COVID-19 school closures have become a reality for many around the world. For those in the midst of it at the moment, life is chaotic and unpredictable. It would be good to keep sane during your COVID-19 homeschooling adventure and make it out the other end without the entire family falling apart. It is a balancing act. 

As school closures begin to affect more students in more countries, there are a few things that are consistent:

1. There is a truckload of uncertainty.  When will schools close, what will distance learning look like, how will schools operate, how will parents cope, when will schools open, how long will this last? Much of the stress for everyone in this situation comes from this uncertainty.

2. It is happening to more schools in more places, both international and local. This week schools closed in Italy, the UAE, the UK, the USA and Germany just to name a few. Next week, who knows?

3. Teachers and schools are learning from each other.  Teachers at schools in China that have been closed for 6 weeks have become community experts.  A Facebook group for teachers to share ideas and questions about distance learning grew by 7000 members in one week.  Organizations such as International Schools Services (ISS) and companies such as SeeSaw are sharing materials, guidelines and expertise to help teachers and schools address this challenge.  This is helping schools navigate the steep learning curve. They have resources to plan, be better prepared, and learn from the experience of others.

In a nutshell, no one is exactly sure what will happen with their school or community. More and more schools are closing and having to move to a distance learning model and we are all learning from each other.

Homeschooling stress
It is a challenging time for everyone. If you are finding it overwhelming reach out to your school.

Parent life

As parents, you now have to juggle your own job, and essentially manage your child’s education, social life and well being. The key here is that schools need to understand how difficult this is for parents, parents need to understand how difficult this is for schools, and everybody needs to stay focused on the students, socially, emotionally and academically.

Everyone needs to be flexible, everyone needs to be kind, and everyone needs to communicate as clearly as possible.

Here is a list of family expectations that came from my school:

    • Be involved! Ask questions and talk about learning and upcoming tasks and deadlines.
    • Help your child manage their workload and develop healthy daily routines in a suitable learning location.
    • Encourage your child to take study breaks and engage in frequent physical exercise.
    • Be mindful of your child’s wellbeing by talking about their challenges or concerns. If you need support, please inform your school counselor.
    • Create opportunities for your child to interact face-to-face with peers and maintain connections with their school community. Keep your children social but set limits to their social-media use.
    • Ensure your child is dressed appropriately and they are in a suitable location when using video tools.
    • If you have multiple children engaged in distance learning simultaneously, help each child find distraction-free learning locations.
    • Monitor communication from your children’s teachers and advisor.
    • Establish tech-free times for quiet and reflection. Monitor the amount of time your child is spending online and looking at screens.

(Bonn International School Distance Learning Guidelines – March 2020)

There are only so many hours in a day you can expect your kids to be doing school work.

Mix it up

Let’s face it though with this new learning from home routine there are only so many hours in a day that your children can actually focus on their studies. In some communities, people are able to get out and about a bit and in others, they are more or less on lockdown. Whatever your personal situation is try and make the most of this time and work on things you usually wish you had more time for. 

Things we as a family have all agreed to do during the school closure:

  • Our kids (14, 12, 10)  all have to cook one meal a week. We are around to help so it is the perfect opportunity when we are not rushing in and out the door from their usual activities. They will have plenty of time in the afternoon to plan and prep.
  • Our oldest wants to perfect the art of donut making. If there are projects your kids have been wanting to embark on now is the time. Whatever tickles their fancy and will keep them engaged over short to medium term. 
  • More board games are on our horizon. If you have older kids you might even get one of those never-ending Monopoly games up and running. Or that 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle you have never got around to doing.
  • We have challenged the two younger ones to build a Lego village. We agreed on the different buildings that the village will contain and they will spend time each day on it. 
  • Getting outside! We will be walking every day. Depending on the weather this might be a quick walk up the river or it might be a climb up the hill to the castle ruins. If you can get out of the house do. You will all feel much better for it. 
  • Spring cleaning is also on our agenda. We will choose one room every two days and together sort it out. Its a good time to get rid of some junk and give each room a deep clean (whatever that really means). If we all do it together each room will only take one to two hours. We will be able to see our progress as we go along hopefully motivating us to keep going until the whole house is done. 

Don’t stress!

Missing a few weeks or even months of school isn’t the end of the world. Of course, we all want the kids to be engaged and stimulated by their distance learning but we need to remember it is a steep learning curve for everyone so it might not be smooth sailing. The last thing a school wants is for everyone to be stressed out. That is not going to help with anyone’s learning. Reach out to your teachers, counselors and administrators if you or one of your children is struggling. Good Luck!

If you go to the YAY FOR TODAY FB Forum page you will see lots of parents sharing ideas and resources.

Derek Nelson is a US expat who has worked in international education for 25 years. He has lived and worked in the Philippines, China, Indonesia, NZ, Malaysia, the UAE, Qatar and Germany.

You can read his article on Questions to ask when choosing an international school here.