Faculty voice:

Jada Phelps Moultrie: Keep home education simple

April 22, 2020

Jada Phelps Moultrie is an assistant professor in the K-12 educational administration department. Her research focuses on family and community engagement in schools.

Since the novel coronavirus hit Michigan, children have been uprooted from meaningful relationships formed in schools, neighborhoods, churches and from extracurricular activities. Additionally, families have been thrust into being the sole caregivers and educators while struggling with their own job duties and for some, suffering from job loss. 

This is a difficult position to be in and I can relate. I was a K-12 educator in resource-strapped schools for 15 years, as well as a former homeschooling mother of three while working and attending graduate school and while my partner served in the U.S. military. 

Now as a researcher of family and community engagement in K-12 education, I offer some practical tips in hopes of supporting families through this time of crises and education flux.  

Tip 1: Use your village

During these unprecedented times, it's essential to embrace the African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child." Whatever this village consists of, if pulled together, it can make a positive difference to meet your children's social-emotional needs, extend their learning and relieve you from some anxiety. Although the village now has distance limitations, it’s still there for you. 

A place to start pulling your village together would be in your own household. Everyone in the home, from siblings to those living in intergenerational households, can be tasked with supporting learning. Some examples include siblings reading to each other, elders teaching children about their family heritage and culture or children reporting highlights of their learning to the family. 

This tip might pose a challenge if you are co-parenting across different households. So, to extend this idea, use safe avenues to bridge social distance through phones, smartphones, email and postal mail services. You can even extend your village to incorporate neighbors in a safe way. Through these safe avenues and across households and neighbors, village members can tell a story, quiz children on spelling or vocabulary words or provide routine check-ins with children to encourage education progress through phone devices. Some may share a skill while children follow along, e.g. cooking, playing an instrument, by way of smartphone or computer. Village members can also become pen pals via safe physical delivery, mail or email.

Some neighborhoods have truly embraced the proverb by organizing safe distance community learning walks. In these learning walks, neighbors have organized word hunts for children by posting signs in their windows or yard, promoting artwork with sidewalk chalk or hosting backyard Zumba while neighbors stayed in their respective yards at a safe distance. Whatever the learning goal, the idea is to maintain positive relationships for the child, ensure that formal home education is not the sole responsibility of one person and create a learning environment that stretches across the village.

Tip 2: Optimize the resources around you.  

Homeschool preparation typically involves securing a lot of materials to supplement instruction and curriculum. However, with the sudden closure of schools and statewide orders to stay at home, many families are left with little time to secure any resources. 

Many believe that you need unending computer and internet access, printers and so forth for learning to continue. This, of course, can assist in some ways, but I encourage you to take a step back and re-examine your home and backyard with a learning lens. 

This shift may expose that we naturally live in a resource-rich world ripe for discovery and learning. This lens can help families optimize what's directly in reach. Measuring cups, junk mail, toys, games, road signs, numerical addresses, birds and even rocks can be leveraged as learning resources. For example, small items like Legos can be used as counters for small children, and if you place values on them, you can demonstrate multiplication. 

Addresses and street signs can assist with number and letter recognition. Games like Scrabble may help improve vocabulary and mathematics across ages. Lastly, connecting back to the first tip, your family is a resource too. Families, from child to elder have skills that they can optimize to keep the learning going. Now is the time to look for resources around your house, repurpose and optimize the items around the home and safely collaborate with your village. 

Tip 3: When feeling overwhelmed, stick with the basics. 

Families should follow plans provided by their child’s school and utilize any resources supplied. However, at times, aspects of these materials might feel overwhelming for both the caregiver as teacher and the child as learner. If fatigue sets in, stick with the basics: reading, writing, math and life skills. This could look like reading 20 minutes a day, making a grocery list, helping measure ingredients for a recipe or even budgeting for groceries. 

Tip 4: Establish a routine and incentives.

Our routines have completely changed and many of us are in crises, so caregivers should not feel pressured to recreate the same schooling schedule. It is okay to be flexible in these times. However, putting a routine in place can help set expectations for you and your children that supports a healthy balance while at home. 

Creating breaks during the day, switching caregiver duties and incorporating lessons that children can do independently can assist with maintaining a balanced routine. However, staying motivated to teach or learn can pose a challenge thus, providing an incentive could help the family stay on routine, prevent burnout for everyone and support learning consistency. Incentives could be anything that you can follow through with — extra playtime, stickers, phone time with friends, video gaming, TV time or offering a child’s favorite snack.

Tip 5: Practice self-care and enjoy time together. 

Providing a sound home education system will have its ups and downs, and it will take time. There will be no perfect lessons, but children are sponges and they always learn. Families should not stress out when lessons go awry, meltdowns and tantrums occur, from preschoolers to teenagers or if caregivers need a break themselves. 

Even when there is no pandemic or children have not been uprooted from their normal routines, existing homeschoolers often face these challenges. With that in mind, this is a two-fold tip. Primary caregivers and the extended village need to carve out time for themselves. Self-care can look like a brisk walk, a long shower or bath, a movie, meditation or a scoop of ice cream. This tip is probably one of the most important because if you and your fellow village members do not take care of yourselves, it will be challenging to take care of the children. Taking care of yourself helps lower anxiety and can help you embrace the silver lining in this crisis, which is also the final tip — enjoy this time together. You’ve got this!