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Until this year, the end of summer brought with it a familiar ritual: Kids headed back to school, and most parents breathed a sigh of relief. Kids looked forward to seeing their old friends, even if they worried about peer pressure, grades or maybe a new school. But this year, it’s all different, and parents are the ones stressing out.

A new survey for the New York Times has found that just one parent in seven expects their children to return to school full time this fall. That means doing school from home. At the same time, 80% of parents surveyed said they would have no in-person help at home. More than half of those surveyed said they’d have to do all this while holding down a paying job as well.  How can you keep your kids focused, happy and learning without driving you crazy?

Summer’s Over

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It’s pretty normal for kids to sleep in and have lots of unstructured time over the summer. But when the school bell rings, students know they’re back on schedule. According to Susanna Block, a Kaiser Permanente pediatrician and mother of two children, ages 10 and 8, in an interview with the Seattle Times, “I think we need to help kids recognize this is their work right now. It’s no less important and it’s no less serious even though we’re doing it from home.” As a parent, you set the tone. The trick is to be firm, yet leave room for fun.

New Year, New Gear

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“Some of the traditions we’ve probably all grown up with, whether it’s cleaning out our kids’ rooms, deciding how to organize [their] schoolwork, getting a few new school supplies, getting haircuts, I would really encourage people to do those things. It’s a ritual that we understand that helps us frame the fact that we are going back to school,” Block continued. “Plus, it helps build excitement about school in a happy way.” Your child may not need a new backpack for their books, but how about some new notebookspencils and pens, and maybe new shoes and socks? Help your student set up their own study space, with the right size chairdesk, and places for their new gear.

Emphasize Interaction

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In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Sal Khan urged educators to lead videoconference sessions that give students face time with their peers as well as their teachers. Khan founded the Khan Academy, a nonprofit online education organization that offers comprehensive lessons on a variety of subjects, designed to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. “Despite all this, I’ll be the first to say that for most students, distance learning can’t replace a great in-person experience,” Khan said. “I have been working with teachers over the last several months and together we have realized that lesson plans designed for in-person classes don’t work in this coronavirus world.”

Keep Lessons Short

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Education researchers Benjamin Cottingham and Alix Gallagher wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Even adults have trouble videoconferencing for long stretches. For the youngest students, it is nearly impossible.” They recommend that live instruction be broken up into smaller chunks spaced throughout the day.

Back on Schedule

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Online learning might mean different amounts of time per class session from the usual in-person school environment. Ideally, your school district has already provided a schedule for your child. If not, you can make your own “school” schedule and write it on a whiteboard where your child can see it, and you can modify it together if necessary. For a model, you can look at sample schedules for elementarymiddle school and high school students from a highly rated school district in Washington state. These are based on 100% remote learning, with daily synchronous instruction for students through Zoom.

For middle- and high-school students, you’ll see that classes that normally run about 50 minutes are now only 25 minutes long each on Mondays. For the rest of the week, classes are longer to allow deeper study. However, the students only study half their subjects on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The other half is done on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Surprise Benefits

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As these schedules show, all students get frequent breaks every day, and so should yours. Schedule time for your child to get up, use the bathroom, maybe get a drink or snack, and even check their phone if they must, as long as they put it away on time.

School from home can offer some real benefits. You can eat lunch with your child, and instead of “recess,” go for a walk together. Over time, you’ll get to know each other much better. If your child has a special interest, whether architecture, archery or astronomy, try to find a way to create a “class” on that subject — Khan Academy can be a great resource, or ask your local librarian.

Private Tutors

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The Times survey found that 20% of parents were thinking about hiring an in-person private teacher or tutor. That can be expensive, but, as reported in the Seattle Times, some parents are forming extended “pods” of families they trust and pooling their money to hire a shared teacher, rotating classes in the families’ homes. This also frees up some parents so they can do their own work.

These are tough times, but they won’t last forever. Look around; there are resources to helpWe’ll get through this!

School-at-home shopping list

Prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.


Crista Worthy writes about aviation, travel, wildlife, and more from her home in Idaho.

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