Online Classes, Homeschooling, Pods: Options for Your Child This Year : Life Kit Families with children are in a serious bind. Whether you're looking for options for child care or need resources to keep your kid entertained, this episode will walk through some ideas to think about for this school year.
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20 Questions To Help Decide What's Best For Your Kids (And You) This School Year

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20 Questions To Help Decide What's Best For Your Kids (And You) This School Year

20 Questions To Help Decide What's Best For Your Kids (And You) This School Year

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Hi. I'm Cory Turner.


I'm Anya Kamenetz. And this is NPR's LIFE KIT.


KAMENETZ: So here we are. We're four months into the pandemic and we're working. Most of us, the vast majority of us have to work. We need someplace safe for our kids to be. We would love for them to be using their time well, to be learning.

TURNER: To be interacting with other kids, with other responsible adults, obviously. And at the same time, you know, a lot of our schools are going to be remote-only in the fall. So we're all trying to figure out, what do we do now?

KAMENETZ: Yeah. It's really tricky. And there is no one rushing in with a bunch of cash, apparently, to solve all these problems. What we can offer in this episode is a way to think through your needs and your kids needs and hopefully come up with your best possible options.

TURNER: We have a child care crisis in the U.S., and it precedes this virus. This is old news for millions of Americans. The virus makes it even worse. And it's important to take stock of what more you're going to need with schools likely closed - at least intermittently - for months to come.

KAMENETZ: Like, how many hours do you need in your day to get stuff done?

TURNER: Do you think you can handle kids at home full time or kids at home part time on your own with your partner? Is an adult in your family going to have to step back from work?

KAMENETZ: Yeah, and is that automatically mom, or have you actually had a conversation about it? You know, I want to point out for women, for a second, that those of us who take time out for caregiving, a lot of times we just calculate, you know, what we're earning versus what it costs for childcare. But it's not just your salary for this month or next month or this year or next year, it's also advancement, right? So stopping out of work can have lifelong consequences for your earning and wealth and career. It really is an investment. And I think that's something to think about when families are doing this kind of back-of-the-envelope calculation.

TURNER: There are also a bunch of other factors that are worth considering now that I think are really specific to this pandemic. We've heard of employers being much more flexible in terms of allowing caregivers to change their schedules, to change their hours.

KAMENETZ: The bottom line question here is, can you cover your needs for childcare within your household or even by trading off with family and friends, without spending extra money?

TURNER: Then again, obviously, your time isn't free either. So, really, every option we're going to be talking about here is going to involve a balance of time and money.

KAMENETZ: Yep. That is a recurring theme. So now, once we've thought through our own means as workers, people in the household, you know, the next big question is, what about our kids? What do our kids need?

TURNER: Now is a great time to ask, how did my kids do when they were learning online in the spring? How are they feeling about the possibility of doing more online learning? Are they self-directed learners? Or was it a real struggle for them? You know, younger kids especially and some kids with disabilities - online learning is tough.

KAMENETZ: You know, what I'm hearing is that a lot of families are taking this enforced pause to try to think through what their kids need. You know, you kind of have to assess, what do your kids really have to have right now to get through this year in a positive way?

And for a little more perspective on this, I talked to someone who's really an expert in self-directed learning, Krystal Dillard. She's the director of Natural Creativity, which is a home-schooling resource center in Philadelphia. And what that means is that she helps children from really diverse backgrounds kind of design learning experiences that really meet them where they're at. So that can mean anything from studying college-level physics to woodworking or photography. And she told me that, often, even within the same family, you'll find children have really different needs.

KRYSTAL DILLARD: There may be one young person who is responsive to what is being given, you know, in terms of conventional schooling right now. But there's almost always one who is just not responding to it, doesn't want to do it. And, you know, the parent is really put in a position that either I'm going to be forcing my young person to sit down and do something they don't want to do, or I'm going to really think about whether this is as important as what I even thought it was at one point.

TURNER: So don't forget to sit down with your kids and ask, what would they prefer? And unpack it.

KAMENETZ: Yeah. I mean, so let's talk about the actual options, right? What is your day, what is your week, potentially what is your semester going to look like?

TURNER: If you're in a public school district - and we know many of them are going to be online-only in the fall - then that's really going to be the backbone or the default for many of you out there. So obviously, staying enrolled will keep you supporting your public school district. It is free - besides, obviously, the cost of a Wi-Fi device and the time it takes to oversee it.

