I am just emerging from two weeks on my back, racked with fever, headaches, and all the symptoms of COVID-19. I’ll be honest. I underestimated COVID. As a very fit 48-year-old, I thought I could handle it, and I guess I did. But just barely. After three long weeks, I am not close to fully recovered.
COVID and Your Child’s School
Let’s be clear. During COVID, traditional school no longer makes sense. Surviving COVID has caused me to question the logic of “traditional school,” especially if:
- You or your child have any existing health challenges (I was in great shape, but COVID beat me like a drum).
- You regularly interact with grandparents, older neighbors, or friends.
- You care about the considerable risks posed to teachers and staff at your child’s school. (Teachers will be uniquely at risk this fall).
Let’s face it, in the best of circumstances, your child’s school is a petri dish. Regardless of how often door handles are sterilized and how much social distancing is encouraged, schools are COVID’s perfect environment. And the risk of transmission to students is not the real concern. The real threat of transmission is to their teachers, their families, neighbors, and friends. As near as I can tell, my daughter gave COVID to me. She had no symptoms, and unknowingly passed it along. This is what awaits parents next fall: asymptomatic kids passing along COVID to adults.
For many of you, this poses a risk that is simply too high. So, for you, for me, for all of us, it’s time to lean into homeschooling. And for those of you who are reluctant, I hate to break it to you, but you don’t have a choice.
You will Homeschool this year
Homeschool has already been decided for most parents. Your school is finalizing plans that will require you to homeschool at the first sign of an outbreak at the school. (And there will be an outbreak. See the petri dish remark above.)
Just like in March, schools will shift the educational burden to you. Some districts are even planning to START school with parents homeschooling three days a week to facilitate social distancing. So, embrace the new reality: You are a homeschooler.
Once you accept your new title, the only questions are, in what manner you will homeschool, and whether you or the school will set the terms. And, with these questions lie the educational life or death of your child.
The Educational Model You Must Avoid
I’ve homeschooled off and on for 15 years, and what I saw last spring was, by all accounts, mayhem. But this wasn’t because of the mad scramble schools went through to adjust to COVID. The chaos was because schools were setting the terms of homeschooling. They took their current broken model and superimposed it on the home. I can think of no worse educational model than that.
If you do not set the terms of schooling at home this year, your child will have the same heavy emphasis on standardized testing, the same inflexible curriculum, the same overemphasis on grades, the same underemphasis on building a culture of learning, creativity, or intellectual curiosity in your child. This is not “Homeschooling.” It is “FrankenSchooling.” And more is coming.
“FrankenSchool” happens when schools take the worst parts of 20th-century education and force-fits them together in a homeschool setting. Despite the reality of COVID and the genuine health risks to kids, teachers, and families, schools seem committed to using wires, glue, tape, bolts, and screws necessary to open school… FrankenSchool or traditional.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Last spring was an all-hands on deck moment, and I don’t mean to criticize the effort. But I do intend to criticize the plans that are slowly being announced for the fall. At the first sign of COVID outbreak, schools intend to send kids home to learn in FrankenSchool. In order to facilitate social distancing, some districts intend to START school with kids on campus for two days a week and at home for the other three. If homeschooling is a clear expectation now, let’s re-think how this could proceed.
It is time to reimagine your child’s education. Done right, your child will grow in their curiosity, and, in time, you’ll also see improvements in your child’s relationships, attitude, and ability to direct their learning. These are not small benefits. COVID has given us all an excuse to reimagine what school could be, what school SHOULD be.
How do we Get There
Since May, I have been speaking with hundreds of parents and experimenting with a completely new homeschool model. (In fact, I don’t use the word “homeschool” because it reminds me too much of FrankenSchool.) Instead, I use the term “home learning.” This summer has been the transition for many. If you’d like to learn more, please join Saturday’s webinar, where we’ll discuss transitioning to home learning.
Two Parent Groups and Student Motivation
First, we must recognize that each parent has specific needs, based on two primary categories: 1) the age of their child and 2) their time flexibility. (There is a third category based on a parent’s level of confidence in their ability to lead their child’s learning. That will be covered in another post.) We must also consider how to re-engage children in their own learning. Let’s discuss each one below.
