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8 Tips for Parents to Help Kids with At-Home Schooling
March 29, 2020
Reading time: 11 minutes
If an emergency causes your local school system to close, you may be struggling to find the best way to educate your child(ren) at home. You’re not alone.
As you face changes in schooling that may happen suddenly, and with kids eager to resume normalcy, we’ve compiled some tips for schooling from home to help you find a rhythm for your at-home school.
See what the experts recommend for the most consistent home school environment.
8 tips for parents to help their kids with at home schooling
Ready to learn more about everything from creating your setup for an at-home school classroom to setting expectations for your new students? Continue reading to learn about these topics and more.
1. Know the difference between “public school at home” (or distance learning) and “homeschooling”
When public and private schools conduct distance learning during school closures, they’ll do their best to provide your kids with many of the same experiences they had while attending school onsite.
Unlike the homeschooling movement, which requires parents to coordinate and acquire all materials, computers, and administrative tools, when you “at-home school,” you will have access to resources provided by your school district.
Your child will also abide by the district’s guidelines for attendance and curriculum choice. If you have questions on how the arrangement works, contact your school district directly to create your own distance learning setup.
2. Grab the basic tools all at-home schoolers need
You may have already received some of the required materials for education at home from your school, including laptops or tablets, textbooks, and lesson plans or assignment sheets. What else do you need? Consider these additional tools for your child’s at-home experience.
During a crisis, some major internet companies may provide one to two months of their standard service for free. Reach out to your local school if you are unsure which companies serve your area.
While we recommend higher speeds (3 MB/s or more) for live video learning, you can view some pre-recorded sessions and interactive presentations just fine with speeds under 1 MB/s.
Offset learning times
If you have more than one student schooling in the home at a time, consider investing in higher internet speeds. You can also stagger learning times so that no more than one person is using video services at once. Ask your school district if they have alternate live session times or pre-recorded sessions for families who may have difficulties with bandwidth.
Limit non-educational online tasks
You can also make the best of the internet speeds you have by limiting non-essential WiFi use when classes are in session. Ask everyone in the house to power off their smartphones, tablets, and gaming consoles during school hours.
Also, close any background tasks and browser tabs on your computer that may use the internet without you knowing.
Check your resolution
Other tips include lowering the resolution of videos and streaming media, and connecting your computer directly to the router with an Ethernet cable. This can help prioritize that device’s internet use over other devices.
Laptop or tablet
If your school sent home a device for your child, you may be all set. Chances are the school-issued laptop or tablet came with the software your child needs to complete their work. If not, you may want to consider investing in a new laptop, especially if the device will be shared.
Many process-intensive tasks that high schoolers use, for example, are best handled by a computer with a better processor, more RAM, and additional storage space. For photo or video editing, consider a model with an Intel 8th Generation i5 or i7 processor like an HP Pavilion laptop.
By buying your own computer, your kids will have something they can use for their hobbies and gaming as well as school. And since laptops and tablets generally have a built-in webcam, your students can join video class sessions with ease.
Consider an all-in-one printer for printing out schoolwork and scanning completed assignments. If you don’t have access to one, a smartphone can do some of the scanning for you. Ask your school what options are available if you don't have a printer in the home.
The school should provide textbooks, but you may need to stock up on pens, pencils, notebooks, art supplies, and other items you’d buy at the beginning of the year. Your child may have left these behind if schools closed suddenly.
3. Create your workspace
Elementary school age
Younger kids need to be in a dedicated, central area where you can monitor their progress and keep them away from toys and other distractions. Avoid setting up your home school classroom near a playroom, their bedroom, or anywhere they hang out for recreation.
The dining room table is a great home school hub, and little ones can even use the floor for doing coloring work, sorting activities, and putting together educational puzzles.
Middle school and high school age
Separate older children from younger ones when strategizing how to set up distance learning. Home school space for older children shouldn't be in the same room as their often-louder younger siblings, since middle school and high school students need to be able to concentrate on reading, taking tests, and video conferencing.
Separate your home into learning zones to set the expectation that some parts of the house are for quiet work, while other parts are for louder school-related activities. Don't dismiss the value of a basement, overhead loft space, or even the back porch as learning spaces.
4. Adjust home school schedules by age group
One thing at-home schooling parents may find surprising is that tasks take less time to complete than they thought. It’s much easier to get one or two students to prep for the next task than 32, which is what classroom teachers face on a daily basis. This may mean your kids are finished early.
Don’t assign busywork
If your children finish their assigned work, don’t just assign additional busywork to fill the time or you may discourage them from working diligently in the future.
Coordinate with the teacher for overloaded students
But if, on the other hand, they are struggling to finish assigned tasks in a reasonable time, contact your school district or teacher to ask about your student’s workload. Remember that there is a learning curve for crisis schooling across the board, and your constructive feedback can help teachers gauge the appropriate amount of work for everyone.