KAMENETZ: Yep. And you should know that in our reporting, what we've come across is that a lot of districts really feel like what they have to offer is going to be a little bit more robust than what they had in the spring. Maybe more live instruction, maybe more, you know, sophisticated in terms of what the teachers are doing, you know, and that might be better (laughter) or worse for you, right? Because live instruction sometimes means more to coordinate and getting different kids in multiple different Zooms. But what we also know is that your school's remote learning is not going to fill the whole - what used to be the whole school day.

So then, what do you do? And I had been collecting lots of information and resources some, you know, some are going to use free courses, paid courses, live, recorded - there's so many different options. If you're looking for places to fill in gaps, I think a really good tip is to look at your own state's learning standards - that can be really detailed for the grade, especially in things like science - to think about what topics you might want to cover for a particular grade. Whatever you have energy for, there's a wide range of things.

I also want to mention, you know, there's also kind of prefabricated home-school curricula in a box. There's some Montessori ones. There's some other ones that are really kind of everything you need to know to home-school. There's individual online live classes, right? Cory, you mentioned that your kid's trying Outschool.

TURNER: Yeah. My 11-year-old is taking a class on Outschool about ethics in sports.


TURNER: And it was just like, you know, there were a list of hundreds of classes, and a buddy of his is just taking this for an hour a day. He did one just today, and he loved it.

KAMENETZ: Location is no longer an object, right? So what could your kid do in terms of a live class? One kind of out-of-the-box resource is a Fiverr. I know some people that are looking for tutors for their kids including international language tutors, who could be really cheap by the hour. Your local dance studios and places - piano teachers are probably all offering versions of what they do online now. So that's an interesting option to consider that's socially distanced. There's always software-based learning resources like Khan Academy to supplement.

And don't forget your networks. My mom is teaching art to my daughters once a week. They really get into that. That's like an hour-long activity. They learn about different artists, and they make work. There's high school students and college students all over the country that are banding together to offer tutoring sessions. And I would recommend picking one or two, you know, a great interest for your kids or something that they really need to work on - or both - to kind of supplement what's going on with remote learning.

Once you have a handle on your own needs and your kid's needs, then it's time to kind of look at your broader community and think about bringing other kids into the mix, so that your kid can have some social interaction, right?

TURNER: Yeah, and obviously, you're going to want to be on the same page with the caregivers in that circle. You're going to want to talk about, you know, how big is your circle? How much exposure do you have on a regular basis to other families and their habits? And obviously, you're also going to want to double down on the basics - handwashing, mask wearing, again, the honor system.

KAMENETZ: Any time you start thinking about spending time with other families, you need to have a conversation with those families. You need to be able to discuss and bring up what precautions everyone's taking, if there's been any exposures, are you comfortable asking someone to take a test? One mother I talked to who is thinking a lot about forming a pod because she has an only child is Prudence Carter, and she also has some respiratory health issues herself, so she needs to be extra careful.

PRUDENCE CARTER: You have to really, really be able to, like, talk openly about testing and taking temperature and washing hands and social distancing. And everybody has to be committed to that.

KAMENETZ: You know, let through kind of the different options you have as a household or with family or friends. What about if you decide you need to and can afford to pay for childcare? What are we looking at here? I mean, some families are talking about sharing a tutor or a sitter. Some districts are starting to open up subsidized care.

TURNER: Yeah. And we know there are lots of child care centers that have reopened, although they may have fewer slots available. And then of course, there are in-home day cares that are interestingly, you know, opening their doors to slightly older kids who, you know, they might have previously focused on prekindergarten, kindergarten. And now maybe they're taking second, third, fourth graders.

KAMENETZ: Yeah. And these places, you know, they welcome a lot of working families. They offer up to 10 hours a day, often, of coverage for as little as $200 a week. And I talked to Tracey McEntyre, who runs what she calls Little Elm STEAM Academy in a suburb of Dallas. So Tracey really does think of herself as a teacher, and she's been ramping up her academic program for this fall.

TRACEY MCENTYRE: Everyone has their own lap desk that they're going to be using. They're going to have their own beanbags. And so when it's time for independent time, they can choose anyplace, either outside if it's not too hot to do their work or somewhere in the classroom that they can do their work. So we've got a pretty good plan. I let the kids get involved with it as well because, you know, they're here. This is their classroom.

