National Post (Latest Edition)
Parents guide to at-home learning
The pandemic has turned lives upside down in so many ways, not the least of which are students. But they’re not the only ones having to change their ways. Parents have had to make their own adjustments in the new world of online learning.
“Certainly, in this pandemic parents have had to get used to the fact that students are in their homes,” says Michael Booth, principal, Blyth Academy Yorkville, Orbit, in Toronto. “Things that normally would be dealt with in classrooms and hallways are going to play out very differently if a parent is in the room.”
“There is much more demand on families that were not set up for this,” says Janyce Lastman, educational consultant and director, The Tutor Group in Toronto. Lastman has presented a number of podcasts and videos on helping families cope with online learning. Her recent video on Navigating COVID School is part of a series available through the Cangap website.
From the selection of equipment to daily routines, parents need to ensure students get the most out of their online education experience without getting in the way. The level of involvement changes with the child’s age and stage of education.
Birthday parties are a simple comparison Lastman likes to share. “When kids are five, parents typically stay for the party. As their kids get older the parent may stay for a few minutes and then pick them up later. By the age of 10 or 11, they usually drop them off and come back when it’s over.”
Translated into home schooling practices, she recommends that parents stay within close range for primary age children who might struggle with setups, sign-ins and other technology. “The littler ones need an adult’s presence to show them how things work. The parent needs be within visible range, so it’s best to sit beside or behind them, backing themselves out of the teaching process itself.”
When kids reach eight or nine years of age, they tend to act up a bit more online. In that case the parents and teachers need to find a way to communicate issues without direct interference, Lastman says. “You want to be out of the way, but not too far. We’ve gotten really good responses from teachers who have agreed to send coded text messages to parents if they need to step in.”
By high school, students don’t want to feel they are under inspection by their parents or even other students.
“The biggest challenge for teens is they don’t want to be on camera,” she explains. “They want to turn It off and not be seen. It’s up to the teacher at that point to enforce the rules just as they would in a classroom.”
A simple and easy way to stop them turning off their cameras is minimizing or turning off their own image on their own screen. “If you don’t let kids see themselves while in class, they’re much happier. That’s what’s distracting them.”
Parents also need to be mindful of their own activities during class time, whether it’s talking on the phone or preparing meals. “You would be shocked to know how many confidential calls are broadcast to an entire class because the child forgets to mute themselves,” Lastman says. “Even if you have to lock yourself in the bathroom or go to your car, you can relocate yourself easier than a child can.”
A good practice to instill in kids is replicating the physical school day as much as possible. “They should not be rolling out of bed and onto the screen. They should be up and ready in school mode. Have them go outside for a walk or ride and come back. Ideally, they should be wearing what they would in the classroom.”
Good Wi-fi (including boosters), large screens, headphones, comfortable seating and an ergonomically designed keyboard and mouse can also help improve the experience. “Lots of kids are using equipment that’s not meant for that kind of use. [Virtual learning] will be on and off for a while so it pays to invest in the right equipment,” Lastman says.
Last but not least, allow them to pace themselves, she says. “They may struggle because school doesn’t feel like it did before and they can’t get into the rhythm. They might need help with that.”
Peter Kearney, a grade 11 and 12 science teacher for Blyth Academy Yorkville, Orbit, stresses the importance of parents setting realistic expectations for themselves. “There will be days when students don’t achieve very much, but that’s very normal. Do your best to keep a positive aspect at home.”