Education from home
Tips and resources for parents
By Todd Harrison
Students and their families are facing a wide range of unique challenges as schools close down and move online. With that in mind, here are some resources that parents and guardians can use — organized according to four guiding principles — to support their children’s learning and help them manage the change in routine and loss of in-class resources.
1. Provide a structure, and create daily plans
Schools are highly structured places, and for good reason: students are set up for success when they can look ahead and see what they need to do. This same principle applies to learning at home, and can be achieved with a simple schedule that includes blocks of time for academics, creativity, rest, nourishment, and physical activity.
Take a few minutes at the start of each day (or even the night before) to sketch out a daily plan. Try to keep learning blocks relatively short — 30 minutes works well for most age groups — and inject other types of activities in between the academic time.
To keep electronic devices at bay during work periods, install a “lockout” app. Forest is a free app that locks a phone for up to two hours, and rewards the user by growing a virtual forest (which is also a useful way for parents to confirm that the phone stayed locked).
2. Scaffold and chunk learning materials
Taking on a new challenge can feel daunting to anyone. But when faced with unusual circumstances like a school shutdown in the face of a pandemic, a task as seemingly straightforward as a math worksheet can be overwhelming. Education professionals use a wide range of strategies to mitigate this concern, but two of the most-used — and easiest to implement — techniques are chunking and scaffolding.
Chunking is, simply, the breaking up of a larger task into smaller, bite-sized pieces, and delivering them one step at a time. The popular and highly acclaimed online learning portal Khan Academy does this very well, and their video-based approach to instruction means that students can pause and rewind as often as they like until they understand what they need to do.
Scaffolding in education is just like the construction industry: it’s scalable support that can be added to or removed as needed. Students who need help with reading, for example, can use audiobooks — available online through many public libraries, as well as via free projects like LibriVox.
These two principles also work well together. To practice multiplication tables or addition, play Math Snap: remove the face cards and aces from a standard deck, and flip the remaining cards over two at a time to create instant math problems. Students self-chunk this activity by revealing each problem themselves, when they’re ready. And Math Snap can be further chunked and scaffolded by removing the higher number cards, and providing options for measuring success: students can time themselves and set personal bests, or go head-to-head with a family member.
3. Mind(fullness) over matter
During this period of flux and uncertainty, helping students cope with anxiety and stress is critical. The well-known mindfulness app Headspace is providing a free toolkit called “Weathering the Storm,” which includes meditations, multi-session courses, de-escalation resources to help alleviate panic, and more.
Of course, you don’t need technology to be mindful. One quick and highly effective re-centering technique, which can be done anywhere, anytime, is Take Five. Here’s how it works:
- Hold one hand out in front of you (or rest it on your knee), with fingers spread.
- With the index finger of your other hand, slowly trace from your wrist to the end of your thumb. Breathe in deeply through your nose as you do this.
- Pause, then trace back down your thumb, breathing out.
- Repeat for your other fingers.
4. Fight fear with facts
Information overload is a perfect storm for intrusive thoughts, and the best defense is truth. Local public health representatives across North America have been doing a tremendous job in this regard, and organizations like Unicef have produced resources to help parents talk to their children about COVID-19.
Future Design School is making available free educational resources for parents to leverage with kids during this global crisis. Get on the list to be first to receive online access:
Todd Harrison is an Education Lead at Future Design School, and a former high school teacher in Toronto.