‘I worry about their learning’: Finding balance between parenting, education as crisis continues
English senior and parent of two Jackie Primeau is one of many who are now having to complete school or work duties from home alongside their children as a result of social distancing guidelines forced by the coronavirus pandemic.
“In some ways the transition has been easy,” she said. “I mean, we can rise at 8 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. We can do work in our PJs and relax. Everything is due by the end of the day, and there is some wiggle room for that, too.
“But, having (the children) home and checking on them nonstop is exhausting. I worry about their learning.”
While parents are adjusting to the new pace of life as their homes become makeshift offices and classrooms, UH education experts are offering their advice for guiding children’s learning from home, touching on everything from ensuring families are mentally prepared to get to work to offering ways to enrich children’s remote learning experiences.
Learn as you go
To begin to tackle the unique problems posed by learning during a pandemic, College of Education clinical assistant professor Carrie Cutler recommends approaching online learning with patience.
“Virtual learning has its own set of challenges like slow internet, jammed printers, and dozens of unique website passwords,” Cutler said in an email. “Schoolwork, especially math, may look and feel different from how you learned it.
“Try asking your child to explain a concept to you first,” she added, “and remember it’s OK to learn alongside your child. We’re all in this together.”
Keith Butcher, a clinical assistant professor in the College of Education, suggests parents take time to check on their children’s mental health as they make this transition.
“Make sure that everyone is OK,” he said in an email. “An overload of stress is not good for anyone.”
It’s important that parents support children’s positive mindsets, Cutler said, adding that by maintaining a healthy attitude, parents can help teach their kids that they can do hard things.
“When this crisis is over, children may not remember specific school lessons, but they are going to remember how they felt — if they were encouraged and cared for,” Cutler said via email. “Give yourself a hearty measure of grace.”
Make the world their classroom
Both experts also recommend parents use the time children now have at home to take advantage of opportunities to teach by experience. Cutler proposes parents encourage their children to learn around the house through cooking, reading aloud with family members or working on a project, such as a birdhouse.
Butcher suggests parents remember that teaching comes naturally to them; parents become teachers when their children are born, he said.
“Some great family learning can take place around preparing meals and normal home activities,” he said. “I know a dad who turned a flat tire on the family car into quite a learning event for his kids.
Tools for school
To continue their education remotely, students also need access to their assignments and a space to work.
For young children, it’s helpful to do schoolwork with their parents nearby in case they need help, Cutler said.
In her case, some of her younger children work at the kitchen table while she cooks or washes dishes, while her older children work at desks in their rooms, which she says encourages independence.
Primeau had to take extra steps to prepare her two children for remote learning by making sure they had their own laptops so they all would be able to do their course work simultaneously.
Her children, ages 11 and 14, work on their classes from bean bag chairs in a living room nook, while she completes her own studies from her room.
“We all have our own laptops, but I had to reach out to get two for my kids,” Primeau said. “So, utilize resources; ask for help.”
Organize the day
Setting a schedule is a helpful tool as well, Butcher and Cutler agree.
For parents with young kids, Cutler suggests taking time to help children with schoolwork in the morning when they’re mentally freshest.
Afterward, she said, kids can have time to relax and have fun while parents get to their own work before everyone meets again in the afternoon for a walk.
Butcher suggests parents create a manageable schedule of family learning activities around what the adults must get done and what is reasonable for the students to accomplish.
If possible, he said, parents should keep children connected to their school and classmates to decrease the feeling of isolation that comes with social distancing.
“From my own graduate students, I know that schools realize that families may be going through a lot right now and are using online programs like Zoom to bring students together online for short learning opportunities,” Butcher said. “I believe these will keep students connected to learning and progressing, while also keeping students connected to their classmates.”
Prioritize the possible
In her experience juggling her own online courses with her children’s, Primeau has had her hands full.
Part of managing her daily schedule is checking up on her children’s work across multiple online learning platforms, including Canvas, Seesaw, iStation, Education Galaxy and a handful of others that their classes used before the pandemic.
One of her own courses is now held as a discussion board; the other has switched to Zoom meetings. As she manages her studies, assists her children in learning and continues to go to her job as an essential worker, Primeau is grateful for her instructors’ understanding and UH’s new pass/fail policy.
“I am utilizing the pass/fail option,” she said. “My GPA is high right now, and I just cannot stress about my grades for the time being.
“I am doing what I can.”