Are you prepared to be your children’s teacher again next fall?
Parents, give yourselves a round of applause. A pat on the back. A gold star. You were given a week in mid-March – without notice – to shift your children’s’ education from in-classroom to an almost entirely homeschool experience. The transition wasn’t seamless, but you did a remarkable job. Bravo.
Take time to celebrate your children’s’ graduations, then it’s back to work. Come September, schools could be closed again. It’s time to start planning for a possible return to distancing learning again next school year.
As some states ease social distancing restrictions, schools remain closed for more than 55 million American schoolchildren. And public health experts suggest a possible second wave of the pandemic could mean tightening social distancing measures again in the future, including the possibility of shutting down schools or offering a hybrid of distance learning and on-site classes next school year.
Dr. Pamela Roggeman, University of Phoenix College of Education dean, and Associate Dean Lisa Ghormley, said parents should start contingency planning now, just in case, to avoid the challenges they faced at the beginning of the pandemic.
“More often than not, parents were ‘faking it till they make it’ as far as working from home and trying to get the kids to do their schoolwork,” Dr. Roggeman said. “Everyone was just doing the best they could.”
Parents charged with the responsibility of facilitating distance learning from home have often expressed frustration with new schedules, close quarters, shared devices and finicky apps and technology. And just as parents are frustrated with the current patchwork-approach to distance learning, Ghormley said teachers are frustrated, too. But they are working hard to make it better.
“Teachers are there to help, they are there for the kids. That is their No. 1 priority,” Ghormley said. “Learning definitely looks different than it ever has, but teachers are embracing it and working their tails off to help out parents and their kids.”
School leaders across the country are also hard at work, considering what school will look like in the fall. Will there be changes to the schedule, such as A/B schedules, where half the student body is on campus at a time, or shortened school days? Or maybe intermittent periods of distance learning and in-person classes depending on whether there are localized outbreaks?
While extended distance learning is a possibility, it might not necessarily look the same as the crisis education happening now. Dr. Roggeman said distance learning is bound to get better as everyone — parents, students, teachers and school districts — adjust to the new realities of going to school in a post-coronavirus America.
“I am almost positive that school districts will have a better plan to accommodate distance learning than when they were blindsided by it,” she said.
As schools are planning for the future, so should parents, according to Ghormley and Dr. Roggeman. They suggest parents consider the following suggestions to develop their contingency plan.
Whether it’s a teenage neighbor or a nanny, it might be worthwhile to hire someone you can trust to watch your children while you work. Ask around your neighborhood, on social media and websites for leads on in-home childcare options. If this is a financial stretch, start saving up money now in case you need to hire someone in the future.
Make it a Group Effort
Some families are teaming up to share the burden of childcare, facilitating distance education and work in creative ways. Share childcare duties with another family you know who are practicing safe social distancing and create what some are calling a “double-bubble,” “micro-community” or “quaran-team.” Consider childcare trades, where your teammates take over on the childcare front while you work and vice versa.
Extending your social distancing “bubble” beyond your household to help with childcare might include an extended family member. Doing this would require assessing risk factors, but it might be one way for families to juggle work and distance learning or altered school schedules without having to pay for childcare.
Create a Family Schedule
If possible, tag-team childcare and work with another adult living in your household so each have an opportunity for uninterrupted time. Children also thrive with schedules, but they should be age appropriate. Younger children need more breaks. Focus on giving them no more than 20 minutes of learning time between breaks for time to get up and outside, if possible. Older children can be more self-directed, taking breaks as needed. But be sure you set expectations at the beginning of the day for what needs to be accomplished. Giving your family set times to work, study and relax will help make sure no one is working too hard, or too little.
Roggeman and Ghormley recognize that preparing for virtual instruction again this fall is a tall order, despite the months of practice. They said to build upon the foundation built this spring and don’t worry if the experience isn’t perfect or painless. There will be growing pains, but we will continue to learn.
If the mere thought of extending distance learning into the fall is still stressing out parents, Ghormley has some words advice ― You’ve got this.
“Parents have to remember that they were the first teachers for their children,” she said. “Parents shouldn’t be worried. Take a deep breath; you can do it.”