Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Ideas for 'Doing' School at Home During the Covid-19 Virus

Around the world there are many families trying to manage life at home during the Covid-19 Pandemic. While every family's situation and each nation is dealing with this problem in different ways, all families face similar challenges. As a trained teacher, author of varied learning activities for parents,  and devoted father and grandfather I've tested these ideas and many more. But due to the Corona Virus many parents across the world have found themselves acting as teachers at home. This is a nightmare for some, but it can be rewarding and even fun!

Many are asking:
  • How can I as a parent, who isn't a trained teacher, make this work?
  • What if my child gets through all of the school work in a couple of hours?
  • How can I make some of the work fun and engaging?
  • How do I juggle my paid work if I'm working at home as a parent at the same time?
In this post, I want to lay out some basic principles for teaching your children at home (I'll come back to some of the above questions later) and offer some practical ideas. In future posts, I will outline further practical ideas to make home learning not only effective but exciting and fun, even if you aren't a trained teacher. The ideas have all been tested by me and my wife who was also a teacher with children aged 5-12 years. Some of them will work for older children too, or if you have a wide age range in your family, one of the older children might become the 'teacher' for one or two of the activities. But first some DO's and some implied DON'Ts.

#1 Do establish some basic rules - these must be complied with if your children hope to do some of the other things that they might enjoy more than school work (e.g. computer games, TV, online activities, social media, outdoor games and exercise if still possible and allowed in your country). You need some basic rules for your children and you need to stick to them (stick them up on the wall). And as the 'teacher' one of the most important rules for you is to be consistent in applying the rules.

#2 Do complete the work that your children's teachers are setting - but don't assume that it has to be done first (especially if it's all hard and demanding). Some private schools will have sent your child home with very prescriptive guidelines for what is to be done and when. This might require online activities, class participation using varied platforms for online, prescribed content, media, group work and so on. But, you do have some freedom even in such prescription. If there's a meltdown, all school prescriptions might be set aside for an hour or two. This is about emotional 'survival', for you and your children.

#3 Do program in physical activities outside (weather permitting). There are many things that can be done with varied age groups. Board games (I've written about this on my blog), online games, sport, watching special programs via available content streams like Netflix, Disney, STAN etc.

#4 If you are able, DO establish a place within your home or apartment where school activities take place. Rather than private spaces in bedrooms I'd recommend 'public' places like the dining room, or a family room (if you are lucky enough to have such a place). In this space, you might have a shared computer (if you aren't able to have more than one device), a tablet (or two perhaps), hopefully internet access etc. When they enter this space for the activities of school, it is school! Insist on this.

# 5 Do provide time for marking work (if that is the task of the parent not teachers) and give good feedback and praise. Much of this will take place as you supervise, but do read written work and give some feedback to your children. Try to be constructive, not just critical. And do find something to commend.

# 6 Do be consistent! Discipline for the teacher always breaks down when they are inconsistent towards children in the class (or group at home). This will happen even faster for the parent if you let one child away with bad behaviour or attitude, but not the others.

# 7 Do build into the day planned 'Tension Breakers'. 'Tension breakers' (i.e. things to stop chaos when the wheels are falling off the family, or a child is having a meltdown!) are used when everyone seems to have had enough. Try to use activities that involve all children and hopefully at least one parent in the activities. Here are some examples:

a) Sure Fire Mimes - You can make up your own but make sure that they are suitable for varied ages. For example:

* You are trying to teach someone to knit
* You are a cat washing yourself
* You are a pirate being forced to walk the plank
* You are a tightrope walker at a circus
* You are a famous pianist walking onto the stage
* You are paddling a kayak when you lose your only paddle
* You are making a snowman
* You are decorating a birthday cake

b) Rearranging clothes - One child leaves the room and makes a minor alteration to his or her clothing (must be visible). They might leave a button undone, loosen a belt, undo, slightly rearrange their clothes or hair, and so on.

c) Five minute fillers - there are lots of options here. They are challenges of one kind or another. Try to make them such that children of varied ages can do well at most of them.

  • Making paper snakes
Give each child a small piece of identical paper (perhaps 10cm x 5cm, but the photo is using a Post-it note) and ask each child to see how they can tear the paper into a single 'snake' by working along the paper from out edge to the middle. The longest unbroken 'snake' wins.

  • Never ending story
As the 'teacher' you start a simple story that the children add to (maximum of 6 words), until you run out of inspiration. At first be generous if some find it hard to stick to 6 words. For example:

Oscar went for a ride...
He ran into ...
Who could have guessed that ...?
How would he possibly ...?
Fortunately, ....
But ...
How could he ever ...?
I guess that he ...

  • Who's that talking behind my back?
One child stands about 4 metres away from everyone and once they are blindfolded and looking away someone chosen by the parent is asked to whisper 'very' softly just two words. The blindfolded person has to guess who it was.

  • Ventriloquists

Give each child a turn to repeat a 3-5 word sentence without moving their lips. The group votes to decide who was best at it (the parent has 2 votes!). For example, "my front tooth is aching".

You can trot out tension breakers like the above when everyone seems to be getting tired, or as a reward after a more demanding task.

In my next few posts I will share some other ideas that might help to make learning at home more interesting. These will include:

  • Helpful educational apps to use on tablets or phones
  • Outdoor activities that can work
  • Books that are great for reading aloud
  • Poems for sharing
  • Art activities that are easy and fun
  • Cooking lessons
  • Fun activities outside  

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