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5 Tips for Promoting Learning at Home

Seattle Children’s Hospital teachers offer advice during COVID-19 school closures

Published on: April 16, 2020

kid sitting at a table with a computer and papers doing online learning

The teachers at Seattle Children’s are experts at supporting kids and their families when children and teens are suddenly out of school. Scott Hampton, manager of K–12 Education Services, shares advice to support families in the community as they adjust to a new way of life while schools are closed. 

Our world is facing an extraordinary challenge right now. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, it has disrupted and influenced all aspects of life. For families with school-aged children, a primary concern has been the closure of schools across our region and around the world.

Our teachers at Seattle Children’s know that it is an incredibly uncertain time for families as they manage a myriad of complex responsibilities. We want you to know that we believe in the strength and resilience of your family. Despite what you may be seeing on social media, educators are not expecting parents to become professional teachers or to set up robust homeschool programs.

Teachers everywhere are rooting for you as you provide emotional and physical safety for your children during this global health emergency, and they cannot wait to once again fill their classrooms with the sounds of school. Until that time comes, our team of teachers would like to offer five pieces of advice for promoting learning in your home.

This excerpted post was originally published on the Seattle Children's On the Pulse blog.
Seattle Children's

Focus first on helping stabilize the health and well-being of your family. 

Creating routines, finding fun and caring for the emotional needs of your family will help offer stability in the midst of this crisis. The expectation from your school should be that parents help their kids stay ready to learn, full of hope, seen and loved, and curious about the world around them. If you can nurture your child’s sense of self and ambition for life, the education system will gather itself and figure out how to step in to truly support academic learning.

Build a framework for your day that is scalable. 

Part of what works so well about a school environment is the high degree of structure and consistent expectations. Our homes tend to have less of both. By increasing structure and routine, you offer predictability to your children. Learning time focused on core academic subjects can aid in the development of that structure and offer a sense of normalcy to your children. This doesn’t mean you need a Pinterest-ready schedule that you adhere to rigidly. Some of the best home schedules are scrawled on napkins, and revised as needed through observations of what went well and what needs improvement.

By scheduling time to foster curiosity and wonder, and by nurturing your child’s muscle for learning, you’re creating a framework that is ready for increasing rigor once we better understand the academic expectations during these school closures.

Create buy-in by asking your children for input and by giving them choices. 

Like you, your children are experiencing a loss of control and a loss of independence. Many of their activities and rites of passage, such as walking to school, traveling with sports teams to away games and getting together with friends on Friday nights, have been taken away. As you build your home routines, include your children of all ages in the discussion and incorporate their ideas.

Many children have learned through their school experiences what works well for their own learning needs and will be eager to show that expertise. Likewise in their learning, if your child demonstrates interest in exploring certain topics, then pursue that learning with enthusiasm. Giving your child the opportunity to self-direct some of their learning will go a long way in creating buy-in for also completing work required by their teacher.

View yourself as a partner of your school.

Your child’s teachers miss them, long for them to return to the social experience of face-to-face learning with peers and want to be on your team. Our current education model was developed over many decades, and is now trying to reinvent itself in a matter of weeks. It will require a shared responsibility from teachers and parents as we all get our footing in our new learning environments. Education will figure out how to lead so that parents don’t feel like they are supposed to become their child’s teacher.

When things work well for your child, freely give that praise to their teachers. When things go sideways, offer feedback about what didn’t go well. Approach these discussions with the gracious understanding that you both have the common goal of meeting the needs of your child.

Schools are working to help families who don’t have the technology needed, are housing- or food-insecure, or don’t have caregivers that are available to assist with instruction during the day. They’re also working to meet the unique learning needs of students who receive special education services or 504 accommodations. Increasing communication with your school during this time will help ensure a plan is developed to meet your child’s individual needs.

Find a screen-time balance that works for your family. 

Right now, many schools are defaulting to screens because there are great learning resources available, and because we’ve never done this on such a large scale or undergone such rapid change before. But the reality is that the natural environment of a child’s life is ripe for learning.

Cooking is a good way to work on fractions, proportions, time management, volume and conversions. Bath time for younger kids can be a great time for thinking about cause and effect through the science of “sink or float” predictions with toys. Even watching movies can lead to opinion papers, justifying positions of thought, practicing summarizing and finding the main point.

For many families, their values around screen time and their ability to provide alternatives to screen time during shelter in place will play a major role in this decision. Ultimately, as we emerge from this crisis, our hope as teachers is that kids would return to resources such as real books, not ebooks, and the social experience of working shoulder to shoulder with classmates, not virtually through Canvas. For now, families need to give grace to themselves, set up a schedule they’re comfortable with and stick to it.

Our Seattle Children’s team of Washington-state-certified teachers is here for you. On our website you’ll find tips and tricks, print and video resources and links to reliable insights for caring for your family during this crisis. You can reach out to us directly through the website with your education questions and we will respond. We’re standing ready to support you as you endeavor to support your child’s learning.

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