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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 9, 2020 1 month ago

Sarasota teachers offer parental tips for at home learning

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Fear not, parents. No one is expecting you to replace your child’s teacher, but here are some helpful hints to make at-home learning a little smoother.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

As COVID-19 threatens to end on-campus learning for the rest of the school year, many Sarasota parents are being thrust into a new role: teacher.

Although parents often teach their children how to walk and talk, the idea of teaching them math or discussing the finer points of a Charles Dickens novel might cause some anxiety.

However, teachers throughout the district say it’s important for parents to know that teachers are not expecting them to be a replacement. Instead, their job is to be a support system for their students.

The Observer talked with five Sarasota County Schools teachers to get tips for parents of students in all age levels.

Elementary school

Deb Pappas, a third grade teacher at Cranberry Elementary, and Susan Banks, a second grade teacher at Venice Elementary, said that even though elementary students are young, they should still guide their own education.

Parents should be sure to utilize the following programs and techniques to help them do so:

Don’t over-help

Even though it might be tempting for parents to work minute by minute with their elementary-aged students, they should fight the appeal.

Instead, parents should set up a schedule with their children and let them work through problems on their own.

“It can be hard for some parents who haven’t seen their kid as a learner to stay hands-off,” Banks said. “They get worried if their kid is struggling, and they try to rescue them, and that’s a big mistake. Let them struggle because the struggle is where the learning happens.”

Use ClassDojo 

ClassDojo is an online platform that allows students and teachers to connect. Many teachers will post videos to ClassDojo, so students can still see them and hear their voice.

Not only does it provide the student easy access to a teacher, but it also allows students to contact one another, which helps them keep up their social interactions.

Not all teachers use ClassDojo, but most have a similar platform. Check with your child’s teacher to find out what platform is best.

Parents should encourage their students to get outside during break time. Harry Sayer

Give lots of breaks 

Although parents might think the three daily hours of required work can be done in one sitting, children need lots of breaks.

Pappas suggests taking a break outdoors where kids can burn off any excess energy. Additionally, she said a mindful break, where relaxation tactics are used, can help refuel the learning process.

Parents can even schedule breaks into their day. Pappas made a weeklong schedule for her classes that has bullet points showing how long a student should spend on each task. It even has breaks built in.

Provide quiet reading time

Banks said reading is integral to a young child’s learning. Many skills can be lost if children aren’t reading enough.

She suggests providing some time throughout the day that is completely devoted to reading. It helps, she said, if the parent is reading too.

“You always tell your kids to read, but if they never see you pick up a book, it’s a weird message for them,” Banks said. “If you say, ‘Hey, we’re all going to read now,’ that is huge.”

Use Inner Explorer

Students can use Inner Explorer to practice mindfulness and focus on the day's tasks. Harry Sayer

Inner Explorer is an online and mobile application that allows students to focus on mindfulness. It offers a five- to 10-minute program that helps children understand their thoughts and emotions. It also helps them get focused for the day ahead.

“We’re trying to make sure that the kids are able to relax and not be stressed out as they learn,” Pappas said.

Give positive behavior support

This can come in the form of a positive wake up, a few stickers or even a homemade certificate — a little positivity can go a long way.

The more positive the parents are about learning, the more excited the students get about their education, Pappas said. Quality work is better than quantity, so parents should give the focus to finishing a project well rather than finishing more projects.

Pappas regularly emails her students digital certificates when they finish different class projects.

“When they finish their 25 minutes of reading, or whatever it may be, I email them a certificate, and it sends a message of, ‘Hey, I noticed you and your good work,’” Pappas said. “It’s not much, but it really goes a long way.”

Watch their online usage

Because a majority of the learning will be done online, Pappas said it’s important to watch what sites the students are on. School computers often have safeguards to deter students away from particular sites, but Pappas said home computers might not.

Don’t be afraid to reach out

Both Pappas and Banks said many parents might feel apprehension reaching out with multiple questions a day. However, that’s what the teachers are for, they said.

Parents should not feel like they have to be in charge of their child’s education. Instead, they should just help guide them through their daily activities.

If there are problems with the material or the technology, the teachers are happy to help through email, phone calls or video conferencing tools.

Middle and High School students

Riverview High School teacher Michael McGuckin, Booker High School teacher Alexandra Hamill and North Port High School teacher Cynthia Conway said older children are more equipped to learn from home.

However, that doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t help them. When possible, parents should use the following techniques:

Let the kids drive their education

The students are old enough to gather their daily tasks and work through a lot of problems on their own. Parents should be there to help answer tough questions but should not do the work for them.

Parents might be overstepping if they are typing an essay or doing a complete math problem for their child. Instead, they should give the students the tools to solve the problem, which might involve having them contact their teacher.

Help them figure out a schedule

Teachers say parents should help their students set up a workday schedule, being sure to build in break time. Harry Sayer

McGuckin sees remote learning as a chance for students to start practicing skills they’ll need in their adult life, such as time management and organization.

He suggests parents help their students figure out a daily schedule and priority to-do list before they get to work. Parents can walk their students through how they go about scheduling their workday and help them create their plan.

“Students are almost forced right now to be working on setting a routine and a daily schedule for themselves,” McGuckin said. “Parents should really support them as they are working through these things.”

Have a clear workspace

Students often can get distracted by TV, video games or other home temptations. All three teachers said parents should be sure to clear off a workspace for their students away from the heart of the house to avoid distractions.

Students should strive to make a school-like environment, so they should work at a desk or table, not from bed or the couch. They also can get dressed for the day rather than staying in pajamas to stay more focused.

Don’t expect too much

Parents with multiple children in the house might expect their older students to watch their younger siblings and help them with their homework while the parents continue going to work.

Teachers expect these situations and are willing to accommodate for them, but they say parents shouldn’t expect their older child to work the equivalent of a full school day if this is the case.

“We are trying to approach this with a grace and compassion mindset,” Hamill said. “The goal is to make sure students have complete access to their education, which may look different from student to student. As long as they are understanding the material and learning, they are succeeding.”

Stay in contact with individual teachers

Middle and high school students often have seven teachers in one day. Parents should try to stay in contact with each of the student’s teachers to track progress and expectations.

“This is a learning curve for everyone, and we’re having flexibility as teachers, which means we have flexibility in the programs they’re using too,” Hamill said. “Communication is so important during this time.”

It’s OK to not know the answers

Many students in middle and high school might be taking courses that have drastically changed since their parents were in school.

If parents finds themselves not knowing how to solve a math problem or how to interpret the allegories in the “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” they shouldn’t stress.

Instead, they should have their students reach out to their teachers or do online research to find out more about the subject.

Make sure your child keeps up social relationships

Remote learning doesn’t just take away your child’s access to school campuses. It also takes away their daily access to their friends and teachers.

Conway said it’s important for students to continue using video conferencing tools to keep up the face-to-face interactions that can have a positive impact on a student’s well-being.

“Relationships are so huge for us,” Conway said. “Continuing to check in with teachers and friends is huge. It lets them know that the teachers are there for them, and we’re all in this together.”

Learn outside of class material

At-home learning affords students the opportunity to take advantage of individualized learning. Parents should encourage students to dig deeper into topics that interest them.

If a student is interested in the biology of marine life, they can research the topic from home while still working on their other lessons. Parents can encourage them to find videos and books to help with their research.

Additionally, the extra time allows students to start thinking about their future plans. They can use the time to research colleges or workforce opportunities that may interest them.

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