• Natalie Fordwor

The children are home! Now what?

As an educator, my heart goes out to parents at this time. It’s stressful enough planning for extended holidays. I want to share a few suggestions to support parents as they navigate their sudden and temporary homeschooling experience as precautionary measures are being taken to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Create a mini classroom space somewhere in the house.

The dining table might work for getting homework done, but it won’t be very effective for an extended period. Select a section of the house that can act as a suitable work space for the children and set up some tables and chairs (plastic furniture will do), bean bags or cushions and a whiteboard. You can throw in a small noticeboard to display their work, timetables or instructions. The goal is to try to create a classroom experience without breaking the bank. We tend to associate different rooms with different habits, if the living room has been a place to lounge about, watch shows or have family discussions, it will be difficult to get the children to concentrate in that space. Having a designated learning area (no matter how makeshift it maybe) will help children concentrate.

Develop a weekly schedule and make it accessible.

Children do well with a routine. We all do. It is important to have some form of structure to the day. You don’t have to replicate the school’s timetable, but you can definitely use it to inform your decisions. Don’t pack too much into one day, and don’t make sessions extremely long either. It will be more effective if you print out a schedule or write it out on a board where the children can see it clearly. For the younger children, you can print out visual schedules. All children, regardless of age, will appreciate a colourful or engaging schedule. You can start editing a schedule here.

Some things to consider as you make your schedule:

  • Play time: Be intentional about including outside play. It’s easy for children to end up staying indoors all day.

  • Snack time and lunch time: For some reason, we all get more peckish at home. The children may be eating more than they would at school. That’s fine. You can include 2 snack sessions in the schedule; try and make one of them a healthy snack.

  • Screen time: Laptops or iPads may form an essential part of the homeschooling experience but make sure that children are not spending hours on end staring at the screen.

  • Reading time: This will be a great time to challenge the children to read more. Set their reading target higher. They should be reading every day.

  • Pyjama-free zone: There is just something about taking a shower and starting the day in new clothes. We tend to feel more relaxed and lazy around in our pyjamas.

Put the children in charge. Hold them accountable.

Get the children involved in the entire process. Assign them roles, involve them in learning decisions. With the schedule for example, you can have the children decorate a cardboard frame to support the printed timetable. You can also give them a highlighter to highlight sessions that have been completed. Another idea is to provide timers so the children can pace themselves. There are also ways you can get them excited about their learning area: they can name the space, create little name tags for themselves, and create some artwork for their learning space. If there are significant age gaps between the children, you can have the older siblings grade/mark some of the work. It is important that children get feedback on the work assigned. If you keep giving them work without checking it or praising them, you will have highly unmotivated children after a few days. Stickers and smiley faces go a long way. Stock up on some simple rewards.

Work closely with the school. Check your emails and respond.

Schools were not prepared for this pandemic, so please be patient with them. Most schools will be trying to think of creative ways to assign work or make sure children don’t fall behind, but it won’t be possible if parents don’t work closely with teachers or school management. Parents, you are the essential link at this time. Some schools have better technological infrastructure than others. Look out for emails from staff about using Google classroom, links to learning sites used by the school or worksheets.

At the start of the term, most schools provide a syllabus or curriculum guide for each class. If you are feeling lost on possible activities to give the children, you can look at specific topics in the curriculum guide to help narrow down your search. Another option is to look through your child’s termly report (depending on how detailed it is), or think back to a parent-teacher meeting, and recall any areas your child struggled with in particular; it could be division, time, comprehension. This time at home can be used to focus on that specific topic. It will be a great achievement, for you and your child, if something that once terrified them is considered easy by the time school is back in session.

Make the internet your ally. Bookstores too.

There is so much available on the internet, it can be overwhelming. While there is a huge number of free resources and websites it is important to think about the following:

  • For maths in particular, different schools have different methods of teaching. They may encourage mental math methods, use Singapore math techniques or the column method. It can get quite confusing for the children if they are introduced to different methods. Ask the school or teacher what method is used in class.

  • Keep in mind that some schools use the British curriculum while others may follow an American program. This will be important for things like spelling and the use of “year” instead of “grade”. Others may combine the GES curriculum with other programs. Once again, you can find out from the school.

  • It might be easier deciding on the topics you want the children to explore in a week and searching for those particular topics. This will help you focus on specific activities rather than hopping from one thing to the next and getting overwhelmed in the process.

Here are some free websites or links I find helpful:

In places like Ghana, we can’t always rely on the internet for more reasons than one. Bookstores have a good selection of activity books and answer booklets for different subjects and year groups. (Phew, you don’t have to pretend to know all the answers.) If you are in Accra, some places to consider are: Kingdom Books and Stationery, EPP Books Services, Blue Knights LTD and Vidya Bookstore.

Team up with other parents.

It might be helpful to have a group page where a small group of parents (friends) share resources with each other. If you find something relevant or discover something, share, and encourage your friends to do the same. There is usually one friend who is secretly an educator at heart and will have a stash of activities and tasks. The children might be motivated to do more if they find out that their friends or classmates are working too.

Be present. And creative.

This is a tough one! The children are home, but work may require you to come in for usual office hours. Sigh. While some jobs may permit some flexibility with time and location, others may not. Thankfully, technology can help us be present while we are away. Try video calling when there is some downtime at work, even if it is for five minutes. You can say things like, “Oh wow! You look like you have been working hard, can you show me what you have done so far? Did you remember to highlight things on our schedule? Is there anything you are struggling with that I can help with now?” Remember to sound encouraging and be ready to pour out praise. The children will love and appreciate the attention. Whether you are working from home or stuck at the office, this period will have you dig deep into your creative wells. Assign fun projects for the children. Give them some old boxes and ask them to create a solution to a problem in the world using the boxes. You can have family presentations in the evening where they explain their reasoning. Think outside the box and have fun doing it.

Remember to breathe.

If this helps, the children had a 2-week break coming up already, so technically, you only need to be a teacher or facilitator for 2 weeks, HOPEFULLY. If you need help, reach out, don’t try and be super-parent on your own. You can do this!

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