Homeschooling tips for parents heading into this nontraditional school year
Any teacher worth his or her salt will affirm this fact: Teaching is really hard work. It requires meticulous planning, an active imagination, genuine empathy, and an ability to respond on a moment’s notice to a host of possible scenarios.
Newly certified teachers pass rigorous national assessments, engage in challenging theoretical and practical training, and are mentored through final stages of preparation by a seasoned veteran educator in a real classroom setting. Even after extensive training, most educators don’t feel they’ve really hit their stride until their fourth or fifth year of teaching.
And now, in response to the pandemic, parents are going to need to assume at least a portion of this superhuman role in the upcoming school year. Many are asking themselves, “How am I going to pull this off?”
Here are a few tips from strategies I’ve used in my own classroom that will work at home as well.
Start the school year by engaging your children in a conversation about values: How might the work and learning they accomplish help your family and community? Tying academic work to a good cause can be an excellent intrinsic motivator. Talk about goals and the behaviors that will help you realize those goals together. You are far more likely to get buy-in on behavior expectations if you allow kids to take ownership of the process.
Decide on some predictable protocols, and plan your week accordingly. Knowing what to expect each day creates a feeling of safety, and when the mind is calm, it is more prepared for learning and exhibiting creativity.
Show your kids the schedule often, whether on an online calendar or an old-fashioned hanging one. Your children will appreciate being able to see what is ahead.
Maintaining a schedule will require that you budget time each week to set a general plan and organize any materials. Even seasoned educators know that teaching on the fly simply doesn’t work. Most teachers spend two or three hours on weekends planning for the next week and often at least an hour each day prepping for the next.
Differentiate your lessons to fit individual student strengths. This doesn’t mean lowering expectations. Address challenges students have, but the bulk of your instruction should highlight a student’s strong points and interests. This will build confidence and tenacity, two extremely important skills for their future.
Utilize a scaffolded approach when planning lessons. This means take the final academic goal and break it down from its simplest explanation, then graduate to the more complex. Here’s an example:
I have 12 marbles in this bag, but I’m taking six out to give to you. How many marbles are left in this bag? This is called concrete because you’re using physical objects. If your children find success in this lesson, move onto similar equations using pictures of dots being covered on a page. This is called pictorial. Your final step would be showing the numerals: 12 - 6 = ?.
Starting simple will create neuropathways that become stronger as you raise the bar. Skipping a step, on the other hand, will cause confusion, frustration, and diminished confidence.
Think about your child’s interests, and link those interests to reading, writing, math, the sciences, and arts. Again, when children have a sense of ownership in activities, they are much less likely to experience burnout. Personal interests are great intrinsic motivators.
Extrinsic motivators, such as stickers, snacks, and TV time, might help now and then, but studies show that children consistently motivated by extrinsic rewards struggle in developing strong self-motivation habits. Children grow the most when they are clear about the value of accomplishing their goals and understand that their actions are linked to their eventual success.
Make time for lots of breaks and exercise. This is something we simply don’t do often enough in education, but teachers are beginning to see that the mind works much better when it has time to decompress and be unstructured. Give yourself and your kids scheduled breaks often.
You will make lots of mistakes and be frustrated often. But be kind to yourself. Give yourself plenty of credit for taking on the role of a superhero.