Parents with Young Children
Generally speaking, the younger the child, the more individual support they will need for their learning. However, most parents imagine homeschooling (home learning) as a seven-hour series of lessons, activities, and projects that must keep the child’s attention all day long. Let me debunk that myth now.
NO student needs that level of management. Of course, for safety reasons, a young child needs to be monitored throughout the day. However, there is no reason a child’s day needs to be managed like they are in a school. Remember, schools have 20 – 30 kids in a classroom. If students are not heavily regulated, they will tear the school apart like a pack of wild dogs.
But home is an entirely different environment and, as a result, far less minute-by-minute-management is required. For a young child, daily academic progress is essential, but it should come in small increments. Each hour, a young child should spend 10 minutes working on reading or math. This will require one-on-one time. The rest of the hour, however, the child can be involved in “free play” where the child decides how they will use their time with limits placed on them by their parent. An example of a “limit” could be as follows:
- No screens during free play
- All toys must be put away before starting a new activity
- 15 minutes of each hour must be spent with a book
Once a schedule like the above is created, it will take about a week for your child to get with the program. During that week, however, the parent’s job will be to continually train the child on how to manage themselves.
The above structure requires parental attention and student focus during 10-15 minutes of each hour. If you have the flexibility to provide this type of regular but limited care, home learning is possible. If you don’t, keep reading.
Parents with Elementary and Older Children
For kids who are age eight or older, they are generally mature enough to learn at home without any traditional school interaction. That’s right; these kids are ready for full-time home learning. But again, let me debunk what home learning looks like.
Once a child can read the basics, an entire world of online learning opportunities open to the child. Most of these opportunities are free — or less than $10/month — and most have structures that can monitor the child’s learning remotely. In other words, the parent does not have to look over the child’s shoulder. The parent simply needs to confirm that the lessons were completed to a standard.
I know of one parent who assigned her 7-year-old child a daily reading assignment online. The online system tracked the time the child spent reading and required that the child complete a simple, five-question test at the end of each assignment. This test confirmed whether the child understood the material.
Because the reading assignments were tailored to the child’s actual reading level, a poor test result usually meant that the child was not paying attention during the reading. So, before dinner each night, the child’s mother reviewed his online report. If the child did not complete the text, the child was told that dinner would wait until he had completed his assignment. If the child scored less than 80% on the test, the parent would ask the child to immediately re-read the assignment out loud and retake the test.
Within a week, the child realized that his mother was serious about making sure that he read consistently. Not surprisingly, his consistency of completion increased as did his level of focus when it came time to read. She did not tell her son WHEN he must read. She left that decision to him. But she did require THAT he read and, on this expectation, she was unwilling to budge.
The child’s reading consistency skyrocketed, and, over time, the parent increased the reading expectations while replicating this same approach with his online math. He went on to excel in both subjects.
This is an example of how a parent can use technology to extend learning without the parent needing to stand over the child’s shoulder to make sure it gets done. This is home learning in the 21st century.
Parental Time Flexibility
The more significant challenge many parents face is one of flexibility. Parents who work out of the home, or parents who are unable to adjust their remote working, find it hard — if not impossible — to consider home learning.
But, all is not lost. Re-read the above section as I described the new possibilities of home learning. Ask yourself, is there anyone in your network who could help you create a home learning structure for your child. You may find is that there are friends, neighbors, classmate’s parents, or relatives who may be willing to help.
I know a parent whose mother was a retired postal worker. When the mother expressed a desire to educate her kids at home, she asked her mother (the child’s grandparent) to help. Initially, the grandparent was hesitant. She imagined “homeschool” as the 7-hour marathon that takes place in traditional school. The mother wisely reframed the expectations of home learning, which seemed more agreeable to the grandparent. Additionally, the mother proposed to test home learning over the summer months. During this time, mother, grandparent, and kids developed a rhythm and a structure that worked for them. Over time, they felt that this model was far more healthy to the family and supported the relationship between grandkids and grandparent. The children also saw immediate growth in their academic abilities because there was much more individualized attention provided through online programs, grandparent oversight, and parental monitoring.