KAMENETZ: You know, Tracey plans a lot of science-based activities. That's why she calls her place the STEAM Academy. And she had some interesting thoughts about safety. So she has some health issues, as well as her son. And for her, safety is really based on relationships.

MCENTYRE: We're trusting each other that when you're at home, when you decide to go out, we are trusting you to, you know, make yourself safe so that you're coming back and making your child's peers and themselves safe. And I just made it clear about that. And if there's any time that I don't feel safe, that we will have to shut down. It's a day-by-day thing with us.

TURNER: So we've talked about your needs as a parent or caregiver. We've talked about your kids' needs, the people in your village - paid and unpaid - who may be able to help.

KAMENETZ: Even as we're stressing and rushing to make these decisions that - none of them are neutral, right? Everything that we're talking about here are really just reproducing the inequities that exist in our society already.

TURNER: You know, families podding up with other families that they already know - because of neighborhood segregation, in many places, those families are going to look like you. Or like choosing to hire a teacher, obviously, that is not an option for lots of families. And all this raises a question - if you want to do this, how can you do this thoughtfully and responsibly?

KAMENETZ: Yeah. That's exactly right. So Prudence Carter, who I mentioned earlier, she's thinking about forming a pod so her only child has a chance to socialize. But she also happens to be the dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley. And she's recognizing from her position as a scholar of educational equity that, you know, there are some really big issues looming here.

CARTER: It is the case that a lot of these learning pods are going to be socially segregated. They're going to be economically segregated. More affluent parents are most likely - because of the intersections of race and class, they will be racially and ethnically segregated.

KAMENETZ: Right. So she has a piece of advice here, actually. She says, don't take your kid out of public school. Whatever you're doing right now, keep it provisional. Keep it temporary.

CARTER: I am not interested in the privatization of public education and this becoming an alternative. I think what - it is important to understand that these are temporary fixes for something we had no idea was coming.

TURNER: Or, you know, organizing with other parents in your public school community - try to push for collective and not just individual solutions.

CARTER: This is a moment for parents to be trying to figure out how to supplement and provide in a moment of crisis and to be as inclusive as possible, to do is little danger or to do as little harm as possible to public education and to other families.

KAMENETZ: You know, and if you're forming a pod, some people have floated the idea of potentially having a sliding scale or creating a free spot. And Prudence Carter says, you know, diverse is one thing, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you're being inclusive. So how do you make sure that every child feels like they're equally a part of what you're making there? That's some really hard equity work that has to take place.


TURNER: We've been talking about some of the questions and decisions you need to make as a parent or caregiver and as a family, so quick recap here.

KAMENETZ: So what are your needs? You know, you may be so busy as a working parent that you may not have even asked yourself that question yet. But with a little bit of thinking, a little bit of reframing, creative use of resources, you may be on a path to get back a little bit of time to then be able to give back in all the places that you need to.

TURNER: You need to consider, what are your kids' needs? And don't forget to ask them what they think their needs are, as well. How do they feel about working remotely or not?

KAMENETZ: And then, you know, the broader learning that comes from this also comes from asking the question, what is our wider community need? You know, the public schools are not what they were last fall, but we still live in a society and in communities and we want to think about what's going to benefit not just our kids, but all the kids.

TURNER: And finally, just remember, even though (laughter) it's hard right now, this isn't going to last forever. We need a plan to get through the fall. And wherever we land, come the end of fall, we'll figure that out when we get there.

KAMENETZ: Yeah, and we're going to be there with you guys going through all of this, as well.


KAMENETZ: For more NPR LIFE KIT, check out our other episodes. We have one about how to let your kids entertain themselves. It's super useful.

TURNER: We've also got one on how to get started camping, plus tons of other episodes on parenting, personal finance and health. You can find those at

KAMENETZ: And if you love LIFE KIT and want more, subscribe to our newsletter at

TURNER: Also, we want to hear your tips. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at

KAMENETZ: This episode was produced by Clare Schneider. Beth Donovan is our senior editor. Meghan Keane is our managing producer.

TURNER: I'm Cory Turner.

KAMENETZ: And I'm Anya Kamenetz. Thanks for listening.

TURNER: Bye-bye.

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