School #FromHome: Bring Structure to Your Day
Whether you’re a few weeks into a school closure or going on a few months now, you’re no doubt helping your school-aged children—and even your college kids—settle into a new routine that involves learning from home. Needless to say, it’s an adjustment for everyone as you and your children make the shift. As a parent, you might be feeling responsible for a range of academic responsibilities that go well beyond after-dinner homework help. In light of what we’re all facing, we reached out to a long-time educator for some specific advice about bringing structure to the school day at home.
While you’re probably accustomed to logging on to your school’s homework and grade-posting platform, what’s likely to be entirely new territory is monitoring regular emails from one to several, staff members, and coaches looping you in to help them make some type of learning happen from home for your children. We’re all a little overwhelmed already.
SCHOOL AT HOME: THE STRUGGLE IS REAL
Parents told us just that. In our recent survey, the aspect of this new landscape they struggle with most is setting a routine, and it’s no wonder. The school day is a constant for all of us. It starts and ends at a certain time every day without fail. Bells at the exact same time each day signal the beginning, end, and all points in between including lunch at, you guessed it, the exact same time every day.
So why doesn’t this structure transfer easily to the home? It’s just a location change, right? School is social—a group effort—and it’s run by adults outside the home who set expectations, from where to be when the bell rings to how many minutes for breaks and lunches. Home is, well, home with its own set of expectations, rules, and freedoms plus a refrigerator and a TV and devices nearby and no bells except a morning alarm clock. Does it even make sense to try to bring the exact same structure to the home learning environment?
AN OPPORTUNITY TO INDIVIDUALIZE
What if we saw this abrupt change as an opportunity to do things a different way? For example, school starts early for most high schoolers despite research that indicates later start times work better for teens. If your child doesn’t have a set schedule from the school, then you have the opportunity to set one that just might work better for your family. Students anywhere from late elementary school all the way to senior year can help set their own schedule (contingent upon other factors, of course, like helping with siblings or other family duties).
In all, setting a rhythm is key. A teenager experiencing a separation from friends is likely spending even more time online or on a device as a means to pass the time and connect with others. Their new rhythm might mean later nights and later bedtimes than normal. Letting your high school-aged student sleep in and start the at-home school day in late morning might give you some time to get your own work started and prepare for the day. If you’re sharing computers, printers, or other devices, letting your teenager sleep in makes it a bit easier to allocate time for yourself and others.
HOW YOUR NEW SCHOOL DAY CAN LOOK
A middle school or high school aged student’s school day might work out better running from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with 15-minute breaks and up to a full hour for lunch. Bottom line: teenagers love freedom and choice. Letting them have some control over the timing of their school day, to the extent possible, may help keep them more engaged and focused. For example, middle schoolers may get as little as five minutes to pass from class to class. Why not offer 15 minutes between at-home classes? Many public schools allow 30 minutes for lunch. Home lunch might be an hour or maybe even a little more. During home lunch, maybe phones are out and kids have free time to eat, check their texts or social media, listen to a podcast or audiobook while they eat or just relax.
While most adolescents will sleep later given the chance, younger children might still be up early. Starting a learn-from-home-schedule on the earlier side for younger ones might alleviate late mornings spent vying for computer time. There’s no one perfect way to do this. It might work best to start school at 8 a.m. together at the kitchen table and then go about the day as your children do during the normal school year; however, it might work best to let the older kids sleep in while the younger ones enjoy a waffle and an audiobook, allowing you time to have your coffee, catch up on emails, and get ready for the day.
CREATING A SCHEDULE THAT WORKS
Khan Academy, the online educational service known best for its video tutorials, has created sample school day structures in direct response to the current school closures for learners in four age groups from preschool through 12th grade. Khan Academy’s Daily Schedules start all grade levels at 8 a.m., but older kids could easily adapt the basics of the schedule and start later in the morning.
In addition to the sample schedule, each age group chart links to grade-appropriate video tutorials in math—something Khan Academy is well known for—along with other opportunities for learning in almost all subject areas. If your child’s school is still in the process of formulating the specifics of its own from-home learning program, Khan Academy has a full day of learning options already mapped out. You might be surprised to see the breadth of offerings and the materials available to assist families during school closures.
For example, children in grades 3-5 start the day with short, interactive math videos for about 30 minutes followed by play time, ideally outside. Next up is 30 minutes of guided reading followed by silent reading. The rest of the day continues with small segments allotted for writing, grammar, lunch time, and even computer programming. Everything you need to complete the school from home day is available directly on the site or via links.
Another great resource is Scholastic, the education and publishing company well known for its school book fairs. Like Khan Academy, Scholastic’s newly created Learn From Home site also offers some structure to the school day arranged by grade level where you’ll find a wealth of books online plus supplemental videos for kindergarten through grade 9. For example, Week 1 material for a first grader is centered around five days of stories, each with a different focus: animal studies, weather, sound and music, farm life, and healthy bones. Each day’s area of focus offers audio and video stories, read-alongs, and supplemental videos for drawing and spelling—all connected to that day’s theme.
