The author Sandy Scragg has been an award-winning teacher and educator for 20 years. She is a Google Certified Teacher, ran an international nonprofit technology-in-education program, and has written the “Linking to Learning” column for New York Teacher for the past eight years.
This week, and for the foreseeable future, many school districts in New Jersey and beyond will be closing due to the coronavirus outbreak. Many businesses are also closed, leaving kids and parents to navigate new norms in tight quarters at home. So how will you keep your kids engaged in purposeful activities, while still doing your own work, without losing your mind?
As an educator and a mother who will be in the same situation going forward, I can empathize, but I also have some solutions.
First, make a schedule for your day combining your own activities with what your school district is mandating; students may be required to check-in or submit work at specific times for attendance purposes. Include breaks when you do something offline together, like read books, do a science experiment, draw or color, or go outside to a porch or backyard (while keeping your social distance!) to get some fresh air and exercise. If you keep them busy and switch up the setting occasionally, it’s less likely they'll get bored.
The homeschooling community has experience in this arena that we can all learn from now. Start with either https://www.homeschool.com or https://simplehomeschool.net for everything from advice, schedule templates, lessons, support groups and more.
There are excellent educational materials online, but you have to know where to find them. Don’t just Google “best math websites for kids” (or similar). Unfortunately, many of those sites are junk and contain ads and links that will lead your kids astray. If you know a source to be quality in real life, it most likely will have quality material online too, like PBS, NASA, or museum websites--see my list below for some suggestions.
Try to find online activities that are both interactive and educational, rather than printing out worksheets. Did you ever enjoy doing worksheets in school? Well, neither do your kids. Choose activities that are fun, or even games that are education-oriented, and you’ll keep their attention focused.
There are so many free quality sites online that you shouldn’t have to pay for access, but know that many education companies that normally charge for subscriptions are waiving fees in light of this crisis. See http://www.amazingeducationalresources.com for a running list.
Here are some of my favorite online educational resources:
- Storyline Online has videos of famous actors reading children’s picture books: https://www.storylineonline.net. Don’t miss Betty White reading Harry the Dirty Dog!
- The New York Times Learning Network is geared towards ages 13 & up and is a student-centered medium to examine current events: https://www.nytimes.com/section/learning.
- Khan Academy is a clearinghouse of screencasts and activities, known mainly for math, but they have other subjects as well: https://www.khanacademy.org.
- Google Earth https://earth.google.com/web is visually stunning and its Voyager section is packed with cross-curricular quizzes and lessons for kids.
- Ology from the Museum of Natural History (https://www.amnh.org/explore/ology) has animated and interactive science activities for kids.
- Starfall is a site for young children with fun games to practice reading skills: https://www.starfall.com/h/index.php.
- TED Talks has a page just for kids (https://www.ted.com/playlists/86/talks_to_watch_with_kids) and also hosts TED-Ed with lessons and animations (https://ed.ted.com/lessons).
- Bedtime Math, at http://bedtimemath.org, posts daily bits of fun math activities both online and via their mobile app.
- Don’t miss NASA’s Space Place for Kids (https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/en/search/kids) for all things astronomy-related.
- PBS Learning Media, https://nj.pbslearningmedia.org, has resources grouped by subject and topic areas, many with lessons and quizzes.
- Ben’s Guide to the U.S. Government has American History activities for ages 4 and up: https://bensguide.gpo.gov.
- San Francisco’s Exploratorium has a huge selection of science activities, including step by step instructions for homemade experiments: https://www.exploratorium.edu/explore/activities.
Another great resource may be your local library. Many libraries maintain digital resources, like free ebooks you can download or video streaming services you can access by just entering your library card. My library has a host of online resources for the whole family, including children’s movies and programming.
This is no doubt a very stressful time and the news can seem overwhelming. Pause watching the news and checking social media at times. Manage as best you can, and take advantage of some old-school opportunities this crisis might bring, like the chance to read books, play board games, talking with friends on the phone and family togetherness.