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Homeschooling Guidance During the Pandemic

First (and most importantly) don’t worry, there’s an opportunity here for some of the best learning your child will experience. Second, remember it’s more important to pay attention to the kinds of experiences your children are having - and to create opportunities for different kinds of thinking - than to try to replicate school curriculum.

If you’re panicking about your child being left behind or missing out on something they need to learn for the next grade, I’m giving you permission to stop.

Learning progressions in kindergarten through Grade 9 are less linear and sequential than most people believe. If you’re worried that missing a piece of Grade 3 science will make it impossible to understand science in Grade 4, for example, or that missing a few weeks of Grade 6 math will undermine their junior high school, experience, it won’t. I promise. Breathe.

Children are resilient, and learning is their default state. You know your child better than anyone in the world and together, you are going to make this work.

Unlike in typical classroom communities, you have the ability to follow your child’s pace, answer their questions, follow their interests, and indulge their passions. If you are caring for children in more than one grade, even better; diversity strengthens learning.

As you start to sketch out a plan, consider this: It’s more important to pay attention to the kinds of thinking your children have rather than the subjects they are studying in school.

Don’t go out and buy Canadian Curriculum workbooks or Scholastic kits or sign up for Cool Math Games. In my opinion, these are considered the ‘fast-food’ of the educational experience - generic, low-quality consumables that will have no positive lasting impact on your child’s growth and development.

Think of it like you would if you were using the Canada Food Guide to plan meals - you’ll want a wide range of thinking activities, recognizing that some are better for learning than others.

Some of the experiences you plan with your child should involve creative, generative, and divergent thinking; some should be more contemplative or reflective. Some experiences should involve experimentation; some should involve planning and problem-solving, and some should be sensory or playful.

Here are a few examples of types of learning/thinking experiences it would be useful to create at home:

Apprenticeship - Teach your child something you do well. (Can you do a French manicure? Change a tire? Shoot a three-pointer?) This is all about learning how to learn - learning what to pay attention to, how to refine technique, and taking pride in a job well done.

Place-based learning - Choose an outside space you will visit often; commit to spending long stretches of unhurried time there. This kind of thinking is about observation and reflection - noticing small changes, considering relationships, and feeling connected to the world beyond oneself.

Building/making/creating - A good chunk of each day should involve hands-on creation. Vary the materials - it could be Lego one day, but experiment with shaving cream, blankets, and bungee cords… even mashed potatoes! This kind of thinking is bodily, experimental, expressive, and problem-based.

Practicing - Spend some time each day using school skills your child has already developed - gathering information from books, drawing and writing a journal, telling stories, playing with numbers, etc. This kind of thinking is about revisiting the familiar and trying it out in new contexts.

Memorizing - Set aside a few minutes each day to memorize a line of a poem, a couple of bird calls, a portion of a speech, or the words to a song. Build on it each day. This kind of thinking is about hanging on to something beautiful - making a connection that lasts.

Contributing - Children belong to the world, and the world to them. They will be as interested in solving the problems we encounter as any adult. Engage them in finding ways they can make a difference. This kind of thinking is about empathizing, problem-solving, strategizing, planning, and generally being part of their communities and the greater good.

Most teachers are still sorting out how to navigate this brave new world (we love you, teachers!). If you are working with materials your child’s teacher has provided, here are some basic tips to help you both get the most out of the experience:

  • If you are caring for more than one child, engage them both with each other’s work. Learning with and from each other is important, and gaps in age or experience are often assets, not liabilities. 

  • Do more asking than telling. Ask about what they’ve learned before, what experiences they’ve had that seem connected, and what ideas they have about the work they’re doing. Open-ended questions like, “What are you thinking?” and “Can you tell me more about that?” often elicit the kind of information that will help you figure out how to move forward. 

  • If the invitation is there, help your child share their work with their teacher often. Depending on the digital platform available (D2L, Iris, Google), students can typically post samples, photos, or videos of their learning. This way, their teacher can stay in touch with their progress and can give valuable feedback.

For now, we are just getting organized for learning. Start by creating routines and rituals. They offer a sense of safety, security, and predictability, which we all need in order to learn.

Create a schedule with your child, including a week at a glance and specific plans for each day. Make note of the kinds of activities you plan to do and give an approximate timeframe. Use the schedule as a point of reference as you work so that kids know what to expect and can see what they have accomplished.

Kids learn all day, regardless of whether they’re being taught. It’s not necessary to attempt to create a six-hour learning day - a couple of hours in the morning, an hour in the evening, and a balance of other activities throughout the day is more than enough.

So, what should your children learn?

I’m happy to tell you that there is no master list. The answer to this question is a world of possibilities. The best place to start is with asking your kids. For some people, the closure of schools is simply the casting open of doors to the joyful abundance of the great beyond. For others, figuring out how to navigate a world of possibilities is completely overwhelming.

