Commentary: Tips for schooling when parent becomes teacher

With schools closed indefinitely, here are some tips that can keep your child from losing ground.

By Brian Galvin / For The Herald

As the bow wave of school closures caused by the coronavirus and Covid-19 outbreak continues to sweep across the country, millions of parents are coming to grips with a frightening new reality: How do they fill the void of a child’s time at home and prevent “academic slide”?

For most parents, this new challenge is daunting and bewildering. They’re worried their child will lose momentum in school and want to keep them engaged, but the virtual education industry has an overwhelming online bazaar of videos, content, tutors, tests and noise to sift through and sort. Lesson plans come in all shapes and sizes. So, where to start?

I’ve been working on the front lines of virtual homeschooling for many years, from early childhood lesson planning to preparing high school students for college exams. The good news is you can do this, it just takes some planning and patience. Here are some tips on how to successfully lean into your child’s new home-school reality:

• Using templates or one-size-fits-all online programs are of limited value, and will likely leave you and your child frustrated. Avoid random lessons cobbled together. Focus on building a structure or a virtual school day that replicates your student’s everyday schedule. If they have math first thing in the morning, do the same at home. Kids are creatures of habit; use this to your advantage. They will adjust more quickly to being home-schooled by not also taking on a new school day routine.

• Virtual home-schooling also provides freedom to tailor your child’s online education day to his or her likes, dislikes, learning style and needs. Two virtual structures that are used today include the traditional approach, where a student follows a structured, school-like curriculum created by his or her parent, and the “unschooling” approach, where students choose what and when they would like to learn. Many families also adopt techniques in-between these two approaches. But the goal is to settle on a structure that works for your child and their schedule, and stick with it.

• Once you are up and running, it’s critical to use assessments along the way. These checks ensure your child is mastering the lessons and knowledge, but more importantly they are for your peace of mind. Without assessments you won’t know if there has been any slide or what steps to take to shore up problem areas.

• Be observant of your child’s progress and attitude. If something isn’t working, re-evaluate it, and try different curricula or educational philosophies. Virtual homeschooling can be very effective because of its flexibility and its ability to accommodate the needs of your child, your values and your lifestyle.

Finally, unless you are a trained educator, set reasonable expectations for you and your child during this temporary school closure. Getting into an Ivy League school will most likely not depend on completing a difficult online math problem. All indications are the Covid-19 crisis is a moment in time and will recede at some point.

For most parents, reasonable success is keeping your child engaged in learning, preventing academic slide, and using quality virtual learning to fill the void of down time instead of video games and iPhones. Schools will reopen and your child’s educational world will return to normal; and so will your sanity.

It can take time for your family to adjust to home-schooling. It will also take time for you, the parent, to adjust to being a teacher. Patience is essential. But being realistic is as well.

Brian Galvin is the chief academic officer for Varsity Tutors. Galvin has a master’s degree in education from the University of Michigan and helped design Varsity Tutors’ new Virtual School Day, a free remote learning program that includes live, online classes and educational resources intended to help keep students from sliding academically during coronavirus school cancellations.

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