Dear Dr. Debbie,
Let me start by saying I appreciate how hard my children’s teachers are working to salvage what they can from this school year. I’ve heard it suggested that when things get back to “normal” everyone should just start their current grade over. What do you think of that?
Biding Our Time
I’m hearing mixed reviews from students, parents, and teachers about the effectiveness of virtual school. Some students are more focused on lessons without the distractions of other children. Others miss the group activities and social interactions and have trouble getting started on assignments without being able to discuss the material with someone. Teachers may have fewer student antics to deal with, but struggle to assess engagement during online lessons.
Parents play a key role in setting up a workspace and routine for supporting online learning, and knowing how and when to give a frustrated or bored student a break or a helping hand. Parents can communicate with teachers or other parents to clear up any confusions. More than ever, parent support helps a student make the most of what school can offer. Knowing that this will be the mode of education for a while, parents should work toward establishing good connections with the other adults who are in this with you.
Meanwhile, you can take advantage of your students’ increased in-person time with YOU for other important lessons.
Relationships / Respect
There is no doubt that what students are missing most this school year is the daily observations and interactions of peers and caring adults outside the family. Make efforts to keep your children connected to their friends. Depending on their ages, let them telephone, text, video conference, or meet outside for masked and socially distant get togethers. Find a way for them to send a photo, drawing, or note to school staff, bus drivers, crossing, guards, and other special grown-ups from last year. A friendly note to this year’s teachers would certainly be endearing! Two-way written correspondence is a much more meaningful way to motivate reading and writing than phonics lessons anyway.
Teachers and other staff have many opportunities during a “normal” school day to teach children how to treat each other. Rather than bypassing these important lessons, use bedtime stories and other shared time with your children, such as while watching movies or tv shows, to stress the importance of treating others with respect. Siblings are built-in opportunities for learning social skills. Just remember that children under the age of seven have a hard time taking someone else’s point of view. However, children of all ages are quick to learn consistently enforced family rules and to follow your everyday examples of kindness and compassion.
Research / Real Experience
Learning should be an adventure! Note your children’s interest areas. Spend time on the internet, see what you can pick up from the library, or delve into your own at-home resources and personal experiences to dig into subjects that school glosses over or skips entirely.
Making food for the family can be a lesson in family history, world cultures, applied mathematics (when you double or halve a recipe!), or science (agriculture, affecting change with heat, chemical reactions, etc.). Deep studies into ornithology (birds), weather (build your own weather station!), astronomy (it gets dark early now!) and other subjects await just outside your door.
Readiness for Career
Even preschoolers are ready to understand how adults contribute to the well-being of others, as well as their own families, through paid jobs. Guide your children in being responsible for tasks that benefit themselves as well as the household. Teamwork and communication are important skills to hone through cooperative activities at home. Through household chores and family projects children are gaining skills and discovering interests that build pride and self-discovery along a journey to career satisfaction.
Have conversations about the many different workers that it takes to invent, create, market, and deliver the products and services your children use. Start seeding their thinking about career fields for themselves that they could learn more about when they’re not busy with school. It’s a world of possibilities!
As to the suggestion of rebooting the school year once in-person classes resume, that bridge may have to be crossed when we finally get there. In the meantime, use the present situation to go beyond the e-learning of Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic.
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