How to Help Your Kids Learn in a Changing School Landscape

by Blake Herzog

Arizona students and their families are looking at a school year of unknowns, having just endured three months of a giant, unplanned experiment on moving all classes online in response to a virus-driven pandemic that shows no signs of slowing down.

Even if their chosen school has settled on a model for reopening for the fall semester, nobody knows when conditions might change again and force more shuffling. And, family employment or financial concerns create the need for even more contingency plans.


This makes it more critical than ever to help students of any age focus on their coursework, regardless of the format in which it’s being presented. Many public organizations and school districts have suggestions for how to help your kids; some of them are timeless, while others speak to the current situation.

ORGANIZE, ORGANIZE, ORGANIZE
The Arizona Department of Child Safety has a page of back-to-school tips for students at dcs.az.gov/resource/back-to-school-resources-tips-for-parents, and they stress the importance of staying organized. Students should keep the notebooks and supplies used for each subject together, and set up a schedule for working on assignments, based on how long they’re expected to take and when they’re due.

Positive reinforcement like short breaks after completing an assignment encourages their studies and may cut down on procrastination in the long run. If they’re doing work that can’t be broken down as easily as a short assignment, brief breaks every 30 to 45 minutes can have the same effect. Just make sure those breathers don’t turn into a detour.

Also, the agency suggests your kids talk to their teacher, as well as you, when they have any questions or concerns: “Teachers are there to help guide and provide to a student, and a good relationship with a teacher can lead to additional instruction and extra help. Talking with teachers also demonstrates a students’ commitment to their academic performance and their desire to succeed.”

DEDICATED LEARNING SPACE
ASU Prep Digital has a short list of tips for parents of high school students taking at least one of its online courses at www.asuprepdigital.org/3-tips-for-helping-your-child-succeed-in-their-online-course, posted two years ago, but it boils down many of the fundamental suggestions found in more extensive COVID blogs.

It says the best way to start out with online learning is with a very detailed daily schedule, down to each hour, of what is to be studied and accomplished: “In a traditional school, your time is set by the bell. Helping your child set up a weekly schedule is time-consuming, but after a few weeks of helping, you can then empower them to do it themselves.” A link to a free downloadable scheduling tool is included on the website.

Setting up a dedicated learning space for kids also is critical at home or possibly in an unconventional setting such as a parent’s workplace. The post says, “Setting up something as simple as a card table in the spare bedroom with a notebook, pencils and other needed supplies will suffice. The point is that your child actually ‘goes to school’ in that space, literally!”

Since the ASU’s Prep Digital blog’s target audience is parents of high school students, it reminds them to keep communicating with teachers the way they may have been more apt to do when the kids were in elementary school, a good reminder for everyone with a child in grades 9-12.

GET THE HARD STUFF DONE FIRST
The University of Arizona published an interview with one of its doctoral students, Rebecca Friesen, who emphasized for first-time homeschooling parents that learning at home with your kids “can be a delightful thing” if you can show them your genuine enjoyment of the process.

But parents and students need to establish the schedule early and reinforce it often — and front-load it with the core subjects, especially those your child doesn’t enjoy as much.

“Aside from making the task fun, require them to do the hardest work first, and promise to reward them with time doing their favorite activities,” she said. If your kid tries to argue, blaming the state curriculum requirements can help reduce the back-and-forth, she added.

“It’s harder to argue with someone who isn’t there!” Friesen said.

Asking the student what they would like to accomplish at the beginning of the semester can help with setting daily goals to keep students and teachers accountable.

Parents working from home at the same time they’re homeschooling can, when possible, shift some of their work hours earlier in the morning or later into the night, or schedule independent school work for the afternoons or when they have to participate in an online business meeting, she also shared.

More of Friesen’s suggestions can be found at http://uanews.arizona.edu/story/uarizona-expert-offers-tips-firsttime-homeschool-teachers.

TEACHER OF THE YEAR
In a blog post at https://www.expectmorearizona.org/blog/2020/03/18/quarantine-advice-from-an-arizona-teacher-of-the-year/, 2014 Arizona Teacher of the Year Beth Maloney shares many of the same tips found from other sources: Read by yourself or together often. Play, to teach skills like empathy, problem-solving and resilience. Listen to family-friendly podcasts, like those suggested by www.commonsensemedia.org.
She also endorses keeping kids connected to friends and teachers via FaceTime and email, and let them find new ones from around the world — especially handy for foreign language students.

Maloney also suggests regularly giving students a chance to learn and create based on their own interests. “This is the perfect time for kids to direct their own learning based on their unique interests. Through a Genius Hour model, kids ask a research question based on an interest of theirs, research the topic, create something, and share it with the world,” she said.

For more ideas on this, visit www.geniushour.com.

THINKING OUTSIDE THE DESK
Gov. Doug Ducey’s website — www.ArizonaTogether.org — offers resources for all Arizonans during the pandemic and includes a link to a page (www.actionforhealthykids.org/covid-19-resources-physical-activity-nutrition-more) reminding families of the importance of staying physically and mentally fit during trying times, and has links to numerous resources for activities to keep kids moving and jumping as well as healthy diet choices and mindfulness, the final building blocks for a successful school year!