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How to Help Parents Who Are Homeschooling Kids

A young girl works studiously at a table in her home.

Homeschooling kids doesn't take the teacher out of the equation during a time of social distancing.

Many parents probably have mixed emotions about their newest responsibility: homeschooling kids. It's not likely that many of them imagined teaching their children from the dining room table. In their hearts, these parents understand how important it is to keep their children's education going. But so many parents are overwhelmed right now—and who could blame them?

Some parents might be intimidated by technology; others might be anxious about everything that's at stake during the coronavirus pandemic. Some of them are probably tapping out at tricky fourth grade math.

Further Reading: Remote Teaching Resource Center

Regardless of the uncertainty in the world right now, we all want the best for our kids. That's why it's imperative that educators properly support students and their families in their distance learning endeavors during these unprecedented times. Teachers, here's what you can do to help parents who are homeschooling kids.

Find Space, Make a Schedule

Structure is important. Tell your students' families to dedicate an area of the house as a makeshift classroom—somewhere in a common space, and somewhere uncluttered and free of distractions.

Complicated logistics prevent many schools from providing virtual class schedules, so help your students and their families create their own. Encourage them to approach homebound school weeks as though it were any other school week. Have them begin and end at the same time every day, use a timer to indicate the change of classes or subjects, provide breaks for lunch and to stretch legs and rest eyes, and set concrete deadlines.

Tip: Offer bonus points to kids who email you a copy of their daily schedule or a picture of their work space!

Be Consistent

Why do little kids love reading the same book over and over? Because, according to the University of Georgia, consistency is comforting. By being consistent when and where we can be, we can provide strong support to our students' distance learning efforts.

Here's what that could look like in the virtual space:

  • Hold open office hours at the same time every day. Simply being there can be a big help.
  • Keep your work deadlines the same regardless of the assignment. Set a deadline—maybe that all work is due by noon on Friday—and stick with it.
  • Send a weekly to-do list every Monday. It'll help families prepare for the week ahead.
  • Stay in touch. Continually asking questions will reinforce that you care—about the student and about their parents' well-being. Ask parents how they're feeling, whether they have any questions, and what they might need from you.

Tip: Send a funny Friday message to cap off the work week. A joke or a lighthearted moment means finishing the week with a smile!

Manage Expectations

Look, this is new to all of us. No one should expect perfection. In fact, we should expect a learning curve, and grant time and patience to everyone so they can adjust.

Frustrations might—OK, will—run high, so help families mentally prepare to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. When parents fire off an angry email because they're confused, don't take it personally. (And certainly don't respond if—OK, when—you're upset). Assure everyone—including yourself—that these speed bumps are normal and that they, too, shall pass. Offer to speak to them one-on-one via phone or video.

Tip: During the first week, reinforce to parents that you're in this together and that you appreciate their help. Thank them, reassure them, and be patient with them.

Be Visible

Online learning can make a student feel isolated, so teachers should be proactive and make themselves as accessible as possible during the school day. Office hours are a great start, but give students and families a way to contact you outside of that scheduled time. The apps Remind and Class Dojo work well for quick two-way communication. Check your email regularly and respond to messages as quickly as possible. Set aside time for one-on-one meetings.

Consider, too, sending short video clips where you say good morning and let them know how you're coping. Maybe you've converted your daughter's bedroom into your new home office—sharing personal connections such as these means everything right now.

TipGoogle Hangouts and Zoom are user-friendly and work as well for individualized sessions as they do large group instruction. And you can record video clips quickly and easily with your smartphone.

Learn How to Troubleshoot

When technology fails (and it's not due to user error), try these initial troubleshooting steps:

  • Clear your web browser's cookies
  • Clear your browser's cache
  • Restart the browser
  • Try using a different browser
  • Restart your computer

Restart, of course, can apply to more than machines. As the American novelist Anne Lamott advises, "Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you."

Tip: Schedule breaks at regular intervals throughout your day. Encourage everyone to sign off, step away, and unplug. It's important to support students' mental health as much as their education during these trying times.

Stay Positive

The only thing we can truly control in life is our attitude. Now is the time to stay positive and offer all the optimism of an enthusiastic cheerleader. It's perfectly OK to admit that we don't have all the answers—no, we really don't know when we'll be back in the classroom—but strive to be the kind of leader who spreads strength and positivity.

Tip: Whenever you feel your sunny disposition waning, do something to lift your spirits. Go for a walk, meditate, treat yourself to something yummy, or take a minute to relax with your family.

Further Reading: 4 Ways to Leverage Online Teaching Jobs and Supplement Your Income

Every person approaches change differently. What's important is that you try to embrace distance learning and view it as an exciting challenge.