UHCL education profs offer guidance to parents homeschooling during school closures
As local public school systems shut down because of COVID-19, some parents are finding out just how challenging it can be to take on their new role as homeschool teacher. University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education Shanna Graves and Associate Professor of Special Education Elizabeth Beavers offer some guidance to parents feeling the strain of keeping kids engaged while maintaining social isolation.
"I found a COVID-19 daily schedule online and I’ve been using it as a guide each day since we’ve been home,” Graves said. “We follow it loosely, but I think the point is to keep going with a bit of the structure they have grown used to each day with school. It’s good because it keeps me as a parent and the kids in the mindset of school.”
She said the daily schedule ensures they get up early and get out of their pajamas, which is so important from a mental standpoint. “Once they’re out of bed and dressed, they have more willingness to participate in school work,” she said.
The schedule, which includes a morning walk, consists of walking a trail in Graves’ neighborhood. “We completed the trail twice, which was a mile,” she said. “My kids’ school adopted a ‘Daily Mile’ program this year, and they were glad they continued with that. When we got back, they wrote in their journals and discussed what we observed on the trail.”
This kind of activity, noted Graves, touches on all subject areas, including language arts, science, social studies, math and technology. “Most importantly, they loved it because it involved being outdoors and it was fun,” she said.
Beavers said that creating a schedule at home is very useful, but parents should recognize their own strengths and limitations and balance with the fact that they might also be trying to navigate their own work schedules. “Parents should know that while they’re responsible for facilitating work at home, they should optimize the lessons and resources their kids’ school should be providing,” she said. “If parents need more ideas, they should communicate with their child’s teacher. Get creative and let the kids aid in generating meaningful ideas of engaging in both the required learning and extending experiences beyond a TV or computer.”
She said that Graves’ example of going for a walk, observing and taking notes is a great example. “Parents know their children best and need to feel empowered to make adjustments to the recommended learning,” she said. “The goal is just to keep the kids learning.”
Still, Beavers said, establishing a “new normal” needs to be part of the family conversation. “Kids of all ages need a voice in the decision-making and options for choices of activities embedded in their routine,” she said. “Structured choice is critical because each child is different. A schedule is foundational, but how you individualize the schedule is essential to success.”
Beavers suggested having children establish a goal or two for each week. “The goals should be challenging, yet realistic,” she said. “The idea isn’t to emulate what schools provide, the aim should be just to keep the kids curious, engaged and learning.”
Struggling with resistant and defiant behaviors is to be expected, Beavers said.
“From a child’s perspective, they are experiencing dramatic changes. We need to attend to the questions and anxiety that our children are feeling, and the best way to do this is through conversations,” she said. “Validating emotions and reinforcing that they’re safe is critical to gaining the ‘buy-in’ that the new temporary routine will work if everyone is supporting each other.”
Both Graves and Beavers said there is a wealth of ideas on Pinterest, Facebook groups and other social media platforms. “Don’t compare your progress with others,” Beavers said. “Embrace the uniqueness of each journey during this unprecedented time and reach out for help when you feel your limits are breached.”
Read more about UHCL’s Early Childhood Education program online.