As Grand Forks students in kindergarten through 12th grade are moving to at-home learning, many parents throughout the district will feel the effects of a “new normal” when it comes to their children’s education.

“Many parents may feel out of their depth,” Marcus Weaver-Hightower, UND professor of educational foundations and research.

Teachers and staff in K-12 schools here are putting together plans and resources to meet the state’s educational standards in a whole new way.

“Many will be different,” he said. “Principals and a lot of teachers are working around the clock for what they’re going to do.”

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“It’s been a herculean effort by all the folks at the (school) district office,” he said.

Gov. Doug Burgum has issued an order for distance learning to begin by Wednesday, April 1.

Weaver-Hightower said parents are stepping into the role of “citizen-educator” and, for many, overseeing the kids’ education will be unfamiliar territory.

For parents’ benefit, he and his colleagues at the UND College of Education and Human Development have come up with suggestions to tackle some of these issues, referring to their advice as “how to do it without going crazy.”

His wife, Rebecca Weaver-Hightower, chairperson of the English Department at NDSU, said home-schooling “adds another layer” to the concerns that parents are dealing with right now. Some may have been laid off from work or are worried they will be, she said.

Above all, Marcus Weaver-Hightower said: “Try to keep in mind that perfection is not the goal for helping your kids with their learning. Be patient with yourself. So what if they had a little extra screen time today? It’s not a big deal in the larger scheme of things.

“The world is stressful enough right now, so approaching homeschooling with some self-compassion, and maybe even some humor, will help ease tensions and show your children how to cope with the difficulties that life throws us all.”

Ten tips to make homeschooling a positive experience

Lean on teachers

Lean on the help and expertise of children’s teachers, administrators and counselors. They have been working heroically to quickly compile resources and get technology access to every child. These are adults who truly love children, and they’re missing them right now, so don’t be afraid to be in contact for advice or just saying hello. Remember, everyone is in this new world of distance learning together, so have patience with one another at home and with classroom teachers. And keep looking at district’s websites for links to resources. These are high-quality sites that can help with all sorts of issues, including how to talk about COVID-19, helping with academics and attending to the entire family’s mental and physical health.

Practical, life skills

Kids learn from all the daily activities around the house, so involve them. Doing the laundry? A very young child can pull clothes out of the dryer while you comment on colors, count and offer directions about where to place items, which is great for following directions. High schoolers might learn to do loads independently, a skill that will serve them well as they go off to college or their own homes in a few years. Cooking? Have young children help and count the number of cups or spoonsful of ingredients while naming the items and talking about the smell, texture and color of the food. Have teens start planning menus, helping with grocery shopping and developing a repertoire of some nutritious meals that they can prepare when they will be on their own in a few years. Even kitchen “failures” are learning experiences and add humor to the day.

Importance of routines

Routines can be extremely helpful. A typical school day does not need to be replicated, but having a sense of when things will happen can give kids a comforting feeling of structure in a time of great uncertainty. Of course, parents and children ought to do what feels right for their family. For some, creating a strict schedule for themselves and their children will bring peace of mind. For others, though, that could create additional stress. And don’t forget the importance of having a good sleep routine. It might be tempting to let weekend bedtime hours take over, but getting lots of sleep at predictable times will help kids stay focused, motivated and better behaved. The more variable their sleep time, the harder it will be for them to get to sleep.

Let kids choose

Give kids some choice. Try getting kids involved and let them have a voice in the planning of routines. At school it matters whether you’re in biology or history at 1:35 p.m., but at home it makes no difference. Allowing children to choose which subjects or assignments they do during which times of the day will help with motivation and children feeling a sense of control. Maybe even try “genius hour,” where kids get to pursue whatever topic interests them, whether it’s how hot dogs are made, French poetry or learning about the different breeds of cats.

Physical activity

Movement, movement, movement! Kids at every age and all abilities need to move. Get them to do some sort of physical activity, whether doing chores around the house, walking around the block, following an exercise video or YouTube, or just stretching. This should be part of the day’s routine. And spread it throughout the day. Exercise scientists recommend the 30+2 or 60+5 rules. That is, for every 30 to 60 minutes of sitting time, intersperse activities, games and movements that kids find enjoyable and accessible for two or five minutes, respectively.

Younger kids might need an active break every 10 or 15 minutes. Even just some “loud time,” inside or outside, in which kids can be as loud as they want for a few minutes, can help let off some steam. All this movement and loud time can keep them physically fit, help them sleep and improve any behavior problems.

Encourage reading

Keep reading. Literacy is a crucial skill, and it only gets better with practice. Read with small children every day. Older readers can read on their own, but model its importance by also reading yourself. Be open to kids reading all kinds of materials, including traditional children’s literature, comic books and graphic novels, magazines and instruction manuals. All of these can build vocabulary and reading skills, so let interest be the deciding factor.

Encouragement boosts confidence, positivity

Use time together to boost confidence and positivity. When spending time with a child, use words that describe the hard work the child is doing instead of just a “good job,” even if the outcome isn’t perfection. Let them know their help is appreciated and state their strengths. Find the positive in what they are doing instead of the negative. Tell children what they should do rather than what they shouldn't do.

Get a distributed, nutritious meal

Go get meals that school districts are distributing. Most districts are continuing their school meal programs, and everyone is typically eligible to get one regardless of income. Getting one can provide a nutritious meal, give the whole family a great excuse for a walk and break up the monotony, or financial challenges, of eating whatever’s left in the home pantry.

Managing frustration

Be sensitive to signs of frustration or fatigue from children. To avoid meltdowns or conflict, redirect them to a non-academic activity. Deep breathing or a quick walk around the house -- or maybe a few minutes with a fun puzzle or favorite app -- can help clear the mind and let everyone focus and get back to the task that’s frustrating.

Know that some negative behaviors may be a result of life being different. Students feeling anxious, worried, tired, restless, angry and afraid of the unknown are oftentimes underlying causes for the ways children may act out. Talk to children and ask them how they are feeling and why they might be feeling this way. Reassure children that you love them, are here for them and that life looks different right now, but it won’t be forever. Talk about summertime events they are looking forward to as well as opportunities they will have once they return to school.

Alternative ways to socialize

Try to replace some of the socialization they’re missing from their peers. Keep in mind that children are likely missing their friends. Encourage them to send text messages, write letters or emails or even have virtual playdates over FaceTime or Skype. Just because they have to have social distance doesn’t mean that they have to have relational distance, too.

SOURCE: These tips were provided by faculty members in the UND College of Education and Human Development.

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