As COVID-19 (coronavirus) spreads in the United States, some local authorities have temporarily closed schools to slow the rate of infection. It is likely that parents in the U.S. will see more school closures in coming weeks; a number of countries, including Italy and Japan, have already closed all schools for a month. The CDC has recommended that parents make arrangements for alternative childcare in case of school closures in their area.
Many parents are understandably worried about the possibility that their children may temporarily lose access to schools’ educational resources. As school districts explore ways to implement online learning in case of school closures, parents may wonder what these programs will be like, and how this shift in learning will impact them and their children.
As an organization that focuses on homeschooling, we have a number of recommendations for parents. In this article, we will offer evidence-based advice on how parents can help with the implementation of online learning in cases where school districts attempt such programs. We will also provide a list of suggestions for keeping your children active, learning, and engaged during either school closures or quarantines.
Some school districts have begun responding to the potential for school closures by making preparations to transition to online learning. If your child’s school closes, you should be prepared for the school to implement some form of online schooling in order to cut down on lost learning time. This switch will create special challenges for families without a caregiver at home or those without internet access. However, parents need to understand that online learning will also create challenges that affect all children, including those that are well positioned for online learning, with a caregiver at home and access to the internet.
In recent years, education researchers have expressed a growing skepticism of online schools. A 2019 study in Pennsylvania found that students who transferred from brick and mortar schools to online charter schools showed weaker growth than matched peers who remained in school. A 2019 study conducted by the National Education Policy Center found such concerning results for online schools that they recommended that policymakers “slow or stop the growth in the number of virtual and blended schools … until the reasons for their relatively poor performance have been identified and addressed,” although they did find that online schools run by school districts performed better than those run by outside entities.
These studies suggest that online learning is not an effective replacement for in-person interaction between students and teachers. If your child’s school closes and implements some form of online learning, you should not assume that a computer will be sufficient to make up the education your child was receiving in school. Instead, you should take an active role in your child’s online schoolwork and make an effort to foster their learning. This may include sitting at the computer with your child, answering their questions and providing examples, helping them stay on task, and providing enrichment activities. Children should not be left to complete their online coursework on their own and without guidance. Most children cannot successfully complete schoolwork online without the accountability and support parental involvement provides.
Caregivers who find themselves quarantined at home, or housebound due to school closures, have a variety of resources at their fingertips for keeping children engaged and learning.
Read aloud: When you stock up on groceries, make an extra stop at the library to stock up on books to read aloud to your children. Many libraries also have ebook or audiobook lending programs, so even if you can’t go to the library in person, you may be able to download books to read. Quite a few books for children and teens are also available to read for free online through various services.
Studies show that reading to your children is highly beneficial to their vocabulary development and reading comprehension. Children develop mature literacy skills through learning to make sense of language that is not about the here and now, so talking through key story elements with children is an essential component of reading aloud together.
Play games: Pull out some card games and board games with engaging components that foster learning, such as:
Some studies suggest that having indirect experiences with numbers in the motivating context of games may be beneficial to children’s mathematical development. Younger children may benefit from using dice games or playing cards to learn number names and simple operations, while older children and teens may appreciate logic and strategy games like chess and sudoku. Many games are available for free online, on loan at your local library, or at low cost at your local thrift store.
Do activities: When you hit the library, take a moment in the crafting and science sections of the children’s area; many science books include experiments and activities your children can do in the kitchen, and arts and crafts books may spark your child’s imagination. (If your library uses the Dewey decimal system, science books start at 500 and arts and crafts at 740.) A quick Google or YouTube search will also pull up plenty of kitchen science experiments and crafting ideas. Doing activities together contributes to family bonding, and hands-on projects often offer added benefits in science learning, engineering, exercising the imagination, and hand-eye coordination.
Get your children started journaling; create a daily art challenge; plan a scavenger hunt. If your children play instruments, ask them to put together a concert for you. Children also love to put on plays, especially when they have access to materials to use as costumes and scenery. Your children might also enjoy putting together a “museum” of their artwork. Pull out toy trains and cars, blocks, or Legos and work with your children to design a city (a simple project like this can turn into a unit on urban planning or civil engineering).
Keep them active: Kids have a lot of energy and need breaks from online learning, so get your kids playing outside. If you have a private outdoor area under quarantine, you can use sidewalk chalk, jump ropes, and playing catch or frisbee; kids can play indoors via dancing, Wii video games, or YouTube workout videos. YouTube also has dance videos and yoga tutorials for families. A family dance party or yoga session can be a great way to help your kids work out some physical energy. For example, check out this series of yoga adventure videos for children.
Facilitate friendships: Even if it is not advisable for your kids to meet their friends and classmates in person, they may find it difficult to be separated from their peers for an extended period of time. You can arrange phone calls or video hangouts for your children and their friends, or create a private Minecraft server so they can play online games together. You could even arrange online book clubs for older kids.
Online media: All caregivers need downtime! Fortunately, there are a number of TV series, YouTube channels, and online games that have educational aspects, such as: