When it comes to homeschooling, it’s not just students who are doing the learning. Amid coronavirus school closures, parents are learning how to juggle their own work-from-home situations with helping their kids learn from home, too. It’s stressful and overwhelming, and parents wonder whether they’re doing it right. But there is no right way to homeschool right now. There are, however, helpful tips parents can put into practice. Ana Homayoun is an educator and author of several books, including most recently, Social Media Wellness: Helping Teens and Tweens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic, and she’s a frequent guest on NPR. Ana joins us to share practical ideas on how parents can structure a realistic school day at home and how kids can set themselves up for success by organizing their physical and digital learning spaces. She also explains why it’s important to give kids autonomy and control, especially now, at this unprecedented moment in their schooling.
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For more information visit: https://anahomayoun.com/
Homeschooling lessons for parents
Intro: Welcome to the Equal Parts Podcast brought to you by Care@Work.
Emily Paisner: Being a working parent is hard and right now, millions of us are working and homeschooling our kids at the same time. Today's guest, Ana Homayoun is here to help. She's an author, educational consultant and educator who's spent nearly two decades working with kids, parents and teachers, helping them to stay organized, focused and productive in the classroom and in school communities. Now that the classroom has moved into our dining room or maybe the living room, Ana's advice is priceless right now. Have a listen. Ana, thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you and your family are well during this very challenging time that we're all living through.
Ana Homayoun: Thank you. I hope the same for you as well. Thanks for having me.
Emily: Let's start by talking about something you mentioned on a recent webcast that you gave. That was asynchronous vs synchronous learning. Can you explain that for our listeners, what those techniques mean, the differences between them and how students, teachers and parents can use these learning styles for distance learning right now?
Ana: Sure. What I was noticing and what I'm seeing in schools around the country is that some schools are doing asynchronous learning, which means that they give the assignments at the beginning of the week or at a certain amount of time and then students have to map out when and how they're going to do the work and then turn it in. A synchronous model is more of a live stream, so you have to tune in at 8:30 for your English class and at 10:00 AM for your Biology class in the same way you might've had classes before, but now they're just online.
Most schools that I see are doing some version of a mix of both. They'll have work that they assign the students to do on their own independently and they may have them watch videos or do other things that involve interactive learning, but then they also have check-ins, which are live-streamed, where they can touch base with their teacher and get more clarification on things. What I'm seeing more is a blended model of that. What I also want to make sure people are aware of is parents, teachers, everybody has a lot of people living under their roof at once and some teachers in the same school might not have the same opportunity to do synchronous learning, like if you have young kids, it might not be possible for you to be online every morning at 10:00 AM the way you once would be in the classroom.
The piece to really understand and be empathetic towards is that all of our students learn in different ways and they've also had to adapt right now. Helping them move from a place where they would go to school and see their friends and have the structure and socialization and now really have to focus on, if it's an asynchronous model, really coming up with how they're going to be organized and manage their time day-to-day, so that they can get their work done.
Emily: As working parents, a lot of our listeners are working parents, it's tough to be a full-time homeschool teacher and a full-time employee. I know that I'm feeling completely overwhelmed and there's only so much I can give in a day. Is it appropriate for parents to reach out to family and friends to help share that homeschooling burden? Of course, remotely, but how can we tap into our network to help us here?
Ana: I think it's really important to think about resiliency as a way of focusing on self-compassion and reaching out when you need help. When we think about this idea of being resilient, we've often thought you need to work harder or do more and work through it. I say that because it really comes to task with this moment where a lot of working parents are now working from home, they're parenting at the same time and then they're now being asked to manage their child's schooling in some way. All three of those can't happen at the same time and we have to admit that and be okay with that and understand that this is not normal times.
That being said, we do have these extended support networks, some of us. You may have grandparents that you can't see, you may have a extended aunt, you may have a older cousin or someone that can provide support virtually to your child when your child might respond better to them. Maybe homework time --
Emily: My kids definitely respond better to other people. [chuckles]
Ana: Right. You know what, it's because you all are also in the same home right now and doing everything together. The other flip side of this is that there might be a grandparent or an aunt or somebody who has extra time on their hands who would love to have this as part of their routine virtually. We want to make sure we identify the people who have the time, the space, and the ability to do that and tap into those networks rather than feeling like we're being a burden.
Emily: That's great advice. I definitely am going to call my parents and see if they can help out a little bit more.