To help with that, I’m offering one way of thinking about learning. Like all curriculum, it is nothing more than mapping out a plan that is meaningful at this time, in this place, with these people - not universally right or true, but a possibility that draws on the strengths of our current situation.

My suggestion is that you organize around activities that involve different kinds of thinking. For example:

  • Apprenticeship
  • Place-based learning
  • Building/making/creating
  • Practicing
  • Memorizing 

Here are a few kinds of learning/thinking experiences:

Experimenting - Test things out. Experimenting can be playful and exploratory, or highly structed and systematic. This kind of thinking is about trying to figure out how the world works, noticing cause and effect relationships, making predictions, and playing with constraints.

Personal challenges - How fun would it be to set a personal challenge each week and then try and beat your daily record each day? Anything from how many stairs you can step in one minute to how many crackers you can balance on your elbow… this kind of thinking is about trying something out, making small adjustments, and seeing incremental growth.

Storytelling - Our original and most powerful learning system. Take turns telling personal stories, stories that have been handed down through generations, or invented stories. This kind of thinking is about identity, humanity, history, belonging, purpose, and place.

Sensory/exploratory - Spend time with mud and puddles and sticks and rocks (yes, even the teens). Take things apart. Look at things closely. This kind of thinking is about the ways your body knows the world.

Broadening horizons - We have unprecedented access to the world’s art, museums, literature, music, experts, and more. Spend some time seeing the world on Google Earth, drawing along with Mo Willems, visiting the Museum of Modern Art, or learning another language. This kind of thinking is about awe and wonder. It is about recognizing the beauty that the world has to offer.

Inquiring - What does your child really want to learn? What questions keep them up at night? Giant squid? Prime numbers? Pandemics. Reach out to experts. Share what you learn. Add something to this field of knowledge. This kind of thinking is about curiosity, questioning, navigating information, and contributing to the ongoing human conversation.

Now, let’s look at how you and your kids might organize the week. What are the priorities? What are the competing demands? Carve out a couple of hours a day. Break them into smaller chunks depending on the kind of kids you’re working with and the kind of learning you’re doing.

Start by putting in the ‘staples.’ Using the Canada Food Guide metaphor, these would be the go-to meals with ingredients you already have on hand. At least 30 minutes a day will probably be staples.

Staples might be thing like:

Reading together. Children should read to adults and adults to kids all the way from kindergarten to Grade 12. The degree of difficulty doesn’t matter. Share the words. Look at the pictures. Talk about the ideas.

Working around the house. Learning to cook, meal planning, home repair, yard work, managing schedules and budgets - these are all good examples learning. Model how to do some, explain how to do some, and also let your kids figure some out on their own.

Playing games. Cards, dice, puzzles, and old standbys like Monopoly are great.

Physical activity. A combination of indoor and outdoor, solo and with others, game-based and non-game-based.

Next, put in some big pieces. Interesting experiences that will take a longer time. Choose from a few different kinds of thinking activities.

Last, fill in the little spaces with shorter or smaller activities - mini challenges, short period of practice, etc.

Using the kinds of thinking activities suggested, a week of learning might look like something like this:

Day one:

  • Read together and a weekly challenge
  • Take a Google street view walk; abandoned places
  • Yoga
  • Choose a Shel Silverstein poem to memorize; practice two lines

Day two:

  • Yoga
  • Scope out the neighborhood from a sit spot; start to get comfortable being still and noticing
  • Poem practice

Day three:

  • Stick boats in snowmelt streams

Day four:

  • Go back to look up more questions about abandoned places
  • Poem practice

Day five:

  • Drawing abandoned places - using charcoal or pastels on cardboard
  • Figure out how to make doughnuts

The point of this example is that it’s not complicated, or linear, or school-like in the traditional sense. It’s a collection of things your family can do together that requires different kinds of thinking.

Or your week might look something like this:

Day one:

  • Think of, and answer, 20 questions about languages not spoken in your household
  • NPR tiny desk concerts
  • Meal planning: freezer adventure
  • Dance party

Day two:

  • Lego challenge: height
  • Read together
  • Lego challenge: distance span
  • Dance party

Day three:

  • Apprenticeship: Preparing the garden for planting
  • Dance party

Day four:

  • Fence art for passersby
  • Lego challenge: TBD
  • Dance party

Day five:

  • Read together
  • Talk about who have been helpers at this time; send your thanks
  • Dance party

Your plan might be longer, shorter, less structured, more structured, entirely different content… there really isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way.

Now, take a look at all of the non-school time left in the week. Don’t rush to fill it all up. Part of your kids’ days will be filled with chores or reading or downtime or screen time. Lots of this will be spent playing games, making things (mostly messes), bike riding, and so on.

And then… let them be bored. If needed, let them get really bored. They might start by making others in the household miserable, but most often boredom will generate new ideas to entertain themselves on their own.

Alison is a teacher, learner, mom, and noni. Feeling Social? Follower her on Twitter @avrosendaal




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