During distance learning, parents and caregivers have had to take on the incredible challenge of supporting school at home while balancing many other responsibilities, like caring for their families, working remotely, and more. If you’re a teacher, parent, or caregiver, you know that navigating these challenges has raised many questions and concerns. To provide support, we reached out to homeschoolers and teacher-parents for their advice. Read on to discover their answers to the most pressing questions parents and caregivers have about teaching at home.
What are your top tips for parents and caregivers who are supporting distance learning?
Give yourself grace.
First and foremost, educators encourage parents to give themselves grace and to trust that their best is enough in these unprecedented circumstances. “You can do this! Even if you don’t have an education degree, you’re already one of the most important teachers your child will ever have,” shares former public school teacher and current homeschooler Stephanie Trapp. “Do the best that you can with the best that you currently have,” encourages elementary school educator and parent Ha from Happy Days in First Grade.
Set a schedule that works for you and your children.
Many educators emphasize the importance of setting a daily schedule. To this end, former teacher and current homeschooler Kelsea from Teacher Gems suggests setting up a schedule right away, defining what your child should be doing and when. “A timer may be helpful for younger children,” she adds. Former 3rd grade teacher and current homeschooler Lauren from Mrs. Thompson’s Treasures suggests making your schedule work for you. “If it works better for you to have a slow morning and do school in the afternoon, then do it!” she says.
Weave choice into your child’s school day.
Within the schedule and structure you’ve set, educators recommend giving your child choices. Says Stephanie Trapp, “My kids are more motivated to complete their schoolwork when they have some say in their school day.” She has her children choose the order of each subject, but students could also choose where they learn or how they show their work. “Often, kids in the same family don’t work well with the same thing, but figuring out what works best for your kids will help,” says current homeschooler Christina from GilTeach.
How much time should be dedicated to school?
Primary and elementary students: 1 – 4 hours
While “school hours” will look different in every home, educators offer some general guidelines. Current homeschooler Rebecca from Edventures at Home recommends 2-3 hours for upper elementary students and about an hour for primary grade students. Lauren from Mrs. Thompson’s Treasures similarly suggests 2-4 hours for elementary age students. Additionally, Ha from Happy Days in First Grade recommends short subject blocks. “10-15 minutes per subject should be sufficient,” she says.
Middle and high school students: 4 – 6 hours
Middle and high school students can dedicate more hours to school. “Older students may need 4-6 [hours],” says Lauren from Mrs. Thompson’s Treasures. Shares Sheila Cantonwine, who homeschooled her children during some of their middle school years, “We typically spent 4 hours on school in the mornings, ate lunch, then had an hour of reading or quiet time in the afternoon.”
Independent work hours will increase with age.
“As students get older and are more independent readers and writers, their school days are longer and include more independent work,” explains Stephanie Trapp. As far as how much sustained independent work different age groups can handle, Rebecca from Edventures at Home shares, “Children can generally only sustain their attention for about 1 minute per year of age (i.e. a 5-year-old might have an attention span of 5 minutes, whereas a 10-year-old might be able to focus for 10 minutes).”
How can parents and caregivers keep themselves and their children organized while juggling multiple responsibilities?
Create checklists to help keep everyone organized and motivated.
“My best tip is to have a checklist that lists everything your child needs to accomplish… both for school and chores…. I find that the checklist is motivating because it helps them stay on track and see their progress throughout the day,” says Kelsea from Teacher Gems. “Crossing off those little things that don’t actually need to be on the list builds momentum to be able to cross off the big or boring things,” adds Rebecca from Edventures at Home.
Be clear about your availability.
Kelsea from Teacher Gems says, “Tell your child when you will be available to help them, and if they get stuck on something, they should go to the next problem or subject until you are available to help them. This way they don’t waste time waiting for you to be available.” For younger children, a visual signal for when you’re available or unavailable — such as a specific lamp you turn on, a hat you wear, or a sign you post — can act as a helpful reminder.
Have children help with household responsibilities.
With children spending more time at home, it’s a great time to teach them new household responsibilities, suggests Lauren from Mrs. Thompson’s Treasures. She explains, “They can do a lot more than we give them credit for. Spend some time teaching them how to cook, clean, do laundry, etc., and give them more responsibility for helping out around the house.”
Use simple, portable storage for each child’s school materials.
Educators recommend streamlining the transition to and from school hours with simple, portable storage for physical school materials. For example, Stephanie Trapp has her children use milk crates to store their materials. “Each child has their own crate and keeps all their books and materials in it. They get out their crate in the morning and when they’re finished with school, all their materials go back in the crate.” she explains.
What can parents and caregivers do to keep their children from falling behind academically?
“Read, read, read!”
“The best thing you can do academically for your child is read, read, read! Read to them, read with them, let them read to you. Talk about what they are reading,” encourages Lauren from Mrs. Thompson’s Treasures. To add to this point, Rebecca from Edventures at Home says, “A child who reads well will be able to catch up more easily if something happens and they do fall behind academically.”
Connect with your child’s teacher for specific concerns.
Stay in touch with your child’s teacher to find out what they should focus on and how they’re progressing. Says Stephanie Trapp, “Communicate with your child’s teacher about any areas of concern you might have. Maybe even ask them what specific skills your child needs to work on or master before returning to school.”
Remember that everyone will need to review and re-adjust.
Keep in mind that, upon returning to school, everyone will need time to review and re-adjust. To this point, Rebecca from Edventures at Home says, “Things that are being covered at the end of this school year will likely be reviewed at the beginning of next school year.” Lauren from Mrs. Thompson’s Treasures adds, “Your child’s teacher will help them re-adjust academically when school starts up again.”
Trust that learning happens everywhere.
To help reassure parents and caregivers, educators point out the many learning experiences that can happen at home. Says Christina from GilTeach, “Children literally never stop learning — and you couldn’t stop them if you wanted! They might be learning in ways that don’t look like ‘school,’ but they are still learning.” Kelsea from Teacher Gems adds, “Let them help you make dinner and they will be practicing math and reading skills while following a recipe. Let them help with laundry and other chores and they will be learning work ethic and responsibility.”
What advice can be shared with parents and caregivers who are concerned about students spending increased time in front of a screen?
Incorporate dedicated non-screen time into your daily schedule.
Sheila Cantonwine recommends dedicating an hour of each day to non-screen time. She elaborates, “Your kids can read or rest but it’s a great time to have a break from technology and active learning.” Adds Ha from Happy Days in First Grade, “Taking breaks as a family for walks, playing board games, and reading together are activities that children can do with their parents to keep them active and engaged.”
Keep in mind that this extra screen time is temporary.
Rest assured that screen time has increased in response to these temporary circumstances. Rebecca from Edventures at Home reminds parents and caregivers, “Remember that these are unusual times and an increase in time spent in front of the computer or TV may be inevitable. Eventually, things will begin to return to normal, including a decrease in screen time.”
The challenges of this moment are easily overwhelming, but parents, caregivers, and teachers like you are persevering in admirable ways. In these unprecedented circumstances, by simply doing your best, you’re doing more than enough. As Rebecca from Edventures at Home says, “If you’re taking the time to read this post, you clearly love your children and want the best for them. You’re already probably doing better than you think you are!”