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East County Wednesday, Apr. 15, 2020 2 months ago

Lakewood Ranch area parents take on new role as teachers

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Homeschool parents offer teaching tips to those thrust into unfamiliar territory.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

Marcie Hackman sat next to her son, Brayden, as he read aloud to his pre-K teacher, Michelle Figueroa, during a one-on-one video chat.

While Brayden read, Hackman’s daughters, Avery and Kinley, who are in the fifth and third grade, respectively, at Gene Witt Elementary School, were working on their own assignments. 

Hackman, like many other parents in East County, is making adjustments and facing different challenges while helping her children navigate e-learning.

Families who have been home schooling their children for years  can offer advice to parents who might be anxious about online learning and having their kids learning at home.

Some parents have concerns about their child falling behind during online learning, but Sarah Wiegand, a Myakka City resident who has been home schooling for 15 years, encourages parents not to fret during these weeks of online learning.

“Do the best you can, but also realize your child’s educational success is not dependent on the last two months of the school year,” Wiegand said. “Next year is coming and the year after that and the year after that.”

Crystal Rothhaar, a mother of two Robert E. Willis Elementary School students, works full time while also assisting her kids in online learning, which she said can be a handful.

“Fortunately, I work for a company that’s also flexible,” she said. “If I have to help my son for an hour in the morning, then I’m able to tack on an hour at night to work. But it just feels like you’re working around the clock. You’re either helping your kids with school, or you’re working, but there’s not a lot of free time in there.”

Amy Givens, an East County resident who has been home schooling a first grader, Eleanor, and preschooler, Kingsley, suggests parents develop a schedule. Givens has her kids working by 9 a.m. with a goal to have all assignments finished by 1 p.m.

Givens said a misconception about home-school is if students spend six to eight hours at school, they should spend the same time working at home. At home, students don’t have to take time physically moving from one classroom to the next or for recess, and parents don’t have to teach more than a dozen students at once. Home schooling shouldn’t take as long.

Hackman’s goal is to have her kids finish assignments for the day by 3:15 p.m. because that’s when Gene Witt would end its school day. Normally, they’ve been done by 2 p.m. and have taken a break for at least an hour for lunch and time outside.

Staying organized is key for Ruth Byler, who home-schools her five children in Myakka City. She has charts for her kids of what chores to do, all their assignments and more.

Fairyn Wiegand does a leaf identification assignment. Wiegand's mother, Sarah, has been homeschooling her children for 15 years and encourages them to spend time outside. Courtesy photo.

Wiegand said parents need to give their children breaks while working on assignments.

“Give them some time outside,” Wiegand said. “Outside time, in my opinion, is essential to the development of the child and to let them be free and imaginative.”

Hackman and Rothhaar said they’ve had to relearn concepts alongside their children, so they can help answer questions.

“I’m having to kind of learn it with them and then help them answer the question,” Hackman said.

Rothhaar helps her second grader, Ryan, because he doesn’t learn as well by reading and then applying it to an assignment. Sometimes that means she has to relearn a subject she hasn’t covered in years.

“It’s hard,” she said. “You don’t want to show your kids that you don’t know what’s going on.”

If parents are frustrated, Givens encourages them to take a break.

“You need to take a break because a child will not respond in positive ways if you’re frustrated,” Givens said.

For parents wondering how to fill the day with activities when online learning only takes a few hours of the day, Givens, Wiegand and Byler encourage time outside and off screens and devices.

“We’ve trained our children that it’s OK to be bored and figure out what to do on your own,” Givens said.

Wiegand, Byler and Givens all said home schooling is a unique opportunity for parents to develop strong relationships with their children and get to know them better. They said this time should be cherished because it won’t last long.

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