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Op-ed: A better at-home learning experience

As many local parents find themselves in the unusual position of having to guide their children through at-home lessons — perhaps for several more weeks — there are a few ways to tackle the problem more effectively.

Here are some tips for those providing home instruction to Pre-K-12 students:

Designate a spot in the home for school work where distractions can be kept to a minimum and school items can be stored.

Gather teaching supplies and equipment. This could include such things as paper, pencils, crayons, glue, scissors, folders, learning materials, and a computer. Some schools are able to lend computers to those who need one. If you live in an area without Internet access, call the school or county office for help. Sometimes programs can be downloaded onto the computer for the student to use off line.

Be consistent. Treat a part of each weekday as “school.” Break the day into parts. Set up a schedule for learning, allowing time for each subject you want to cover, especially reading and math. Build in time for a healthy lunch and recess/free time. Vary the activities, include short breaks when transitioning from one subject to another, and be flexible enough to adjust as necessary. Remember also to build in time for your own lesson planning and preparation.

Find out what your child should be learning. Many teachers have sent home learning packets with daily instructions for their students or directed them to online learning sites. If you don’t have that, you can find what students should know or be able to do at each grade level online at the state Department of Education’s web site. In West Virginia and Maryland, look for College and Career Readiness Standards; in Ohio, Learning Standards; and Pennsylvania has Academic Standards. If your child has special needs, your school or district office administrators could help. Don’t be afraid to ask.

Grade-specific activity workbooks are almost always available anywhere you buy books, and you can find documentaries that cover social studies, science, and other topics on TV. There is a website called Teachers Pay Teachers on which educators share lesson materials they have created for their own classrooms, and some are free. Many education-related companies are developing lessons for home instruction, and a quick search online will yield a wealth of other learning resources.

Observe your child carefully and adjust your sessions accordingly. Does she learn more by listening, by reading, by doing, alone or with help? How long is his attention span (how long before he starts fidgeting and loses focus). Notice what about the work the child does and does not like to do. This information will help you find the best ways to help him learn.

Be ready to catch the “teachable moments,” the unplanned times when you see an opportunity to answer an unrelated question or explain a concept. Tell real-life stories to illustrate points, and listen to the child’s stories related to the topic. Be willing to say “I don’t know,” but add, “I will find out.”

Make the learning environment welcoming and supportive, but be firm and intentional. Brace yourself to stay with it despite initial pushback or whining. The attitude you take toward school at home will have a huge effect on the attitude your child takes to it.

Remember the importance of positive reinforcement, including verbal praise, privileges, and material rewards. When the child is rewarded for doing something well (and that could include simply trying), she is more likely to keep going in the direction you want.

Be patient with both the child and yourself. Although home teaching can be frustrating for you both, it can be very rewarding for you both in the long run.

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Connie Myer, Ed.D., is a Wheeling University adjunct instructor, in the Master’s in Education Leadership program.

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