Distance Learning. Remote Learning. A/B Days. Homeschool. Whatever you call it, whatever it looks like for your family, school is different this fall.
As schools shift to fully or partially online learning, families are taking on the role of teacher and schooling at home. This most likely means planning schoolwork around family work schedules, childcare availability and access to technology or resources. For parents who have not before taken on this responsibility, it can be a bit overwhelming. To be honest, I have 18 years of experience in education AND have extensive experience in virtual education at the K-12 and higher education levels, and I am a bit overwhelmed!
One way to help everyone adjust to this new learning environment and manage some of the uncertainty with learning at home is to develop a school-at-home schedule or routine. Schedules are a great way for families to prioritize each family member’s needs, plan around access to resources (who needs the computer when?) and provide a sense of structure and familiarity for your school-aged children.
Here are some things you should consider when creating your school-at-home schedule:
- Involve the entire family. Learning at home impacts every family member. You may have one or more family members telecommuting from home. You may have one or more children in different grade levels learning virtually, sometimes on different days of the week! Call a family meeting, write down everyone’s schedule and develop one master schedule that takes into consideration each person’s needs. During times that aren’t obligated to a required meeting or lesson, allow children to suggest how they could fill that time.
- Be creative in your scheduling. Just because traditional school began at 8 a.m. and ended at 3:30 p.m. doesn’t mean your home schedule has to. Decide what times work best for your family. If your children learn best in the early morning, start school at 7 a.m. and end after lunch. If your children learn best in the evening, shift the schedule to start later and allow children to work until dinner. Based on your family needs, it may also be most appropriate to complete schoolwork around childcare or even shift some schoolwork to the weekend, freeing up time during the week when families may have more obligations.
- Use a student-centered schedule. There is no scientific need for students to have 6 or 7 hours of school a day. As children master skills, allow them to move more quickly and spend more time on skills that are more challenging. Don’t feel pressure to fill the entire day with academic content. Remember that physical activity, play, music and art are all important, too!
- Plan according to a child’s age and/or developmental needs. Children of different ages and developmental stages will need different schedules. It probably isn’t appropriate for a child in kindergarten to be sitting in front of a computer for 3 hours continuously. There is also research indicating teenagers should start school later and work in the late afternoon and evening. There are some great resources online that provide more information about child needs at different ages. Here is one I like from the California Department of Education.
- Be flexible. Even in traditional school, children have days where structures and routines are adapted based on activities or events within the school. There are also days when everyone just needs a break. One of the benefits of learning at home is that you can follow your family’s needs. Allow yourself to be late for activities, to make changes to the schedule (maybe often!) and to follow those teachable moments. If your child is interested and engaged in an activity, you don’t have to stop just because “it’s time!” Encourage their interest and curiosity and let that next activity slide until another day.
The reality is that school may look different for the next few weeks, the next semester or maybe even the next year. This new learning environment, however, doesn’t have to be an added stressor to all the other changes that are occurring in our homes. While routine and structure are beneficial to students, this distance/virtual/home learning environment provides families the flexibility to shift school around all the other factors in our lives. The best advice is to find what works best for your family, give everyone in the family an opportunity to voice what is important to them and extend grace to everyone (including yourself) as you on this journey.
Jackie Mania-Singer, Ed.D. lives in Oklahoma City and has a high school junior and a kindergartner distance learning at home this semester. She has been a teacher, a principal of a virtual school and a university faculty member. Jackie is currently the director of research and evaluation at the K20 Center at the University of Oklahoma.