With Illinois schools closed through at least April 7 – and April 20 in Chicago – parents are suddenly finding themselves thrust into an uncomfortable new role: their children’s educator.
Whether you’re a stay-at-home parent, a work-from-home parent, or a parent working outside the home, managing your children’s educational needs – on top of the rest of your life – can be a tall order.
On Wednesday, Chicago Public Schools was granted approval to spend up to $75 million to maintain critical services during the shutdown. The district says it plans to roll out more guidance for parents juggling remote learning. In the meantime, parents are finding – or struggling to find – some strategies on their own.
But there’s no need to panic, say Nicole Rogers of Grassroots Homeschooling, who home-schools her four children, and Lori Torres, a Chicago Public Schools teacher and parent of three CPS students. First, they say don’t worry about maintaining a full day of instruction at home.
“I had to come to an understanding that we are not going to have an eight-hour school day,” said Torres. She recommends creating a new routine that mimics some of the basics of the school day while keeping in mind that every child has different needs for physical movement and mental breaks. “We have set a schedule in my home built in with breaks that make sense, a designated lunchtime, and a recess to follow, and they look forward to the breaks. But I also know that as a teacher, when I’m giving my kids one-on-one attention, it’s way different than being in front of a classroom with 30 students. That one-on-one attention is direct instruction for 15 minutes and my kid gets to go ahead and complete work on their own.”
Rogers has been educating her four children at home for 10 years. She agrees that a full-day schedule at home is unrealistic, but says that letting the students take the lead is a fundamental tenet of home-schooling. “Being a home school educator, our time frame is anywhere from two to four hours, tops. I have them choose their times – you have 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., you have 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., or 12-4 p.m. Choose one.”
Rogers points to the wealth of free and low-cost resources available for online learning, including KhanAcademy.org, Time4Learning.com and SuperTeacherWorksheets.com, as reliable sources for enrichment materials, activities and ideas for parents.
And it doesn’t all have to be pencil-and-paper work. Torres suggests mentally reviewing your typical day to think of ways to include your children in activities that teach through doing. “Do math via ‘let’s cook lunch together’ or ‘let’s go outside and look at these rocks and compare them.’ Those kinds of things that give them hands-on experiences that don’t require them to have internet access or access to a computer all the time. We have parents who need to know that it is possible to do this even if they don’t have [internet] access.”
For families without reliable internet access, Torres says many CPS schools are offering work materials that can be picked up at schools with minimal contact.
Finally, Rogers adds that with the smaller kids, “Children learn through play. They’re still in that creative stage of development, so let them play, let them burn it off, and – woosa! – keep calm.”
WTTW is also here to support families with additional educational content for middle school and high school students. Our WTTW Prime channel will air an afternoon block of content covering science, social studies, literature and history.