by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Schools may be closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but learning is continuing for students and their caregivers. A couple parents who already homeschooled their children before schools were closed have some advice for parents trying to manage now: incorporate your children’s interests in academic work, and be kind to yourself.
Tim Schwaba said he keeps his son engaged with academic work by balancing educational activities that have to get done, such as math coursework, with educational activities that his son finds inspiring.
On one occasion, for instance, his son wanted to learn about how light bulbs function, so they bought the supplies necessary to complete a science experiment on the topic. Currently, his son is interested in walruses and has been watching videos and reading about this type of animal.
Rhianon Kesali said that to spur engagement in academic work, she and her children find learning opportunities in different parts of daily life and pay particular attention to the topics in which her children are interested.
“One week it might be cooking — have you ever considered how much math and chemistry is involved in the kitchen?” Kesali shared. “The next it could be volcanoes. One thing always leads to another, and what might start out as a documentary or YouTube video could lead to reading then writing about it.”
Apart from academics, Schwaba and his son spend time outside throwing a baseball or frisbee around and taking walks. His son also enjoys dancing and volunteering. He keeps his son engaged by giving him many activity options, he said.
One of Kesali’s children is enthusiastic about theater, birdwatching and Pokémon, and her other child enjoys rebuilding mechanical toys, building with Legos and taking long bike rides.
“To help them stay engaged, I’m simply there to support and be there for them,” Kesali noted. “For example, I’ll go to auditions with my daughter and help her practice lines at home. I go birdwatching with her and make sure she never runs out of informative books. For my son, there’s a lot of listening.”
Schwaba said he manages the more stressful moments while homeschooling by walking the fine line of pushing his son a little bit, but not too much. “There are times where I don’t feel like he’s concentrating, and I have to lay down the line: ‘This has to be done by a certain time or we don’t go somewhere else,’” Schwaba stated. “Pushing to the point where they shut down or they’re crying, obviously that’s too far … and I’d also like to point out that if you engage just enough pressure and they learn things, it builds their self-esteem, so they become comfortable with trying other things, and it builds curiosity.”
Kesali said she gets through the more trying moments while homeschooling by being open with her children and letting them know when she needs a little time for herself. “Self-care is not only important for the parents themselves, but it’s also excellent behavior to model for the kids,” Kesali shared. “When I mess up — everybody messes up now and then — I take some time to reflect on where and how I went on and then apologize. Since that has been modeled for them, they’re pretty good about doing the same.”
Some resources to try while schools are closed include the websites Scholastic Learn at Home, Khan Academy, Outschool, Adventure Academy, Kitchen Pantry Scientist and Go Noodle. Additionally, a number of museums and National Parks offer virtual tours, and some zoos, aquariums and wildlife refuges provide livestreams. There are also a variety of podcasts to which the whole family can listen, including Story Pirates, WOW in the World, Fun Kids Science Weekly, Story Collider, Brains On!, Simon’s Science Adventure Stories and Fun Kids Story Quest. Finally, Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest is offering free online resources for teachers and parents regarding financial literacy, work and career readiness, and entrepreneurship which can be accessed at www.jaum.org/resources.