Four weeks into our first full virtual school year, I bring you a bevy of home learning strategies in this week’s blog. To be clear, our district has said they will reevaluate in November, but I harbor no expectation that my kids will go back to in person school until Fall 2021.
Part 1 of this series will detail what virtual school looks like for us, Part 2 will cover the living strategies we are employing.
Part 1 LEARNING
Lani’s kids’ schedule now that virtual school has started
Do you remember the sample virtual school schedule I offered up in August’s blog, Organize Your Time & Space for Home School Fall 2020: Part 2? I detailed what I thought a day in the life would be like for my kids and me. I will get into my work schedule more next week, but as far as the kids’ schedule goes, I bring you good news!
Max’s teacher, bless her heart, has the kids engaged in synchronous learning the majority of the day. James’ teacher has the kids engaged for an age-appropriate amount of time, and after an initial Zoom rebellion, things are going well. And thankfully, my wish has come true. The regular school hours have put us back on track to a consistent daily schedule after the summer. The biggest issue we have is that James is on and off Zoom so much that I’ve had to employ outside means to make sure I get him back to class on time. See below for my absolute most important (and already owned!) tool to make virtual school work.
The Most Important Tool of All
Can you even? I have five school timers set on my iPhone. Some of these timers are only for certain weekdays. All of them are for a minute or two before James has to be back in class on Zoom. This gives me enough time to tell him to stop what he is doing and log back on.
One of the most important things we have figured out is what the kids should be doing during their different school breaks. Some breaks are better for certain activities than others. A quick break is not good for homework or even particular games, because the kid feels you are telling them to switch tasks constantly. James is supposed to do his math homework after math, but the time is too short for him to transition. Instead, I let him do his math homework when he has a longer break in the morning.
The biggest thing I have done to foster the kids’ independence is to set up their desks with everything they need. Their school boxes (see the blog Organize Your Time & Space for Home School Fall 2020: Part 1 for more details) are everything. I am constantly reorganizing and checking them to make sure nothing has migrated. Does James (6) still frantically call me for things that are in his box or on his desk? Yes, of course. But if the answer is always, “It is in your box,” I am hoping he will start trusting the process.
Another amazing resource I recently discovered is Learn in Color, a homeschooling resource with both digital and printed guides for kids. Samantha Shank, the owner, was a homeschool kid herself who started the business when she was only 14! She was nice enough to send me a few items for review, including the amazing Language Arts guide above. What I love is that the answer to any question Max (8) could ask me about grammar is in this book. It even covers sentence diagramming! I am off the hook (which is good because I could not remember how to diagram a sentence to save my life), Max learns self-reliance, and there is no internet search involved. Learn in Color has a lot of free resources as well as movie guides, cheat sheets in multiple subjects, The Ultimate K-2 Tool Kit (so fabulous!), and a blog. I suggest you check out their full offerings.
A recent snack tray I put together for the kids’ “help yourself” lunch
There are days that I need the kids to have an independent lunch. Sometimes the teachers are nice enough to facilitate “lunch bunches,” where the kids can stay on Zoom and socialize with each other. Other days they are playing or doing homework while I am busy prepping dinner. Putting out a snack tray with a bunch of different items lets them pick what they want and go back and forth to the table without my constant monitoring.
Max in his dedicated work space.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve read about kids and homework is to help your child find their best time to do homework. Max used to take 30 minutes to run off steam in the after school program (at school), then would get sent to the “homework room” to finish his work before playing more. I never had to deal with it, which was glorious. Virtual school in the spring was essentially all homework with its asynchronous learning. This was as tough for us as it was for everyone else.
This semester I am working with Max to help him realize that the more work he does during the small breaks meant for independent work during the day, the easier his life will be later. That said, I send him out to play as soon as school is over, no matter how much work he has. Making him do more work at 3:15pm will only result in grief for both of us. Letting him run around for a few hours, then do more work after dinner or when he wakes up two hours before school starts, is a much better use of his time and energy.
James’ Friday Folder, my secret weapon to keep his homework organized
James was in Kindergarten last year, so homework is new to him. He has not taken well to the concept! On Sunday night, I print out all of his worksheets (Max’s class doesn’t use printed worksheets thankfully!), and put them on the right side of his Friday Folder, which is labeled Keep at Home. As he finishes his homework during the week, we put the finished worksheets on the left side, labeled Return to School. This beat-up blue folder is the secret to my sanity, and it is recycled from his Kindergarten class last year!
Friday night I grab the finished worksheets in the folder and “hand them in” through the Canvas app their school is using. It could not be an easier process. Hint to parents with multiple kids: have each kid logged into a different device so that you can hand in their homework and check their classroom websites without signing back in and out all the time. I have one kid logged into my iPad and the other into my iPhone, but you could just as easily do it with either parent’s cell phone.
Max and James climbing a tree on the first day of school
The best thing we have done for our family’s functionality this school year is to get a babysitter to take the kids out most days of the week for at least two hours of outside play time. The one day the babysitter is not available, I take them out myself. They come back ridiculously dirty, reminding me that they are getting more of an opportunity now to be regular children than they did before quarantine life. We have found spots that are not crowded, but allow them to see a few of their close friends socially distanced. Giving the kids the social connections and regular exercise they were missing for so long has benefitted them greatly.
What we are going to do when it starts to get dark at 4:30pm, I don’t know. I’ll take any suggestions in the comments section below!
No, I have not yet read The Art of Screen Time by Anya Kamenetz. I do own it and intend to read it this year, if only to better explain to my kids how they are frying their brains. Like others, our family’s screen time limits changed drastically with quarantine life. At the beginning there were so many hours to fill, I had work to do, and the kids were sad they couldn’t see their friends. Then there was no camp. And all of a sudden, my kids thought that 90 minutes of daily screen time had become a born right. Mind you, these same children rarely saw screen time during the week before the pandemic.
Last week, sick of the whining about screen time, I spontaneously sat the kids down after dinner and laid down the law. I explained that between the amount of screen time they were getting during virtual school, homework, outside time, play time at home, meals, and reading actual books, there was no longer room for extra screen time in their day. And you know what happened? Nothing!
Well, James was assigned to write about an emotion for school. He wrote that he was “disappointed” when his mom told him he could not have any more screen time during the week. Of course even the term “screen time” is fuzzy these days because school is on a screen and they use apps from school to do their math homework, read books, and watch educational videos. However, the non-educational TV expectations are clear now, and the whining has curtailed greatly.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. I let my kids wear whatever they want. Yes, even if it isn’t weather appropriate. I will let them know if something doesn’t match or I think they will be too cold or hot. After that, I am done. They can learn their own lessons. I believe in clothing as a tool to express creativity and identity in children as well as adults. Far be it from me to stifle that in my children. And in the middle of a pandemic, I hope we have better things to do than worry about whether or not our children’s outfits match. The only time I put my foot down is on a holiday. But because I do so only when necessary, not only do they respect my wishes, they ask me to pick out their outfits sometimes!
Do you let your kids wear whatever they want? What is your favorite learning tool for virtual school? Let me know in the comments below!
Lani Inlander is a personal stylist who has been helping busy women wear their power for over 20 years. You can find her in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Learn how you can train with Lani and Kyle to become a personal stylist at The Stylist Studio.
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