Both Khan Academy and Scholastic are two reputable sources. Yet there are plenty others, and it’s quite possible you’re seeing plenty of suggested resources–particularly if you’re searching for them online. When consulting these sources, be sure to do some research and make sure they’re reputable as well. Also, consider using browser protection that will protect you from any malicious links or malware-ridden downloads. Sad but true, there are those out there who are willing to take advantage of families who’re looking for online education resources during these times.
FLEXIBILITY IS IMPORTANT
Teachers are experts at establishing routines, boundaries, and expectations for school work and behaviors. This is part of building the culture of the classroom, and it starts back at the beginning of the school year on day one. It’s no wonder children have a harder time settling into a routine and remaining focused on school at home. It’s not the easiest transfer of skills. In the adult world, for example, if you’re working from home, you may not structure your workday in the same way you would if you were actually at the office. The same applies for the kids.
SO, HOW DO YOU BEGIN?
Here are a few things you can do:
- Look over the emails and announcements from your child’s school. What are the non-negotiables like online class meetings and due dates? Pencil those in.
- Set a schedule like mentioned above, at least as a starting point. You can adjust and adapt it as needed, all with an eye toward what works for you and your family overall as you settle into your new routine.
- The youngest children might have a hard time focusing for an online check-in with their kindergarten class but seeing their classmates online might be important socially with other options currently limited. If possible, try to make sure you help even your littlest ones make their meetings. Or even set up a digital playdate for them.
- For older kids, online lessons are likely essential right now. Then, knowing your child best and asking for their input, you can be flexible in creating a daily routine that optimizes personal schedules, preferences, and family responsibilities.
- Work together. In many households, family members may use a shared device to get everyone’s work and schooling done. Now’s a good time to set a schedule and make sure those shared devices are secure. and sharing of devices.
We hope we’ve offered you a few helpful resources for structuring an entire school day or adding to an existing structure, and that you might see some opportunities to benefit from a change in routine. No doubt, we’re all adapting to the changes brought about by school closures, yet each family’s situation is different. Some days it just might not work out as planned, and that’s ok. The bottom line right now is flexibility and compromise, and it’s worth it to allow yourself a little grace as you find what works at your home.
School #FromHome: “Square One” Basics
With many schools around the globe postponing classes for long stretches or closing school outright for the rest of the academic year, the challenge of parenting just cranked up. After all, there’s no more schoolhouse—it’s your house. Whether you’re the parent of a kindergartener or a high school senior, or have a mix of children in between, there’s a good chance you’re trying to figure out how to continue learning online at home—while also dealing with the disappointments of missing friends, activities, and major events like sports, proms, and even graduations. It’s not easy, and without a doubt this is new to all of us.
We want to make it easier for you, even if it’s in some small ways. We started by asking you what roadblocks are getting in the way. This April, we reached out to parents across the U.S. and asked . Your top two answers came across loud and clear: you’re struggling with establishing a routine and keeping children focused.
Looking for resources and ideas for bringing a little structure into online learning at home and how that fits into your day? We have you covered, so let’s start at square one—making sure that your online learning environment at home is secure.
Start with a look at your devices
First, determine which device your child is going to use. Some school districts provide students with a laptop that the students keep for the school year. The security on these devices will more than likely be managed centrally by the school district. Thus, they’ll have their own security software and settings already in place. Moreover, such a centrally managed device will likely be limited in terms of which settings can be updated and what software can be added. If your child has a school-issued device, follow the advice of the school and its IT admin on matters of security tools and software. And if you have questions about security, reach out to them.
Security basics on your home computer and laptop
If your child is using a home computer or laptop, or sharing one with other members of the family, you’ll want to ensure that it’s protected. This includes a full security suite that features more than just anti-virus, but also firewall protection to keep hackers at bay, safe browsing tools that steer you clear of sketchy or unsafe websites, and perhaps even parental controls to block distracting apps and inappropriate websites. Another smart option is to use a password manager. There’s a good chance that you kids will need to create new accounts for new learning resources—and with those come new usernames and passwords. A password manager will organize them and keep them safe.
Additionally, you’ll want to take a very close look at the video conferencing tools that your child might be using to connect with teachers and classmates (and even their friends after schooltime is over). First off, there are plenty of them out there. Secondly, some video conferencing tools have allegedly experienced security and privacy issues in recent weeks. Before downloading and installing a video conferencing tool, do a little online research to see how secure it is and what privacy policies it has in place.
Look for video conferencing tools that use end-to-end encryption so that the conference is protected from prying eyes and so that others can’t intrude upon the conversation uninvited. Look for articles from reputable sources too, as there have been further reports of privacy issues where certain user information has been shared with third parties while using the video conferencing tool. That’s good advice for any software, apps, or tools you may wish to add.
Use a VPN
Another way to protect yourself from intrusions while conferencing, or doing anything else online for that matter, is to introduce a VPN (virtual private network). Choose one that uses bank-level encryption to keep your personal data and activities private from hackers. It will also hide other information, like account credentials, credit card numbers, and the like. It’s a good move, and it’s easy to use.
Look for our upcoming articles where we’ll share some specific ideas that can help make homeschooling online a little easier.
Editor’s Note: This is part II of our internet safety for kids series. Part I focuses on younger children and can be read here.
