job to do, and no other adult in the home to help me juggle it all.
“There’s a general rule of thumb that at a maximum, there are around 3 1/2 formal academic hours of learning in a typical school day,” Haydon said. “This can be a lot less, depending on circumstances. Homeschoolers tend to do 1 to 3 hours of formal academic learning.”
For me, remembering that I didn’t need to offer my child a traditional 7-hour school day was key to creating a schedule that allowed room for her schooling and my work.
I allotted 2 hours a day to helping her with school, broken up into 3 different sessions throughout the day.
In between those sessions, I scheduled time for her to work on art projects and have uninterrupted screen time — a survival tool allowing me to work uninterrupted as well.
“To help smooth the path, it is important to be flexible, be patient, take breaks when needed, and understand both your limits and your child’s limits,” Packwood said. “It is okay to stop if frustrated. It is okay to complete work at 6 p.m. instead of 8 a.m. Do what works for you and your family.”
For parents like me, still working from home, she further suggests establishing separate areas for you to work, kids to play, and schoolwork to take place.
“If possible, separate your day into blocks of time so you can assist your children as needed,” she said. (This is a tip that made this new normal bearable for me and my daughter.) “If this is not possible, then consider working on school activities after your working hours.”
Accepting your limits and knowing when to communicate
So far, we’ve found the amount of work sent home for my daughter to be completely doable. I’ve even come to see it as a blessing. My daughter is far happier since we started distance learning than she was in the week we both spent flailing.
Having something to do each day has given her purpose and helped us both to recalibrate and focus on what needs to be done.
But not all parents have been so lucky. Some have shared horror stories of pages upon pages of worksheets to complete and unrealistic expectations being handed down by teachers and administrators.
“It’s a very, very difficult situation right now and teachers had, sometimes, only a day or two to adjust,” Haydon said. “Having taught virtually myself, I know it is not easy to do. It takes careful work and planning to do well, a luxury teachers right now have not had.”
That said, if you feel like the work being assigned by your child’s teacher is too much, or if you just feel like you can’t personally keep up, that’s OK. You are allowed to express that and adjust expectations all around.
“If it’s really not working, talk directly to the teacher. Speak kindly and give yourself and the teacher and your child the gift of grace,” Haydon said.
Packwood said that parents have every right to let teachers and schools know what they will and will not be completing from home right now.
“Teachers and principals should understand this without issue as they are also working their way through these uncharted waters,” she said. “Communicate with firm yet kind words so you and the teacher can work on coming to an agreement that works for both the requirements and your student.”
Embracing the good of the moment
Walsh advises using a timer to help kids stay on track during schooling periods.
“That way it’s not you, you’re not the mean one — you can even show kids how to set the timer so they’re in control.”
She further suggests having your kids help you to make a schedule that works for everyone involved, and then allowing them to decorate it on a big poster board you can keep where schooling will most often take place.
“The purpose really is to create some structure for your child where they will feel safer and more organized,” she explained. “By the way, it will also help you as the parent feel safer.”
But she said you shouldn’t let any of this overwhelm you.
“Don’t get too strict. All your child’s peers will fall behind in this time and they will all catch back up together. They have good, young brains with plenty of neuroplasticity — they can catch up when the time comes,” she said.
This is a sentiment I’ve come to agree with completely — while also recognizing the social and emotional benefits my daughter has gained from our now almost 2 weeks of quarantine schooling.
As far as I’m concerned, the social and emotional benefits far outweigh any potential educational benefits she may be gaining during this part of the pandemic.
She needed this right now. We both did. And somehow, some way, we’re making it work — better than I had believed we could before this adventure began.