6 Tips For Homeschooling During Coronavirus: Life Kit Tens of millions of parents are homeschooling their kids during the coronavirus. Here's a realistic guide to keeping kids engaged and everyone sane. Hint: this is a good time for passion projects and sleeping in a bit.

Tips For Homeschooling During Coronavirus

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MEGHAN KEANE, BYLINE: Hey, LIFE KIT listeners. Meghan Keane here, our managing producer. And I've got a favor to ask you. We know that the coronavirus pandemic has upended so much of daily life. And it hasn't exactly been easy. But everyone here on the LIFE KIT team has been sharing with each other all these great creative tips we keep seeing out in the world and how we've been coping throughout this crisis. And here's a particularly glamorous tip that we got from NPR's Lauren Migaki.

LAUREN MIGAKI, BYLINE: So the other day, I was getting dressed when something shiny caught my eye from the back of my closet. It was a sparkly, sequined romper that I bought on a whim but, shockingly, had never found an occasion to wear it for. So I threw it on and felt fabulous for the morning conference call. You don't have to do it every day, but - I don't know - consider doing something like formal Fridays. You know, it's that perfect occasion for the sparkly romper, or maybe you have some vintage MC Hammer pants.

KEANE: And that made us think we want to hear from all of you about your coronavirus coping tips. Just leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823. Or email us at lifekit@npr.org. Just say your name, where you're from and your tip for coping with all the changes the coronavirus has brought on. We'll be sharing these in upcoming episodes because remember, we're trying to get through this crazy time together. So let's share the love.



Hi. I'm Anya Kamenetz.


And I'm Cory Turner. And this is another LIFE KIT dispatch from the new land of coronavirus.

KAMENETZ: And today's episode is what you, parents, need to know about homeschooling because tens of millions of us out there are now doing the best we possibly can to keep our kids engaged, get our work done and maybe even do some learning.

TURNER: Yeah. And as always, as education reporters, we've been looking into this. Anya has a lot of really great information to help you all who are homeschooling. And we want to get to that in just a minute. But I'm going to start us off with our first takeaway. Takeaway number one is a little background for you parents who may be kind of curious. Public schools may not be offering full and complete online replacement learning. And there's a reason for that.


TURNER: That's because schools have a legal obligation to provide equitable learning opportunities to all kids. And any kind of e-learning program gets really dicey for districts really fast. It's hard, especially for districts with a lot of poverty, to guarantee access to things like hardware - so tablets and laptops - but also Wi-Fi access. And even if they can do that, they also need to make sure they can provide all the same supports to kids with disabilities, too, that they would be providing, obviously, if school was in session. And that includes even access to paraeducators. And that gets really hard.

KAMENETZ: Yeah, absolutely. So paraeducators, meaning, like, aides that help kids one-on-one. And so, you know, as Cory and I have done a lot of reporting on, civil rights law says that every student in school, no matter what their disability is, is required to have access to a Free Appropriate Public Education. And that's why parents might be wondering, why can't my kids' teacher just get on video chat and teach my kids all day long for me? These are some of the reasons why.

TURNER: Yeah, and that's why, instead, schools are opting to give things, like, you know, paper packets, like the ones my kids brought home, or online links with work they can do, but they're going to have to do it without any direct instruction. They really have to be self-directed, which, obviously, is a big challenge right now.

So Anya, this also leads right into, I think, the key thing we want parents to know about learning that comes with less structure, right?

KAMENETZ: Yes, and that is our takeaway number one. You need to know your kid because with home-based learning, strong learners can do even better. And weaker learners can have an even harder time. I talked to Justin Reich - he's an education researcher at MIT - about this. And he focuses on online learning. But what he says really applies to all kinds of homeschooling.

JUSTIN REICH: Online learning is really hard for a lot of people. It requires a lot of self-regulated learning skills that, you know, even a lot of, really, adult sophisticated learners don't particularly have very well.

KAMENETZ: Reich has spent a really long time studying how online learners do, how self-directed learners do. And he says, you know, there's kind of a penalty for learning online.