I know a lot of people are feeling stressed that their kids are going to fall behind academically because of this. What's realistic? Should we expect your kids to maintain full school days right now and if not, what's a more realistic approach?
Ana: I think it's really important to remember that a full school day includes a lot of things that they're not doing right now. You're commuting to school, you're walking through the hallways, you're saying hello to somebody and those things that are getting missed are actually, a lot of kids are grieving those things, right? They're saying that it's not just the friends that you see or you would talk to on FaceTime, but the people that you pass in the hallways that now you don't really interact with. The reason I say that is it's not really realistic to think A, that a child is supposed to be doing eight hours of work now that they're at home and I also think it's important to remember that you just want to focus that they learn the content, but that's the secondary importance right now to their mental, social and emotional wellness.
We can work on content when a child feels socially and emotionally safe and healthy. If a child is having a bad day or feeling overwhelmed or anxious, we want to focus on that too. Same goes for adults. Anytime you're feeling overwhelmed and anxious, that's not the time to start a new project. We want to think with our kids, know what are the things they need to know for the next school year? What are the things, if they're in the fifth grade, if they're in the sixth grade, what's the math? What's the science? What's the writing skills and reading comprehension that they need to know to go and be successful in that next grade? How can we make sure that they get those skills and they have those skills? Beyond that, we want to step back and give them this opportunity to process some of the things that they're just having to deal with that is in this new moment of time. If it means you have to make adjustments, that's okay.
Emily: That's a good transition to this next thought. Schedules and routine seem to be essential right now. If you have a certain amount of time blocked off every day that the kids know that "This is my work time". I know here and I've heard from a lot of other people that some days are better than others and today would be one of those days we're not doing so great. How would you recommend that kids and families set their daily schedules and routines in a realistic way? I've seen posts on Facebook's from people who have these elaborate calendars mapped out and I think, I'm really doing something wrong here.
Ana: You're not doing anything wrong and you really want to give yourself a break. I really want to tell people that, the reality is we're all in this new moment and we're doing the best we can. What I step back and think of is I think of breaking this up into three buckets, movement, work and rest and then the movement, you really think about getting kids to move. This is especially important for kids that are fidgety, because they're young, kids that need to move around. You want them to move first thing in the morning. If they can go outdoors, great. If that's not an option, make it fun indoors and then you have a work period of time.
It depends on the age. It depends on their ability to pay attention and if they have attention deficit challenges and all of those things. We usually say, 15 minutes to 20-minute blocks for elementary school students, 25 minutes to 45-minute blocks for high school students. If they have an asynchronous model where they just have to get their work done, I generally tell them at the beginning of the week, do a brain dump and write down everything from every webpage and everything that you have to do. Then over the course of the week, do a two-hour block in the morning from like 10 to 12 or 9 to 11 and then take an hour for lunch, move, eat, take a break and then do another 2 hours and you should be done by 3 o'clock.
Now I work with students, my office is in the Silicon Valley, so we actually are working with over a hundred students in 16 different school districts. I've been seeing a lot of this firsthand. What I'm telling you is actually what my students are doing and it's working for them and they're feeling less stressed. We know that really the academic amount of work, it really adds up to about 3 to 4 hours a day. Then after 3 o'clock, should just be rest time and it could be an opportunity to do something you like to do. It could be an opportunity to just watch Netflix or something else, it could be an opportunity to do a lot of different things.
I think it's important to give people that opportunity to break it into three buckets rather than having this overwhelming schedule. The more kids can have autonomy and choice, no matter what their age, the more they can regain a sense of control in a moment that feels very uncertain for many people. The other piece, I would say, is the beginning of the day and at the end of the day, come up with some new ritual or routine, maybe it's a three-minute dance party, maybe it's watching a funny video that everyone watches, maybe it's taking a funny photo and sending it to grandma, whatever it is. Come up with new rituals and routines for this moment because that'll give kids an opportunity to remember this, not just with the feeling of overwhelm that this was a moment in time that we adapted.
Emily: You've mentioned that this could also be a good time for kids to pick up an activity or project that they've always wanted to do, but never really had the time. I'm trying to encourage my kids to take on something new but again, they don't always listen to my advice. How can you encourage them to do this in a way that will work?
Ana: Well, it goes back to how do you build intrinsic motivation in kids. It's all around the research shows, helping them feel a sense of autonomy, helping them feel a sense of competence, and giving them a sense of relatedness or belonging. For so many kids, where I live in the Silicon Valley in San Francisco Bay Area, the traffic was just impossible, everything took so much longer but now that you don't have that, kids are literally getting hours back into their day just because of that, not to mention that their activities are canceled or all of the rest.
