This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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Nerves and uncertainty are part and parcel of starting any new school year. Kids of all ages get a little anxious about new teachers and new schedules, spending the first few days learning the ropes of new classrooms and expectations before settling in.
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the back-to-school agenda looks different for millions of American families, but the nerves and uncertainty are front and center. Many schools across the country are starting the school year with remote learning, making the learning curve much steeper than in years past.
New Year, New Toolbox
Parents, kids and teachers are reaching in to an entirely new toolbox this year. Establishing a routine, creating a workspace, staying organized, and being flexible are the hallmarks of back-to-school 2020.
Millions of students transitioned to online learning at warp speed last spring, but schools have had time to adequately plan for new platforms this fall. Parents who never planned to homeschool are becoming de facto teachers, principals and school counselors.
Parents now homeschooling for the first time need a variety of resources to help them get started and keep them motivated as they navigate new roles and realities.
Creativity is the order of the day; teachers have had a crash course in remote instruction and many families are finding innovative solutions for short or long-term homeschooling. Parents waiting for school to start so they can return to normal work schedules particularly need creative solutions.
Luckily, the internet is a treasure trove of ideas for parents setting up a classroom space, managing multiple grade levels, and keeping kids on task. From soothing playlists of background music to hands-on learning centers, parents have thousands of resources at their fingertips.
So, what are the most popular options the internet has to offer?
One of the hottest trends for fall of 2020 is pandemic pods. This innovative setup mimics an old-fashioned one-room schoolhouse, but with modern amenities. Families combine to rent a space or utilize a home location and pay a certified teacher to instruct three to ten children of various ages. It’s a win-win for everyone: teachers, students and parents.
In some cases, the teacher may just facilitate the online learning provided by the local school district and provide one-on-one tutoring; in other settings, teachers provide full instruction and materials. Some pods will even feature parents teaching or facilitating, similar to more traditional homeschool cooperatives.
There are many new websites to connect families and teachers in different areas of the country, to facilitate pods forming. Facebook groups also provide a way for families to find prospective pod-partners.
Critics say pods are a tool for the elite; after all, only wealthier families can afford to pay for such resources. But for families who can afford or manage some version of a pod, it can be a great solution. Pods could even become a permanent fixture in education.
Modern Problems Require Old-Fashioned Solutions
Public School Exit is an organization that aims to equip families to leave public schools, for homeschooling or other options not operated by the government. The organization is offering a webinar to teach anyone to create a “one-room school” environment, whether as part of a pod or as an individual family. You can register for this event here.
In some communities, businesses are filling a need by seizing the pods opportunity, allowing parents to drop kids off for the day in a safe environment. Gyms, churches, community centers, non-profit organizations, and martial arts studios are among the businesses offering space for students to be supervised and assisted during school hours and entertained afterwards.
Many college students will return to school later or remain online for the semester, and they’re finding a market for jobs tutoring or supervising children in younger grades.
Advice For Parents
Stay positive. In the midst of frequent changes, altered plans, and missed milestones, it’s important to keep a positive outlook. To paraphrase an old adage, parents’ attitudes are contagious; is yours worth catching?
Be flexible is corollary advice to the aforementioned positive attitude and necessary for the same reasons.
Set aside a dedicated space for each child and limit distractions. Even if your space is small, designate a spot for each child to work, preferably separate from usual play areas. Keep distractions to a minimum by eliminating extra noise and not allowing devices besides the one used for learning.
Younger children may need to be at the kitchen table or other common area so parents can easily monitor them, but children who are older and/or more self-motivated may work better at a desk in their bedroom. Parents should be available when needed, but not hover.
Pinterest is full of ideas for functional workspaces if you’re really inspired to go all out.
Create a routine; even if kids are following the schedule set by their school, they still need structure for getting ready for the day, break times, and after school. It’s a good idea to have them get dressed and ready in the morning as if they’re leaving the house; this way, they make the mental transition to school and they’re presentable for any video meetings.
Be sure kids have a chance to get fresh air and exercise, either as a recess break during the day or after they sign off.
Celebrate little victories. Make it through a tough week of remote learning? Ace the first online exam? Display a great attitude each day? Treat everyone to ice cream, a trip to the park, or have a family game night.
Most Important Advice
Most of all, extend grace to everyone involved. Everyone is trying to make the best of the circumstances and doing the best they know how. Everyone will also make mistakes in the process; grace will go a long way.
The new school year will come with more challenges than any year before, but with lots of ingenuity, creativity and a large helping of patience, families can make it a success.