BY ALISON BOWEN, CHICAGO TRIBUNE
As parents deal with the first days of school closings because of the coronavirus, it’s a new normal for nearly everyone.
Some teachers are sending home supplemental or e-learning materials; others are utilizing Google Classroom. The Illinois State Board of Education suggested that schools provide students with learning opportunities “through whatever means possible.” CPS said enrichment activity packets will be available for pickup. Either way, parents might be wondering how to keep their children engaged and keeping up with studies while everyone is at home.
Homeschooling parents have expertise in keeping kids occupied and learning throughout the day. We talked to Jennifer Givens, a Park Forest, Ill., mom of a 2-year-old and 7-year-old, who home-schools and also works from home part-time.
“I’ve actually had a lot of people ask me,” she said about parents seeking tips. Here is her advice:
Have a schedule. Givens said a routine is the biggest key. On social media, many are circulating suggested schedules with blocks of time for play, activities and learning. Givens gives her children about 30 minutes each morning to wake up and eat breakfast. Then, throughout the day, they allot one-hour increments for learning. They’ll work on one subject, then take a break — go outside, for example. She sets up 15-minute breaks in between their activities, where they can play in their rooms. And her children are such different ages that they have different schedules. “Every kid is so individual,” she said. She writes the schedules on a dry erase board. Walk children through the plan for the day, and consider allowing them to pick, for example, whether they want to do language arts work or math during a certain time.
Anything can be a lesson. Or a contest. Especially if you are stuck at home, take another look around the house to see what might be a distraction or lesson. Can you walk around and water the plants together? Givens likes to have 10-minute cleans with her children, followed by going outside. She also sets up reading competitions, and whoever reads the most gets to pick a movie.
Crafts, crafts, crafts. Don’t be intimidated. We’re not saying you need to set up a complex project while you’re on a conference call. “We like to do a lot of experiments,” she said. For them, that might mean growing tomatoes or making volcanoes. For parents suddenly balancing full-time work and full-time child care, it might look like mixing baking soda and vinegar or shaving cream with food coloring — things most people might have at home. Set them up in the bathtub with shaving cream, and they’ll have a ball.
Save activities that take longer. For Givens, this is dominoes — her son can play with dominoes at length. “You need longer stretches, especially if you need a conference call,” she said. She saves certain activities that he can do for longer increments for when she needs to get a task done. Or if you have several children, pull out a game like Connect 4 or Jenga. “You can sit and get work done while they’re at the table,” she said. “My kid can sit there for an hour playing dominoes, and he’s learning from it, which is fantastic.”
Use learning sites. Not every school is providing lesson plans at home or supplemental reading. For those looking for things to help their kids learn, Givens recommends ABCya!, which has educational games, or ABCmouse for children ages 2 through 8. Adventure Academy has programs for kids 8-13. Another option? Podcasts. “I wish people told me about podcasts for kids, because they have them, and they’re amazing,” she said. “If I need a break,” she added, “I’ll turn the podcast on.” Her kids like What If World, Story pirates and NPR’s But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. And keep an eye out for other kids activities that are going virtual. The Kennedy Center’s education artist-in-residence, author and illustrator Mo Willems, will have a virtual Lunch Doodle every day on the center’s website.
Give yourself a break. Remember, it’s an unusual situation for everyone. No one is expecting you to be a superhero. And every child is different, so if you try a site or activity and they don’t like it, don’t become discouraged. Givens said her son hates paperwork, but enjoys online learning. “You have to see what works best for your kid, and the way they learn. What works for one kid may not work for another,” Givens said. “That was the biggest takeaway I had.”