So time flexibility is not always the barrier that it may seem. It can be a challenge to set up but most find that the benefits are worth the effort.
Below is a simple, three-step process we’ve been following over the last two months. The strategy hinges on student engagement.
In education, student engagement refers to the level of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that your child shows when learning. The higher the engagement, the higher their motivation to learn.
Here’s a test. Ask your child, “What are they curious about?” I’ll bet you $1 that your child will not mention a single subject they are covering in school. I’ll bet you a second $1 that your child has never been asked this question in an educational context. This is because school, FrankenSchool, or traditional, does not care what your child’s interests are. State bureaucrats dictate School-based learning goals.
The 21st century requires that your child sees himself as a life-long learner. This identity begins now and will be central to your child’s long-term college and work prospects. Colleges are increasingly ignoring standardized tests like the SAT and, instead, trying to ascertain if the applicant is truly skilled, passionate, and able to learn independently. And businesses realize that they need “problem solvers” more than they need “workers.” From this point forward, the disruption will be the only constant in the workforce. Your role as a parent is to help ready your child for this new environment.
Step 1 to ReEngagement
I began by asking my kids to make a list of all the things they are curious about. This was hard for them initially, but once they got started, they enjoyed imagining areas for which they never were able to dedicate time. The kids are encouraged to add to the list as the spirit moves.
They listed several surprises like videography, photography, music (guitar and voice), baking, building leadership skills, acting, ending homelessness, and improving marine ecosystems, among others. This is a great list, and it’s growing all the time!
Step 2 to ReEngagement
I then asked them to pick their two highest interest areas. For one child, that was baking and sewing. For another, it was videography and swimming. We then built a schedule that included doing something in each of these areas every single day—seven days per week. We set an initial goal of “30-30” (30 minutes per day for 30 days) at the end of which we agreed to reevaluate and/or chose another area to learn. This was their “curriculum,” and it was based entirely on their interests.
Step 3 to ReEngagement
I then asked them to create a “Habit Tracking” form that keeps track of their daily progress in each of the areas. This tool is an important visual for the kids to see their daily progress.
But here’s where something interesting happened. As they began to see how much unprogrammed time they had each day, I began to ask what else should be included in their learning. To my surprise, they were happy to add activities like math and reading to their day. Because they had more freedom to pursue their own interests, they were more understanding about adding important subjects that were not in their top choice. So, we added daily math and reading goals to their Habit Tracking form. Wow!
Step 4 to ReEngagement
We then set up a regular check-in time. Initially, it was every three days but has now become weekly. I ask them if they are following through on their agreements and, if not, how they plan to adjust. Again, they have shown a surprising willingness to adjust without my brow-beating or yelling. In fact, one child abandoned one of the areas she selected because she realized that she “wasn’t as interested as she thought.” She then picked another area, and we began the process again.
My kids have begun adding classes on Skillshare.com and Brilliant.com. They began incorporating music classes using Yousician.com and have hired a Spanish tutor from Panama ($10/hr) in addition to the free Duolingo.com lessons.
They are building their own educational pathways, and I am facilitating their journey. This is what engaged students look like… and I love it! So do they.
Off to the Races
So that’s it. COVID should call all of us to seriously consider throwing out the rulebook and to exploring more deeply what home learning could be. Honestly, it’s difficult letting my children decide how they want to learn, but over the last six weeks, I’ve seen a change in my kids that caused me to see the long-term benefits of doing so. And the summer months are the perfect time to experiment without the stress of FrankenSchool breathing down your neck.
Lastly, none of the above is easy. There are risks to staying in traditional school, just as there are risks of doing something different. But everything I’m describing begins with a belief about the capabilities of your child. If you believe that your child is naturally curious, then help them tap into that curiosity by exploring a new educational model. If you think that your child is naturally lazy, then embrace the traditional school where they will be told what to learn. But, be warned, COVID will bring FrankenSchool to your home. And, when he shows up, I’d recommend that you not open the door.