REICH: We sometimes talk about the transition from face-to-face learning to online learning as having an online penalty, that in lots of different kinds of research, people do worse in online learning settings. They get lower grades. They're more likely to drop out and fail and those kinds of things. And that online penalty is worse for the most vulnerable struggling students in our system.

KAMENETZ: So with all of this in mind, it's just so, so important for us as we're plunging into this world to be realistic of our expectations of, you know, how long our kids can work on their own, how involved are we going to need to be? What capabilities, what time do we have - the adults in the household - to get this done?

TURNER: Yeah, I mean, Anya, I can say as a parent, I've been seeing this firsthand in my own family these past few days. You know, one of my boys really prefers to work alone. He's really good at self-directed learning. But the other one told me, Dad, I don't like this. I like working in groups. In school, we almost always work in groups. Why can't we work in groups at home?

KAMENETZ: Right. So for a kid like that, you know, maybe you're going to try to emphasize finding a Zoom class or another place that he can get together with his buddies, if you have the capability. We also want parents to realize that this is so, so fluid and so, so new. And there's going to be resources becoming available slowly in some places for students that need it. And that ranges from online tutoring, even to services with students with special needs that are mandated by your school district. So, you know, stay in touch with your district, with your kids' principal and teacher. You don't have to do this all yourself.

TURNER: OK, so we've talked an awful lot about the real limitations of learning online and trying to do at least some of the schoolwork from home. Is there a silver lining in here, Anya? Like, is there anything that can help us get through this?

KAMENETZ: Yes, actually, Cory, there is. And this is our takeaway number three. Now is a great time for passion projects.

TURNER: Passion projects. See, the funny thing about doing this, Anya, is, you know, normally, we go over this stuff. And I'm genuinely surprised here. And I'm excited to hear what you're about to say here because I have a feeling this is going to work really well for my 8-year-old. Please tell me.

KAMENETZ: (Laughter) Awesome, OK. So what all these experts told me - and, you know, I've been looking into independent learning for a really long time - as much as we see that struggling learners can struggle even more with the upended routine and having to learn independently, there is a flip side. And that is now is the time for your kid to learn what he or she or they really wants to learn.

So I spoke to Ana Homayoun. She works as an educational coach for students in the Bay Area. And she told me this.

ANA HOMAYOUN: I think the best thing to do is use this as an opportunity for your child to say, hey, you know what? Let's look at the things that you've wanted to do before but haven't had time for. What is something you wanted to learn?

KAMENETZ: Ana's been checking in with kids all over the country this week that she's worked with. And she said this.

HOMAYOUN: You know, one kid said, I'm learning the ukulele using an online app. And another one was like, I haven't really had time to do writing or work on my songwriting. And that's what I'm going to do right now.

KAMENETZ: So, Cory, you know, give your kids a little nudge in a certain direction. It could be cooking. It could be building something in "Minecraft," anything they're truly interested in. I remember you saying your son is really good at building, like, little gadgets from stuff around the house, right?

TURNER: Oh, yeah. There's currently a coffee mug taped to the wall of our playroom.

KAMENETZ: (Laughter).

TURNER: And I'm not really sure what it's for. It's taped sideways. And it's full of ribbons. I was going to ask him about it (laughter).

KAMENETZ: See. This is the key because when we are tapping into our kids' self-motivation, that means we're not standing behind them with a buggy whip, right? We are going to get more time to ourselves when we encourage them to immerse themselves in something that they're truly interested in. And that's kind of the key to independent learning.

And I have to say, Cory, in my community, too - and we're speaking from more resourced-communities, right? And so there's been an explosion of people offering singalongs, acting classes, reading groups, you know, people volunteering their time, live streaming, my kids' teachers, other people in the community. Actually, it's gotten kind of overwhelming. This gets me to the next takeaway, takeaway number four. And that is when it comes to homeschooling, resources are amazing. But keep in mind they're just the beginning.


