How and Why Home Can Supplement School

Four children take a break from school by playing together outdoors

First, 8-year-old Emma changed her name to “Kitty” in the midst of a Zoom session. Another time, she tried to make her classmates laugh by showing them her bare foot. Fiddling with a glue bottle while her teacher was talking was apparently the last straw.

“We just want it to be a successful year for everyone,” the teacher said in a phone call home. The words she spoke were soothing, but her tone said otherwise. “You could hear she was upset,” recalls Emma’s mom, who herself was assigned homework. The teacher told her to clear off Emma’s desk so there’d be no further distractions.

All that in the first week of school for a kid who used her small summer allowance to pay for a math game subscription.

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Last spring’s rush to online learning was understandably rife with problems. “For most, remote teaching did not work well,” contends David McKinnon, Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior at Stony Brook University in a presentation by Children and Screens. “Kids gained little or nothing, or regressed.” This time, schools have had more time to prepare. Still, he says, “creating a good remote learning program is a very challenging task.”

Teachers will try their hardest to give students opportunities for higher-level reasoning and independent thought along with the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. What may be lost for kids are the intangibles, like being able to express their feelings, move around, and build life skills. Supplementing those at home will go a long way toward keeping kids’ spirits up and their love of learning alive.

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The Case for Outdoor School During and After COVID

Girl in outdoor classroom looking joyful

“Ahhh!”, the boy exclaimed as he plopped onto the worn wooden bench. “I’m so relaxed!” The other kids on our short walk felt the same way. We had followed a trail away from school to a small park that usually sits unnoticed and unused. But there, just steps from the school building, the kids smiled more easily and really listened as we stopped to notice the sounds of nature all around us.

Helping kids feel better in mind and body is not the only reason a Green Schoolyards movement is sweeping the U.S. The main idea—especially during the time of COVID-19—is to create more usable space at school rather than to cut back on the time students spend there.  

Schools weren’t built to keep learners six feet apart. In fact, most schools can only accommodate 60% of students safely spaced within the school building, according to the National Council on School Facilities and Cooperative Strategies.

But what about on school grounds? Not just playgrounds, but the space out front, out back, and along each side. Many schools have public parkland directly adjacent.

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12 Durable Tips for Better Distance Learning

Girl doing math on laptop

After a crushing disappointment, it became almost a miracle.

The broadcast journalism grad students from Syracuse University were supposed to spend the summer of 2020 in Washington, D.C. With media credentials dangling from their necks, they’d chase down interviews and comingle in our pop-up newsroom like network correspondents. Then, as for countless other students, their dreams were dashed. Because of the pandemic, the program would be all online.

But they rose to the challenge. Students pitched stories on Slack, did interviews on Zoom, and wrote scripts in Google Docs. We on the faculty fine-tuned the video and audio of their news reports with the powerful Frame.IO. We got the job done.  

Although I’ve been wary of digital fixes in the past, I’m the first to admit: our program was saved by technology.

As the world heads into the first full school year of the pandemic, digital teaching tools will be crucial, especially since more than half of U.S. K through 12 schools expect not to return to a physical classroom. “We have to demand that the internet is a public utility and that it is installed for families that don’t have access,” says Merrie Najimy, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

Yet, last spring’s quick switch to online learning has largely been deemed a failure—and kids are still feeling the pain. Pediatricians across the U.S. report an unprecedented number of patients with anxiety and depression borne by disrupted school and home routines.  

So what’s a parent to do?

Luckily, we’ve learned from our mistakes. Based on the hard won experience served up on Zoom by boots-on-the-ground parents and education experts, here are 12 ways parents can help their kids do school better:

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Relationship Book Answers Pandemic SOS

Family of two parents and two kids confront large icesicles

When the coronavirus shuttered the world, couples and families froze in place. For some, it was an unexpected opportunity to reconnect. Others felt trapped, especially those already in distress and thinking of splitting up. To help them, relationships experts from around the world rushed to create Living Together, Separating, and Divorcing: Surviving a Pandemic.

American family mediator Michael Lang and Irish book publisher Peter Nicholson wanted to “help families strained by forced confinement and shoved suddenly into reconfiguring their lives by the impact of COVID-19,” says Lang. So he put out the call. “It took about twenty minutes after he sent out a few emails before we got our answer,” according to Nicholson. “Leading mediators and related professionals stepped up to the challenge.”

After more than seventy experts quickly submitted their gratis advice, the book was compiled and published in only three weeks. The e-book is priced at $1.99, the lowest cost allowed by Amazon.

Cover and open book Living Together, Separating, and Divorcing: Surviving a Pandemic

Start with Yourself

Coping with the crisis begins with you. Above all, writes U.S. psychologist and mediator Arnie Sheinvold, “treat yourself kindly.”

To keep your mind, body, and relationships durable, you need the basics of good nutrition, physical activity, and solid sleep. “By taking care of your own needs, you can ensure that you are in the best possible place to take care of your family during this emotional time,” says U.K. parenting advisor and author, Sue Atkins.

Keep tabs, also, on your thoughts and actions. While you may not be able to control what’s happening around you, you can manage your own response. “Don’t be reactive,” writes U.S. psychologist and mediator, Arnie Sheinvold. If you take a breath and remain calm, it’s more likely the family ship won’t capsize in stormy seas.  

Canadian family mediator Mary-Anne Popescu finds inspiration from a refrigerator magnet with the words “Conflict is inevitable. Combat is optional.”

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