July 30, 2020
by: Chad Welch, Community Impact Coordinator – Education
Over the last three months of school, I quite unexpectedly found myself educating my eighth grade daughter at home. Whether due to COVID-19 or some other unforeseen event, families may find themselves suddenly in the position of being the teacher. Even though I was once a middle school teacher, learning or teaching at home can be daunting or even overwhelming. Here are some strategies to help your family survive, and perhaps even enjoy this new reality.
No matter what part of the country you live in, education’s goal has always been to prepare kids to succeed in life after school. Part of the importance of being in school is because children learn certain facts and skills that help reach the goal of preparation for life. I can speak from my experience; it was a long three months. In the end, as long as they (we) keep working forward, the path they take to the end goal of preparedness doesn’t matter. It’s worth taking a moment to get some perspective about how this strange time of pandemic fits into the overall scheme of your child’s education. It does no good to try to duplicate their school experience at home because in any case, you won’t be able to do it.
First, think about your goals for the time learning at home. These will differ depending on whether your child is in elementary school, middle school, or high school. But for all ages, you want them to emerge from this experience with their love of learning intact (or refreshed), and a sense of ownership over their education. After all, as I tell all four of my children, you learn for you, not for others. Let’s start with elementary school!
Elementary School: What to keep in mind
For elementary-school-aged students, the details of the way this temporary time will be spent learning at home does not matter much. What the schools send home can help provide structure and build a routine of some type. This will help keep momentum for learning. Remember, make learning fun! A great project is to help your kids journal as it helps with their education and mental health.
By the end of elementary school, kids need the following skills: They need to be able to read, to do math through the point at which they are ready for pre-Algebra, to write short, coherent essays, to know a smattering of history and their current cultural position in space and time, to understand basic science, and to use logical reasoning to assess facts and come to a conclusion. Do they need to know specific facts? I think of this as the some-but-any principle. They should know a bunch of things, but nothing in particular. If you’re interested in the kinds of facts and skills kids typically have year by year, I recommend E.D. Hirsch’s What Your Child Needs to Know series.
Kids who miss weeks or months of elementary school while the rest of their classmates are still in school can experience adjustment problems when they return to the classroom, because of a perceived need to catch up with what their peers know. In the case of everyone missing school because of a pandemic or other natural tragedy, though, no such issue exists: Everyone will be in the same situation!
Middle School: What to keep in mind
Middle school needs and requirements vary both by school and the individual. They typically fall somewhere between that of elementary and high school. The main question to answer is: Is my child ready for high school learning? If the answer is yes, I wouldn’t worry too much about the specifics of how this time is spent, as long as work assignments from school are generally completed satisfactorily and the student is in some kind of a productive routine. If the student is lacking in certain skills such as in math, then this time away from school can be spent productively in exploring alternative methods of catching up. An added bonus is that it is relatively pressure-free.
High School: What to keep in mind
High school-aged kids are somewhat different: If they are on a particular trajectory for college, work, or trade school, absence from the classroom can be more of an issue, as specific knowledge (especially in math and science) needs to be mastered sequentially. It often (though not always) does make a big difference to keep up with one’s path of study as much as possible. If your child’s teachers provide curriculum guidance and assignments, that will help. Regardless, investigating additional methods of learning what is needed can be invaluable. Khan Academy https://www.khanacademy.org/ is one of the best free resources I know of for high school (and college) learning.