KAMENETZ: And this is something that I've seen happen again and again, right? So I've been covering the online learning world for over a decade now. And there's this constant mistake that people make where they come into that space and they think, oh, everything's free. That means education is free, right? So it's amazing. Like, there's all these PDF schedules going around. You can virtually tour any museum in the world. You can read any book in the world. You can listen to lectures by the greatest professors in the Ivy League.

TURNER: It's all there at your fingertips.

KAMENETZ: Yeah, yeah, yeah, so that's the promise, right? That's the hype. But, you know, that doesn't actually work when what we have - what we're missing is time, right?

TURNER: Right.

KAMENETZ: So the best advice that I have for you parents at this moment is simplify it, right? Prioritize two things - your kid's greatest need or area that they have to work on and their biggest interest or passion project. Prioritize those two things. Find a couple of resources that work. You know, it could be something your teacher's giving out. That's a good place to start. And just build from there. You know, we are not going to recreate school in one day.

TURNER: Well, that makes me feel better already.

KAMENETZ: So the thing that we want to really emphasize here is that, you know, we know that the huge limitation that we all have is time, right?

TURNER: And also space, honestly. You know, one of the things I found in our house is, you know, our boys have kind of camped out all over the place. And I think one of the things that I need to be better about is creating a regular space for them that they can associate with learning if, for no other reason, then when they're done learning for the day, they don't feel like they're eating dinner at school and watching television at school and going to sleep at school.

KAMENETZ: Right, so this is our takeaway number five - is to set up your space and your time for success, right? Now, realistically, kids may need to move around during the day. We all do. But Ana Homayoun, the coach I talked to, suggests that you try to have a designated area or maybe two for learning specifically and that you pack up your materials into a basket for learning so that they can just put them aside when they're finished and have that division.

TURNER: Oh, I love that.

KAMENETZ: Yeah, it's a really - it's a nice idea. And then you do need to keep to some kind of schedule. We all need the schedule, the order, the routine. But the paradox of that is we also need to be able to take advantage of this moment to be a little bit flexible, right? And we know that homeschoolers who do this all the time - they don't homeschool for seven hours a day, right? They take advantage of the efficiency of not having to go back-and-forth to school or wait for the teacher to pass out papers. And so in this situation that we're in, think in terms of, like, two or four academic hours a day.

TURNER: Oh, really?

KAMENETZ: Yeah, that was a recommendation for a few people that I talked to.

TURNER: I actually have a question for you, Anya. In all of your research, did anyone suggest that we let the kids sleep in? Or is the guidance like, no, you really need to stick to a hard and fast schedule?

KAMENETZ: I am so glad you asked that question, Cory. The researchers told us that we should really be enjoying the fact that we don't have to force our kids out of bed in the morning. And this is Ana.

HOMAYOUN: We know that they've been sleep-deprived. You've been reporting on it. We've all been reporting on it for months and years. So this is a time that they can get all the sleep they need without, really, any forcing them up at 6:30 or 7 in the morning.

TURNER: Oh, my gosh. That takes such a load off of me.

KAMENETZ: I got to say it's the nicest part of this week so far - is not having to drag my preschooler out of bed (laughter) and realizing that she - you know, it puts her in a better mood. And I'm in a better mood because I get to have a cup of coffee and brush my teeth before I deal with the whole day, you know?

TURNER: Absolutely.

KAMENETZ: This gets us to takeaway number six and our last takeaway of today. For parents that are doing this whole drill of home-schooling and working from home at the same time, which I think needs a new acronym - it's like, stay at home, work from home - is just to be forgiving - right? - of yourself, of your partner, if you have one, and definitely of your kids.

TURNER: Oh, I love that.

KAMENETZ: Right? We are under so, so much stress here.

TURNER: Oh, my gosh, yeah. I was just telling Rachel (ph) this morning that I just feel like I'm doing 10 million things and maybe not any of them very well (laughter), so...

KAMENETZ: It is rough, Cory.

TURNER: I like this one. I'm going to take takeaway number six and write it out and, like, hang it over my bed.

