School-at-Home…Two weeks later

Over the past couple of weeks dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, we have experienced both high and low points and a range of energy levels and emotions in our home.  Some of the low points included clearing out desks and lockers at school and realizing this may go on for longer than we originally expected. Discussing the new reality that we are at home now and there will be no playdates or inviting friends over during this time. Cancelling extracurricular activities, lessons, sport events, family events all at once has certainly been difficult.  Some of the high points included receiving messages from teachers and surprise messages from friends, gifts left at the doorstep and planning a virtual birthday party. Getting into somewhat of a rhythm for accomplishing schoolwork and engaging in activities such as dance lessons or piano lessons online has been positive. Connecting with family and friends online has also been an important part of the day for everyone but I also noticed the kids seek off-screen family time.  We look forward to cooking and eating dinner together.  This simple pleasure seemed like such a luxury only two weeks ago and is now part of our daily routine.  After dinner we play some games and I was even surprised to hear the kids preferred playing a board game instead of a video game since they already spent so much time online.


Here’s some further thoughts about learning-at-home and parent suggestions:

What’s a realistic home learning routine? Should we try to duplicate the school routine, or is the home routine a different thing?

Routines may look different and not the same for all families. Consider what might work best for your child and family.  For example, your teen may benefit from sleeping in and rising a bit later. I’m certain mine has grown in height over the past couple of weeks with some extra sleep.  I don’t think it’s necessary to duplicate the school routine at home and parents do not need to feel they are replacing the teacher at home.  Schools have been working hard to put together resources and supports for students at home.  Use the resources that work best you and your family. Also, take the time needed to rest and come to terms with what is happening.  Last week was also spring break for many students in Calgary and they are now starting to receive messages and instructions from their teachers and schools.


For some students, home learning is going to demand a higher than normal level of self-discipline. How do parents support their kids in getting their work done without falling into a pattern of nagging?


Have a conversation with children and make a plan together for what works best for you and your family.  Find a rhythm for balancing learning and family time.  We all need to adjust to a different working pattern then what we had before.  The reality is that children are not going to be able to sit and do work all day long.  Similarly, adults may not be able to work full 8-hour days from home.  There needs to be some flexibility and understanding from employers for parents working at home and likewise there needs to be some flexibility for children and learning time at home.  I also think it’s important parents remain as advocates for their children and if the work is too much for your child, then communicate with the teacher and together find ways to best support your child.


The Alberta mandated assignment time will work out to only an hour or 2 hours per weekday for elementary and junior high kids and three hours per week per course for high schoolers. How can parents support students doing their own self-directed learning to occupy the rest of the day?


Parents can support their children by helping to prioritize learning.  For example, working with your child to set up a work space. Let the child set up the work space.  Maybe it will be the same place they normally do homework or maybe it’s a different space.  Maybe it’s a shared space or moving space.  Have your child create a schedule.  Some children prefer to work on one task and for an extended time, while others may prefer to work on tasks for shorter periods of time.  Even young children can help make a schedule and can let you know what they would like their day to look like. Discuss how your child would like you to check-in.  For some this might be regular check-ins throughout the day or maybe one check in later on in the day.  This is also dependent on the age of your child.  Staying home and taking care of a young child is a full-time job.  Be kind to yourself and don’t expect to continue working at your normal pace for your full-time job while at home and also taking care of a toddler.  In regards to learning, a goal I learned from one of my child’s teachers was to be sure children are happy and learning.  Learning can be informal and can be connected to activities you are already doing around the house.


How important is it to draw a line between school time and play time?

I think families need to determine a routine and schedule that works best in their home. I don’t think there’s one single right way to do this.  The important part is to make sure there is play time and lots of time for breaks. Learning will go on through informal learning opportunities provided at home and formal learning suggestions provided by the teacher and the school.  This is an unprecedented time and will be forever remembered by our children.  Inspired by a twitter post I saw recently, we had a conversation with the kids imagining what our future selves would remember about this time period in future.  For my children, I want them to remember how much closer we became as a family, how we had family meals together and played board games in the evening, how we went for walks together, built puzzles, baked cookies, invented new smoothie flavors and even planned a virtual birthday party together. What will your future self and your child’s future self say about this time period?


A big part of school is the social part– how can students feel connected to their teachers and classmates when everyone is at home? 


I have been teaching online classes for the past 8 years and at first I was skeptical about developing relationships and connecting with students in an online environment as I had previously done in a classroom.  What I soon realized is that connections are possible in both physical and online spaces. Teachers may send out a quick video clip to students to provide a personal message.  Younger and older students appreciate seeing and hearing their teacher even briefly.  My child’s teacher sent a video clip the other day from inside her car.  She said it was the only quiet spot she could record a message.  My daughter loved the video.  Another teacher I know posted a Tik Tok video he created where he was lip syncing a song and doing some dance moves.  Teachers may send messages to students using tech systems they have in place for communications and sharing information.  I know some schools are phoning kids to make connections.


Student-to-student connections were already happening outside of school.  For example, in a recent study with 9-to-11 year olds, students reported using social media regularly outside of school to keep connected with their friends.  Have a conversation with your child to find out how they are keeping connected with friends.  It is important to keep connected and let your friends know you are thinking about them. Even though we need to be physically distant, it’s important to keep connected socially with friends and family.

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