Parents have always been concerned about keeping their kids safe online — especially their tweens and teens. That conversation is even more critical with parents and kids now working and learning at home. But as the days turn into weeks, the line between safe and risky digital behavior may get a little blurry. Maybe we can help by refreshing some basics.
Why is internet safety for kids important?
There’s no way around it. Young and old, over time, we’ve tethered nearly every aspect of our lives to the digital realm. If we want to work, bank, shop, pay bills, or connect with family and friends, we have to plugin. A wired life makes internet safety not just important, but mission-critical for parents.
Kids go online for school, to be entertained, and to connect with friends; only they don’t have the emotional maturity or critical thinking skills to process everything they will encounter on the other side of their screens.
That’s where proactive digital parenting comes in.
If our parenting goal is to raise wise, responsible, caring adults, equipped for real life, that goal must also include helping them safeguard their emotional and physical health from online risk. There’s no such thing as a digital platform or product that is 100% safe. So, our best strategy is to learn and pass on skills that mitigate that risk.
What are the dangers of the internet?
Any danger that exists offline is potentially multiplied when we log online due to the vast access the web affords each one of us. In a few clicks, we can unlock a world of possibilities. The flip side? There’s an ever-present battalion of crooks and bullies out to exploit that access. Online we will encounter the best and the worst of humankind. The daily threats to children include bullying, inappropriate content, predators, and the loss of privacy. Add to that list, digital viruses and malware, phishing scams, sharing regrettable content, and gaming addiction.
How can homebound kids avoid digital risk?
So what can we do to ensure the weeks ahead don’t bring more digital risk into our homes? We start by having consistent, candid conversations with our kids about online safety (even if eye-rolling begins). Truth: Your family’s cybersecurity is as strong as the weakest security link in your family. If one family member is lax about internet safety, your entire family’s security is compromised.
So let’s get started with some internet safety basics to share with your tweens and teens. To read internet safety guidelines for younger children, click here.
11 Internet Safety Basics for Homebound Teens
- Get candid about content. Your tweens and teens have likely come across inappropriate material online. You can minimize further exposure by discussing expectations and family values around acceptable content — both sharing it and receiving it. Reminder: “Vanishing” Snapchats and deleted content can be easily captured in a screenshot — nothing shared online is private. For extra monitoring muscle, consider adding a parental control software to your family’s internet safety plan.
- Keep passwords, software, apps updated. Being homebound gives us all extra time for details. Go through personal and family devices and update all passwords. Keeping device software and apps updated also protects kids from outside risk.
- Balance life and tech. Kids can lose their entire day surfing, scrolling, and watching YouTube or TikTok videos. Establish screen limits help kids grow healthy tech habits. Consider scheduling device breaks, no phone zones (dinner table, movie time, bedtime), and installing software that features time limits.
- Be a leader online. Yoda was on target — with much power comes much responsibility. Many online dangers can be diminished by consistently teaching kids to be upstanders online. Practicing empathy, respect, tolerance, and compassion makes the digital world safer for everyone.
- Address peer pressure. Kids with devices can share unwise, personal photos with friends they trust. When friendships end, however, those photos can be shared or used for bullying or extortion. Discuss digital peer pressure with your child and how to respond.
- Look out for scams. Talk frequently about the many forms scams can take, such as phishing, malware, catfishing, fake news, and clickbait.
- Don’t friend strangers. Sexual predators create fake social media accounts specifically to befriend kids. In turn, kids share personal info, daily plans, location, and may even agree to meet in person with online friends. Discuss these risky scenarios and other manipulation tactics of predators with your child. Be aware of his or her friend circles, and look for chat apps such as WhatsApp or Kik.
- Maximize privacy on social profiles. Help kids maximize privacy settings on social profiles and delete any profile or post information that unintentionally gives away personal data. Consider removing the names of family members, pets, school, hometown, and birthdays. Hackers can piece together this information to crack passwords or create authentic-looking phishing scams.
- Consider a family VPN. Virtual Private Networks are becoming the most popular way to conduct business, shop, and safeguard a family’s online activity from outsiders. VPN encryption can protect a child against several virtual threats.
- Review gaming safety. If your kids spend a lot of time on games like Fortnite and Call of Duty, they can encounter strangers, bullying, and scams that target gamers. Teen gamers should use a firewall to help block would-be attackers from gaining access to their PC and home networks and as well as a comprehensive security solution to protect devices from malware and other threats.
- Monitor devices. Consider spot-checking all devices routinely. Review privacy settings on social networks (kids change them), look for new apps, review browsing history, chats, and texts. Need to go a step farther? Keep your child’s phone for a few hours to check notifications that pop up. You may find activity that wasn’t necessarily visible otherwise.
Taming all the moving parts of internet safety isn’t easy, and balancing your relationship with your child and parental monitoring can get turbulent at times. While kids can experience more drama and anxiety by going online, social networks remain critical channels for affirmation, self-expression, and connection. In the weeks to come, take time to listen, learn, and get to know your child’s digital passions and patterns. Identify safety gaps and reinforce those areas. Good luck, parents, you’ve got this!
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