KAMENETZ: That's such a good idea. And that means, you know, for your kids, if you need an entire movie to get through the day one of these afternoons, like, that's cool. Like, take a mulligan. Let Disney Plus takeover.

TURNER: I love it.

KAMENETZ: Or, you know, if you have the energy, there's other stuff, too. NPR is trying to do our part. We've got our Wow In The World podcast, which is great for grade schoolers. It covers science. And they've actually added a daily game show now called Two Whats And A Wow. And our friend Ari Shapiro at All Things Considered is posting really cool learning videos, too, at shapiroschool.org. And don't forget video chat. We had arts and crafts with Grandma yesterday - you know, really trying to let other people reach out and help us when we need help because we're all going to need it. And Ana told me this as a reminder.

HOMAYOUN: You don't have to homeschool if it's really going to cause severe emotional distress for everyone involved. And I think that's really important for parents to hear right now because we all feel so much personal pressure. Maybe people have work pressure. Maybe they're feeling financial pressure. And maybe it's a time to step back at least for just two or three days and just say, you know what? We're going to take a break, and we're going to figure this out together. And maybe I don't have all the answers right now. So that is something that people have to be OK with.

KAMENETZ: And that leads us directly to the recap.

TURNER: Takeaway number one, public schools may not be offering full and complete online replacement learning. And that's for a good reason. But they may still be sending home links and paperwork packets, so do what you can with what does come home.

KAMENETZ: Takeaway number two, when approaching homeschooling, you need to take into account who your kid is because we know from the research that strong learners can do even better independently. But learners who are struggling - they're going to struggle even more without the schedule and the routine and the supports that they're used to. So just kind of adjust your expectations accordingly.

TURNER: Yeah. Then takeaway number three is one of my favorites. This is a really good time for passion projects. Find that one thing that your child is super jazzed about and try to find opportunities for learning around it.

KAMENETZ: Yes, because a self-motivated kid is one who can work independently, which is really important if you're trying to get work done at the same time.

Our takeaway number four, you might be inundated right now with resources and ideas. And those are great, but they're really just the beginning. And so what I would urge people to do is decide on their priorities as far as, what is the thing my kid really needs to work on, so they don't fall behind? And what is the thing they really want to focus on right now? And limit what you're taking on to just those two things. We're not going to recreate school in one day.

TURNER: Takeaway number five is set up space and time for success. That includes a special spot in your house or apartment where most of the learning can happen, so your kids don't feel, again, like they're trying to eat and sleep and play at school all the time. And also, try to create some dedicated spaces in your schedule for the learning.

KAMENETZ: Yes, and combine it with physical time, outdoor time away from other people as much as you can. And our takeaway number six is really the biggest message for every dispatch during this time, which is be forgiving. Be forgiving of yourself. Be forgiving of your kids. We are all going to get through this together. And we're going to rebuild together on the other side.

TURNER: Just remember this is not a one- or two-week thing. This is probably going to be quite a while for all of us. And you're really going to need patience. You're going to need to be on the same team.

KAMENETZ: That's exactly right. So Life Kit is working to bring you more tips than ever in this time of coronavirus, so keep an eye out for those episodes in your feed. And if you've got a tip for us about homeschooling and how it's going, email us at lifekit@npr.org. I'm Anya Kamenetz.

TURNER: I'm Cory Turner. Thank you for listening.



KAMENETZ: Yeah, Cory?

TURNER: I'm dying to know because I don't think people really understand what it means to make audio like this when we're not in a studio. So I'm sitting in my kid's playroom on a giant pillow with a duvet over my head. And there are, like, Lego Star Wars vehicles all around my feet, so I have to make sure I don't move. Where are you?

KAMENETZ: (Laughter). I'm in my laundry room/linen closet. So I just realized I have this small room in my house that's basically lined with towels and sheets and stuff like that. So it seems to be working OK. We'll see how it goes.

TURNER: Oh, it's perfect. The NPR audio engineers will love you for it.

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