Homeschooling was never at the forefront of my mind or my wife who is an educator in the public school system. However, we were forced to think it through, make a plan and execute a homeschool regime.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced during a press conference on Thursday, March 12, 2020 that the government would be closing schools for 14 days, effective Friday, March 13, in an effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the island. Since then we have been advised that schools will not reopen until September 2020.
Following the announcement classes were migrated online, employing greater use of technology than before, especially internet-enabled devices. Many persons were required to work from home where possible.
Let’s take a moment to think of a few things here:
– The scale of the impact resulting from this global pandemic is unprecedented and the last international health event close to this was the “Spanish Flu” 1918 – 1920.
– These are uncharted waters for children, parents, teachers, governments and businesses.
– Everyone has to try remaining nimble and flexible while adjusting to the circumstances.
The overall situation presents quite a challenge to many Jamaicans and has turned the spotlight on some systemic shortcomings in our education system and society as a whole. That’s a separate discussion, so let’s get to how my family adjusted and has been rolling with the proverbial punches.
There are a few features of our family situation which have proved to be helpful in the moment:
– We are tertiary-level graduates who are employed and able to work from home (wife is a government teacher and I’m in the private sector and operate a micro enterprise).
– We live together in a spacious dwelling in a quiet neighbourhood.
– We are active in the education process of the children and the PTA. Both children attend the same government-run primary school.
– We are able to provide a full slate of amenities for our children’s comfort and development.
– Our extended family system is quite supportive.
Highlighting these features is simply to point out that adjusting to the circumstance is less challenging for us than some Jamaicans. A close friend, Marlon Campbell, recently shared, “we are all facing the same storm but our boats different.”
With all this context, here’s what has helped us weather this homeschooling storm:
Getting buy-in from the children
This situation is not business as usual. We had to ensure that the children understood what was happening and what the new situation required of them as well as us as parents. We explained what the way forward would look like and also that we would do everything to make it as fun as possible too.
Mimicking school timetable
Before the online classes were organized, we had to teach the lessons on our own with limited supervision from the teachers. They would send the content and we had to deliver. As creatures of habit it was important to not depart too much from the school regime.
While waking times were relaxed, once the day started there was a structure to include times for classes, breaks and dismissal (their favourite). We outlined the schedule in a clear and timely fashion so there were no surprises. It felt like summer school and that’s made it fun for the children.
Making quiet spaces for learning
While the regular school environment isn’t the quietest, once classes commence then the distraction of noise is usually limited. In addition to a home-office, there are designated spaces for school activities. The stereo is off and we use headsets for playing media. It’s just the four of us at home and we’re all productively engaged.
Strong level of involvement in children’s schooling
We know the curriculum and are aware of the objectives/milestones which should be met at each grade level. We have always paid keen attention to homework, study sessions and projects/assignments. Our children are quite used to us playing the role of “teacher-tutor” at home, so it’s not a strange thing for them in this moment. Also, we know our children’s learning styles as well as their strengths/weaknesses with particular subject areas.
Good, open relationship with teachers
This point is tied to the one above but deserves to be pointed separately. We maintain a healthy relationship with our children’s teachers; one in which information flows freely about our children’s performance in school. At the start of this homeschooling journey we were advised about how best to approach the activities and exercises. The conversations also included setting goals and how to manage our expectations.
Understanding curriculum content
Thankfully our pair is at the primary level so the content they’re learning is simple enough for us to understand. For subject areas which we don’t readily recall, the ‘relearning’ curve is not steep at all. This enables us to respond to queries from the children or to explain in cases where they didn’t quite get what the teacher shared.
Keeping a cool head
Giving in to the frustration caused by having to balance working from home or not working at all with delivering lessons is easy. I know some parents still have to work and are now forced to find support to monitor their children – this might come at an extra cost. Others have no choice but to take the children along to work with them. We had to remind ourselves that the current situation this is not the fault of the children so venting on them would be unfair. Keeping a cool head with the kids also preserves the good relationship we have and keeps their minds free of any ‘guilt’.
Switching roles to let kids teach us
There’s a quote attributed to Albert Einstein which says, “if you can’t explain it simply you don’t understand it well enough.” Occasionally we ask the children explain a concept. It allows us to gauge their level of understanding/mastery and determine how to proceed.
Keeping it fun and interesting
Our family bond has strengthened since spending more time together, but spending this much time can become monotonous/boring. Our space has to function as both school and home; that’s a delicate balance. If we become overbearing with the school side it could backfire and negatively affect their attitudes towards learning, so we make time for fun. One such activity is #FruitTuesday – on a Tuesday we try ‘new’/exotic fruits or rediscover the ones we eat regularly. In this exercise we discuss the benefits of the fruit, the history (if it’s not native to Jamaica) and recipes with the fruit.
These ideas worked for us; they may be helpful for you too. I wish you the best as we all navigate these challenges.
In closing, please follow the health protocols and other guidelines from the government. Stay Safe!
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