Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

COVID-19 Diaries: A Teacher's Tips for Parents

April 2, 2020

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By Becky Streff (NE ’18)

Like many educators, Becky Streff (NE ’18) is teaching two sets of students from her home right now: her fifth-graders at North Bend Central Elementary School via distance learning, and her own four children. Every parent will want to read her masterful tips for making at-home schooling fun.

We have much to worry about in this time of uncertainty. We want the best for our children’s health and education. Since the terms “E-Learning” and “distance learning” have emerged due to COVID-19, my mind has been racing. As someone who is trying to balance roles as parent and teacher right now, I keep wondering how to do both my jobs well. I am sure I am not the only one. How can we do it all?

I am learning to teach my students from afar, and I have a fourth grader, second grader, first grader and toddler at home. I have concluded that I need to give myself two things: grace and balance.

First, grace. For all the parents who have been thrust into teachers’ roles, and the educators who are trying to teach both their students and their children, know that your best is awesome and good enough now. Give yourself grace, empathy and flexibility so that your own stress and confusion don’t affect your students. They are working through their feelings as we all navigate the unknown. They need you to be strong so they feel safe.

Next, balance. We all want the best for our kids, whether they are our students or our own children. The other day I was feeling stressed as I taught my first-grader. She flat out told me “NO” to everything I suggested. I was told to set a schedule. I did. She didn’t like it. I pulled every teaching trick under my hat to “make” her work. And then I realized the problem. I was “making” her “work”. She says she’s not big into school, but truthfully, she just wants to fight me every step of the way. I am sure some of you have a child doing the same thing right now. (And if not, good for you—enjoy!)

If you have a child who needs some “teacher tricks” to make learning fun, here are a few ideas:

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  • “Morning Meetings.” I love having Morning Meetings with my students. I forgot to do them with my own children. Having a Morning Meeting with my children lets us plan the day’s work, set goals and brainstorm a few activities for fun at midday or when learning is done. I usually have a few ideas in my head. We write them down and get our supplies and start working.
  • Ownership. I give my students ownership in their learning in the classroom. I want to do the same for my own children. This is less stressful for me and teaches some independence and responsibility along the way.
  • Incentives. For good behavior or for getting work done, I reward my kids by putting marbles, paperclips, rocks, etc. in a jar or stickers on paper. After they reach the goal, there’s a reward: a day without chores, sitting in the comfy office chair, an extra treat, pizza night, movie night, extra screen time, extra “brain break” time.
  • Choice. Let your child choose which subject to start first. I thought a tight schedule would be best, but the transition from school to home needs a little more flexibility. The only thing about which I am not flexible is the minutes for each subject. As long as they get the time in for each subject, I don’t care about the order.
  • Learning space. More than ever, my children now see me as Mom and teacher. We needed to set up our own work spaces so that “school” life and “home” life exist in different places.
  • Music. Music makes work more fun! Some kids may work most effectively with calming classical music in the background (it’s also great for brain development).
  • Videos. My daughter loves to record herself, so I let her incorporate video into her work. She spent more time polishing her script (writing), working on the science project (cross-curricular connections) and recording it than she needed to according to our schedule. She ended up taking full ownership and delivering high quality work.
  • Dry-erase markers. They work and erase on a variety of surfaces and make it fun for kids to do their work. Windows, mirrors, even a wood table (maybe test on a little corner first to make sure your table behaves the same as ours).
  • Be silly. Do your work with silly voices. Make glasses or a hat out of cardboard or paper, decorate them, and wear them while you do your work. Make a fort under the dining room table or with couch pillows and do your work there. Or take a flashlight into the closet!
  • Turn it into a game. Need to practice sight words or flashcards? I put the flashcards on my forehead. We run around the house for hide and seek or scavenger hunts. We both get exercise as I listen to her smart brain thinking of the answer.
  • Board games. We play Chutes and Ladders or Candy Land, but after each move, we do a sight word or flash card or write a quick sentence.
  • Spirit Days. We do them at school, so why not at home? Think Pajama Day, Crazy Hair Day, Backward Shirt Day.
  • Bring your pet to school. My kids love reading to Maggie, our dog. Neither the reader nor the audience complains.
  • Sticky notes. Put different enrichment activities suggested by your child’s teacher on a sticky note on the window or mirror, then let your child choose and pull them off as they are completed.
  • “Brain Breaks.” Dance, sing, practice yoga, go up and down the stairs—anything for an active change of pace.
  • Phone calls and video chat. We all need social contact right now. As your children work, read or practice math facts, let them call a grandparent or other loved one and share their work. That's high motivation right there!
  • Switch places. Have your child be the teacher and teach YOU the material.
  • Social media. Many authors and teachers are hosting live video feeds, YouTube Channels, etc. with awesome learning and activities. [From Milken Educators: Rick Crosslin’s science experiments, Hailey Couch’s read-alouds]
  • Audiobooks. Your public and school libraries have many age-appropriate audiobooks. Reading a book sometimes feels like a chore; listening to a book develops different skills and provides a welcome change of pace.
  • Bedtime. Try to maintain your kids’ regular bedtime schedule. Sleep is more important now than ever before. A good night’s sleep allows our brain the processing time that it needs and gets us ready for a good attitude the next day.

Breathe. If today wasn’t a great day, know that tomorrow will be. We are not in this alone, so reach out. It’s okay to ask for help, and it’s important not to compare. Enjoy this time with your children. They will remember how they felt during this strange period, not all the stress of the academics.

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