Life has changed dramatically in Washington since Gov. Jay Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order took effect March 23. Socializing as we knew it no longer exists, and our work lives have been upended. Layered on top of the coronavirus are the events of recent weeks, with the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Manuel Ellis again bringing issues of institutional racism to the forefront of our collective consciousness. Perhaps no aspect of everyday life has changed — and will continue to need to change — as much as education. Kids and teachers have radically shifted how and where teaching and learning take place, while parents have quickly stepped into the role of home-school teacher. And that shift hasn’t always been easy.
For parents struggling with helping their children learn from home, educators at City University of Seattle have some advice and tips to be more successful. The first, and probably most important, is to relax and remember that as a parent, you are already a teacher.
“Somewhere early in my parenting, I read something on a blog along the lines of, ‘you are exactly the parent that your child needs,’ ” says Kate Scott, associate faculty at City University’s Albright School of Education. “This is still true, even in quarantine. We are our children’s very first teachers. The more that we model kindness, patience, resiliency and creativity, the better off our children will be.”
It also helps to remember that you were once a student, too. Think back on the teachers you’ve encountered over the years who had the biggest impact on you, both positively and negatively. What was it about those teachers that made them so effective?
“Invariably, it isn’t the content or subject matter that was taught, it was that the teacher cared about them as a person, created excitement around learning, cheered them on when they had difficulties, and made class relevant and fun,” says Steve Brown, academic program director of graduate programs at CityU. “You don’t need to know math to assist in teaching. Set up a challenge where you and your kid learn it together. Maybe you’ll even need your kid to teach you some of it! Connect the math to money, sports statistics, the disparate impact of COVID-19 and criminal prosecutions on different populations, cooking or cars … Engage first, and let the ‘teaching’ follow.”
Of course, understanding your child’s learning style is critical to successful home teaching. We all learn differently, and knowing how a child best absorbs new information will go a long way in helping facilitate their learning during this time. Do they like to take things apart to see how something works, or do they prefer to read everything they can get their hands on when a new topic interests them? You can always check with your child’s teacher to get their assessment, but don’t forget that your child will be your best source for this information.
“I wouldn’t underestimate the power of asking your child this question directly,” says Scott. “As we began to school from home, I asked my kids (preschool and kindergarten) what they wanted to learn. We made a list of their questions and things they were curious about. As we worked together to build our lists, a pattern emerged. My daughter, a Montessori student, craved independence and sensory work. My son, in public kindergarten, wanted a challenge and one-on-one time with me. Their answers to what they wanted to learn gave me a better understanding of how we could go about learning.”
“Don’t forget that school districts have implemented different online learning programs for students to engage with their teachers during this transition, along with learning apps,” states Montse Healy, a family advocate for the Edmonds School District and CityU MEd Alternative Routes candidate. “The school districts have assigned Emergency lines to ensure parents have access to different resources which may include free Chromebooks, Hotspots, headsets, food, etc. Parents should be in contact with the students’ teachers to ensure they work together to support their students at home and achieve their learning goals. Learn how to access these resources!”
When designing a day of learning, keep in mind that predictability and structure are helpful, especially in these chaotic times. But also remember that learning at home won’t look like traditional classroom learning — and that’s okay.
“Strive for balance,” says Scott. “A framework or schedule can be really helpful for kids, especially in such fluid and changing times. It helps them know what to expect during this time of learning from home. However, you want to make sure that your schedule has enough give in it to meet your child’s needs.”
Continues Scott, “the trick is to pay attention to cues from your child and recognize when something is working and when it isn’t. Maybe you’d planned a quiet activity to take place in the afternoon, but your child is bouncing off the walls. Don’t force something just because it’s on the schedule — stay flexible enough to adjust to their (and your) mood.” And while setting and loosely following a daily schedule are important, it’s also helpful to set aside dedicated space for your child to learn, if possible. The space doesn’t have to be anything fancy — a seat at the kitchen table or a nook in the living room work fine. But in these days of home, work, school and social life all taking place under the same roof, it’s important to give kids some physical structure.
“At this point in the shutdown, most of us parents have begun to find our rhythm with the amazing support of dedicated teachers in the field and resources that have been made more accessible from the community. Current events, particularly those of the past few weeks, have given us the opportunity to model lifelong learning for our kids. We can respond to the events of our nation by educating ourselves and diving into the work of anti-racism. This absolutely includes finding ways to talk to our kids about race. For me, this is particularly important because my kids are young and white. I understand the talking about race can be seen as sensitive work, but I believe that by asking our kids to learn alongside us, and by personally modeling growth and activism, we can empower them to help make the world a more just place. ”
And through all of this crazy new normal, it’s possible that parents might be learning something about themselves, too. For those who’ve noticed a spark that lights up after helping a child learn, Brown recommends paying attention to that feeling and thinking about what it might mean for your next career steps.
“If you find meaning in working with children and treasure those ‘aha’ moments, and especially if you see education as a means to a more just and equitable world, you should think about going for it,” he says. “CityU’s alternative route program, for example, is designed for people with real-world experiences who now want to parlay that into becoming a teacher. We have candidates from all walks of life in their 20s to their 60s, with the potential to obtain a teaching certificate in as little as a year. We also have more traditional programs which couple a teaching certificate with an advanced degree.”
City University of Seattle is a private nonprofit university accredited through the doctoral level. It has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the Top 50 in the country for its online bachelor’s degree programs for eight consecutive years.