What I encourage kids to think about is, what are the things that you wanted to have time for that you haven't? Go research and what are the ways that you can explore that in an online way that you might not have before. There are drawing classes at 10:00 AM. A lot of different artists have been having them on Instagram Live or on YouTube. There are apps that help with learning the guitar. There's a number obviously, we know cooking shows, kids who want to do baking or something like that, but in the very least a lot of kids love to read and they haven't had a chance to, or there are different things they haven't had time to do.
I would also encourage you, if you feel like you're not the one to have the conversation, have them have the discussion with someone else virtually, have them have the discussion with someone that would be a person that they would listen to. I always say in my work with students that those people are clarifiers. They're not necessarily parents, but they might be an adult that your kid feels a connection to and that you trust that they can have that conversation.
Emily: Can you tell me what some of your quarantine pro-tips are for staying organized, both in physical and digital spaces?
Ana: Sure, well, one of the first things we do is in our office with students, in general, and this works here too, is that they always use binders for each subject and a planner. With the digital version, so many of our students have been using things online for years, we also have them come up with a file folder for each class on their home screen, and then create different folders within that for homework, for handouts, for tests review, and for notes. What they can do is that they put the things in the right places. The other piece that parents can help them with is really learning how to name a file in a way that's effective.
Math homework is probably not a great of a file name because you're not going to remember what it's for or which one it is, but chapter two, section three math problems, probably a better name. The other piece to think about is that if it's possible for every kid and every adult in a family that has to do some work, to have a designated space, and if it's not, that's okay. In that designated space can they also have a basket where everything can go once it's done? The goal is that your dining room table or your kitchen table isn't transformed 24/7 into looking like a homework space because you really want to be able to signal the start and the stop of the workday. I always say in the beginning of the day, if you're going to do your work from 10:00 to noon, and for your first block, from 9:30 to 10:00, should be making sure you have all the things you need for your work blocks.
Whether that's downloading something and printing it off, whether that's going to a certain site and making sure you have everything, whether that's getting your actual physical textbooks or materials or supplies, give yourself and your children 20 minutes at the beginning of the day or 30 minutes at the beginning and set a timer, make it fun, right. It doesn't have to be onerous, and then have them collect everything so they're ready to go.
Emily: I want to end with this idea of control that you've talked about a little bit earlier, because right now, everything feels a little out of control. Everyone's far away from us, everyone's stressed out. We can see that in our kids for sure. How can we help our kids maintain this sense of control and belonging right now. Do you have any stories that you can share about how parents of kids and kids have been doing that despite this crisis that we're living through?
Ana: That's a really great question and I'm loving that you're asking it. Earlier this week, I did a live Q and A and I'll continue doing them for middle school, high school families, and then a separate one for elementary school families, just to talk about some of the organization stuff that I mentioned and then answer any questions. One of the questions came from the mother of a sixth grade boy who this boy suddenly now has a lot more time to be on screens and was really having a hard time being motivated. She sends in this question and then emails me afterwards. I email her response because she's like, "How do I get him to buy in to do his work at the work time?" I said, "Ask him to come up with a solution".
Say, "You know what, let's look at what you have to get done over this period of time and I want you to walk me through what you think the best way for that to happen is". He's in the sixth grade and she wrote me back and she said it worked. She said it really did. He started to think about it. Then we had this conversation that we did it a separate time and the work time that could be [unintelligible 00:16:35]. We chose a moment that was like less stressful, more relaxed and said, "Hey, you know what? Let's find what works for you". That great thing the parents can also do in this moment is say, "I don't have all the answers, I really want your help in finding the best solutions".
Emily: That's great. I'm definitely going to try that with my son. I'm also going to have to tune into your live Q and A sessions because I think I can learn a lot from them right now. Ana, thank you so much for all of this great advice. I know parents will find this extremely helpful right now. Thank you so much.
Ana: Thanks for having me.
Outro: Thanks for listening to this episode of Equal Parts. See you next time.
Emily: Wait, before you go, I just want to tell you a little bit about Care@Work by Care.com. They work with some of the world's largest companies to offer family care benefits to their employees. If you're one of the lucky ones who already has care benefits at work, use them. If you don't, ask for them. It's a real lifesaver. To learn more, visit care.com/careatwork. Again, that's care.com/careatwork.