You’ll want to keep student learning expectations reasonable for your child’s age. Sample schedules for each age group are as follows:
Preschool through Kindergarten
Expect no more than 1 hour per day of academic work, and encourage play-based learning such as puzzles, coloring, games, or reading for as long as they enjoy it. Limit screen time to one hour per day of quality programming.
Pro tip: FaceTime grandparents to have them read to your little ones via video chat.
This age group can realistically handle 2 to 2.5 hours of academic work per day, with “school time” including reading, educational games, and self-directed learning about topics that interest them.
If your school uses video conferencing or online resources for class time learning, parents should create a list of dos and don’ts for these online sessions.
Stay close to monitor progress and step in as needed to help them log into video classroom sessions or download classwork safely. Children ages 6 and up can have more screen time, provided they don’t use devices unsupervised. Limit non-school screen time to two hours per day.
Junior high kids can manage 3 to 4 hours of academic tasks each day, primarily on their own. But working independently doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be accountability. Have them use a log sheet to track assignments, checking off finished items against any classroom due dates. Kids this age should know how to hand in work online and take assessments by themselves as well.
Older kids should be comfortable spending up to 6 hours per day on academic work, completely independent from parents. They should also document the work they do, so they can explain it to you, when asked. Parents schooling at home can encourage them to stay on task as much as possible and check log books to make sure students are following through on their work.
Direct any questions about work or assignments to their teacher, who you can also reach out to with concerns about health, family life, or prioritization. That way, you can help devise a plan for managing coursework through changing situations.
Pro tip: Older kids can read to their younger siblings as part of both students’ “school time,” especially if parents are also working from home.
5. Teach kids to self-advocate with the teacher
Kids in the upper elementary, junior high, and high school grades should learn to direct their questions and concerns to their teacher rather than a parent. Unlike typical homeschool situations, the offsite teacher is ultimately in charge of curriculum and due dates.
Help your child come up with words to express difficulties and ask for flexibility when needed. They can email the teacher or chat through curriculum programs they are using.
Reasons to reach out to their teacher may include clarification of assignments, asking for extra help, or bringing up special circumstances.
6. Set realistic expectations
Since most extracurricular activities won't happen during emergency school closures, some pressure for kids will ease. Also, this gives them more time for schooling, though it may force them to share resources with siblings and parents, which can cause stress. Set the ground rules early on for what you expect from your child.
Avoid extra responsibilities that aren't essential for their education, the maintenance of the household, or their personal well-being. Focus on school work, healthy habits like eating and exercise, and household tasks like cooking, cleaning, and age-appropriate home projects.
Start small with your goals, then ramp up incrementally. You can work up to a full schedule of coursework, chores, and family obligations over several weeks. Remember your kids are missing friends and their regular routine. Expect their grief to come out in anger, frustration, and sorrow. And it may be focused on you even if it’s circumstances they are upset about.
Good behavior often relies on communication between parent and child while you adjust expectations for both of you as needed.
Sit in a quiet place with your mic on mute until you’re called on
Don’t eat, drink, or chew gum while in class
Make sure a parent or older sibling is on standby in case your child has difficulties, at least for the first few sessions.
8. Accept common home school challenges
When an at-home school session starts, you may have some particular concerns about educating your kids. Here are some of the most common issues, with our suggestions:
“My child doesn’t respect me as a teacher.”
Explain to your child that you are not replacing their teacher and that you’re tasked with helping the teacher’s distance learning program. Since this is likely a temporary role change, continue to emphasize that they will see their classroom teachers again soon. Try approaching your involvement more like helping with homework rather than being their new teacher.
“I can’t get my job done with the kids in the house.”
Unless your workday must start at a certain time each day, consider alternating your work tasks with childcare duties. Don't hesitate to enlist the help of older siblings, your spouse, or other caregivers, and set aside very specific "work hours" where the kids know not to interrupt you. Read more about how to work from home with kids in the house in our HP Tech Takes article.
You'll be more likely to get the space you need if you only work during specific set-aside hours, instead of trying to compose an email here and there. Focus on one thing at a time, if possible, and use nap times, meal times, and evening hours as needed.
“My kids don’t get along.”
Try to consider the ways you've handled sibling conflict during extended breaks before, and use it as an opportunity to bond over shared interests such as movies, video games, and favorite foods.
Above all, remember that kids will feel the upheaval that these changes bring, so don’t force them to be happy about everything. Allow them time to process, and let them do things on their own without their siblings around. Expect a certain amount of tension during this uncertain period of life.
Summing it up: Be prepared for “deschooling”
Even when your students use the same curriculum, schedule, and tools as they did on campus, learning at home is not the same as learning in an institutional environment. Expect a period of transition as your kids learn how to adjust. This process, often called “deschooling,” is natural but not without challenges.
Give your kids time to figure out how to work in this new situation. Don’t dismiss feelings of frustration and confusion, which are normal for kids as they shift from one environment to another. You can help them weather the storm while they continue to move their education forward.
Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.
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