School #FromHome: Bring Structure to Your Day
Whether you’re a few weeks into a school closure or going on a few months now, you’re no doubt helping your school-aged children—and even your college kids—settle into a new routine that involves learning from home. Needless to say, it’s an adjustment for everyone as you and your children make the shift. As a parent, you might be feeling responsible for a range of academic responsibilities that go well beyond after-dinner homework help. In light of what we’re all facing, we reached out to a long-time educator for some specific advice about bringing structure to the school day at home.
While you’re probably accustomed to logging on to your school’s homework and grade-posting platform, what’s likely to be entirely new territory is monitoring regular emails from one to several, staff members, and coaches looping you in to help them make some type of learning happen from home for your children. We’re all a little overwhelmed already.
SCHOOL AT HOME: THE STRUGGLE IS REAL
Parents told us just that. In our recent survey, the aspect of this new landscape they struggle with most is setting a routine, and it’s no wonder. The school day is a constant for all of us. It starts and ends at a certain time every day without fail. Bells at the exact same time each day signal the beginning, end, and all points in between including lunch at, you guessed it, the exact same time every day.
So why doesn’t this structure transfer easily to the home? It’s just a location change, right? School is social—a group effort—and it’s run by adults outside the home who set expectations, from where to be when the bell rings to how many minutes for breaks and lunches. Home is, well, home with its own set of expectations, rules, and freedoms plus a refrigerator and a TV and devices nearby and no bells except a morning alarm clock. Does it even make sense to try to bring the exact same structure to the home learning environment?
AN OPPORTUNITY TO INDIVIDUALIZE
What if we saw this abrupt change as an opportunity to do things a different way? For example, school starts early for most high schoolers despite research that indicates later start times work better for teens. If your child doesn’t have a set schedule from the school, then you have the opportunity to set one that just might work better for your family. Students anywhere from late elementary school all the way to senior year can help set their own schedule (contingent upon other factors, of course, like helping with siblings or other family duties).
In all, setting a rhythm is key. A teenager experiencing a separation from friends is likely spending even more time online or on a device as a means to pass the time and connect with others. Their new rhythm might mean later nights and later bedtimes than normal. Letting your high school-aged student sleep in and start the at-home school day in late morning might give you some time to get your own work started and prepare for the day. If you’re sharing computers, printers, or other devices, letting your teenager sleep in makes it a bit easier to allocate time for yourself and others.
HOW YOUR NEW SCHOOL DAY CAN LOOK
A middle school or high school aged student’s school day might work out better running from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with 15-minute breaks and up to a full hour for lunch. Bottom line: teenagers love freedom and choice. Letting them have some control over the timing of their school day, to the extent possible, may help keep them more engaged and focused. For example, middle schoolers may get as little as five minutes to pass from class to class. Why not offer 15 minutes between at-home classes? Many public schools allow 30 minutes for lunch. Home lunch might be an hour or maybe even a little more. During home lunch, maybe phones are out and kids have free time to eat, check their texts or social media, listen to a podcast or audiobook while they eat or just relax.
While most adolescents will sleep later given the chance, younger children might still be up early. Starting a learn-from-home-schedule on the earlier side for younger ones might alleviate late mornings spent vying for computer time. There’s no one perfect way to do this. It might work best to start school at 8 a.m. together at the kitchen table and then go about the day as your children do during the normal school year; however, it might work best to let the older kids sleep in while the younger ones enjoy a waffle and an audiobook, allowing you time to have your coffee, catch up on emails, and get ready for the day.
CREATING A SCHEDULE THAT WORKS
Khan Academy, the online educational service known best for its video tutorials, has created sample school day structures in direct response to the current school closures for learners in four age groups from preschool through 12th grade. Khan Academy’s Daily Schedules start all grade levels at 8 a.m., but older kids could easily adapt the basics of the schedule and start later in the morning.
In addition to the sample schedule, each age group chart links to grade-appropriate video tutorials in math—something Khan Academy is well known for—along with other opportunities for learning in almost all subject areas. If your child’s school is still in the process of formulating the specifics of its own from-home learning program, Khan Academy has a full day of learning options already mapped out. You might be surprised to see the breadth of offerings and the materials available to assist families during school closures.
For example, children in grades 3-5 start the day with short, interactive math videos for about 30 minutes followed by play time, ideally outside. Next up is 30 minutes of guided reading followed by silent reading. The rest of the day continues with small segments allotted for writing, grammar, lunch time, and even computer programming. Everything you need to complete the school from home day is available directly on the site or via links.
Another great resource is Scholastic, the education and publishing company well known for its school book fairs. Like Khan Academy, Scholastic’s newly created Learn From Home site also offers some structure to the school day arranged by grade level where you’ll find a wealth of books online plus supplemental videos for kindergarten through grade 9. For example, Week 1 material for a first grader is centered around five days of stories, each with a different focus: animal studies, weather, sound and music, farm life, and healthy bones. Each day’s area of focus offers audio and video stories, read-alongs, and supplemental videos for drawing and spelling—all connected to that day’s theme.
Both Khan Academy and Scholastic are two reputable sources. Yet there are plenty others, and it’s quite possible you’re seeing plenty of suggested resources–particularly if you’re searching for them online. When consulting these sources, be sure to do some research and make sure they’re reputable as well. Also, consider using browser protection that will protect you from any malicious links or malware-ridden downloads. Sad but true, there are those out there who are willing to take advantage of families who’re looking for online education resources during these times.
FLEXIBILITY IS IMPORTANT
Teachers are experts at establishing routines, boundaries, and expectations for school work and behaviors. This is part of building the culture of the classroom, and it starts back at the beginning of the school year on day one. It’s no wonder children have a harder time settling into a routine and remaining focused on school at home. It’s not the easiest transfer of skills. In the adult world, for example, if you’re working from home, you may not structure your workday in the same way you would if you were actually at the office. The same applies for the kids.
SO, HOW DO YOU BEGIN?
Here are a few things you can do:
- Look over the emails and announcements from your child’s school. What are the non-negotiables like online class meetings and due dates? Pencil those in.
- Set a schedule like mentioned above, at least as a starting point. You can adjust and adapt it as needed, all with an eye toward what works for you and your family overall as you settle into your new routine.
- The youngest children might have a hard time focusing for an online check-in with their kindergarten class but seeing their classmates online might be important socially with other options currently limited. If possible, try to make sure you help even your littlest ones make their meetings. Or even set up a digital playdate for them.
- For older kids, online lessons are likely essential right now. Then, knowing your child best and asking for their input, you can be flexible in creating a daily routine that optimizes personal schedules, preferences, and family responsibilities.
- Work together. In many households, family members may use a shared device to get everyone’s work and schooling done. Now’s a good time to set a schedule and make sure those shared devices are secure. and sharing of devices.
We hope we’ve offered you a few helpful resources for structuring an entire school day or adding to an existing structure, and that you might see some opportunities to benefit from a change in routine. No doubt, we’re all adapting to the changes brought about by school closures, yet each family’s situation is different. Some days it just might not work out as planned, and that’s ok. The bottom line right now is flexibility and compromise, and it’s worth it to allow yourself a little grace as you find what works at your home.