School closures have had a domino effect on many stakeholders: children, educators, school administrators and staff, and especially families with children. Parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents had to take on the additional role of “home educators and supervisors” and learn the ins and outs of distance learning.
As an educator who taught distance learning, I can say that I hear you and see you. One way to bridge the connection between the classroom and home, especially now as many schools have instituted hybrid learning models, is to create a learning environment, in effect a home classroom.
Here are five ways you can extend the classroom into your home:
In my kindergarten class, students would have their own workspace to do their table work. Setting up a space for your child to work would foster a home learning environment that reflects their desk in the classroom.
You can have them be contributors in their learning space to support a feeling of ownership. I encouraged my students to put photos or pictures in their home desk area, and create a space that brought them joy and was personal to them.
It’s so essential to create a routine with children. With my students, we would practice the rules and routine for months at the beginning of the school year. This could mean being consistent with the classroom schedule or coming up with your own schedule that works for you and your family for children who are not school-aged.
I liked to create rules with my students together, and we would revisit them if ever students needed reminders. It’s helpful to have any rules you create together, as well as a daily or weekly plan, printed so that they can easily access it and feel a sense of shared ownership.
Consistency is also a foundational building block for any learning environment. It is challenging to have a learning environment without establishing rules. Same goes with teaching – you can’t teach without establishing classroom management. One thing I loved to tell the families I worked with: “It is children’s job to break the limits, and our job as parents and educators to set the limits.”
This will look different in a home setting as opposed to a classroom setting, but the main goal is the same: staying consistent. Whatever rules you agree on as a family, make sure that they are followed through. However, when it comes to children and the reality of life, it is important to also be flexible.
It is evident that with both parenting and teaching, things can come up at school or home, so it’s essential to be ready for the unexpected. Along with consistency there must be room for flexibility. If there is a change in our classroom schedule, I would inform my students. For example, we would always have circle time in the morning right after attendance. There were times when we didn’t have time for circle time due to schoolwide events. If there needed to be a change in the schedule, I’d use language such as, “I know we typically have circle time first thing in the morning, but today there’s been a change in schedule and we will have to move it to after recess.”
Similarly, this approach can be applied to any rule you come up with at home. Let’s say one of your house rules is that your child can play games only after homework is finished. Lo and behold, something unexpectedly comes up where you had to change that rule. You can use language such as, “I know we agreed on homework before play time, but we are going to make an exception because your cousin is visiting.”
The key point is to foster open communication with children about the established routine and treat them with respect, as opposed to not notifying them of any changes.
You also must look for cues from your children. For example, I would prepare elaborate lesson plans, but I had to stop teaching sometimes when children needed reminders about the rules. And that’s OK. Sometimes being attuned to the day’s events and how children are feeling can be more important than the rules or routine at hand in that moment.
Time for breaks
Similar to a classroom, it’s essential to allot time for breaks from sitting at a desk at home. Pauses from desk work can include wiggle breaks and taking post-lunch walks. Spending some time outdoors every day is beneficial to children’s growth and development. These breaks nourish and recharge children’s brains and help them refocus. I always made sure to have “dancing breaks” during my teaching time. One of my favorite sites was the interactive gonoodle.com, which my students loved. However, there are plenty of free resources on YouTube, including Cosmic Yoga, which offers a variety of themed episodes.
One thing I made sure to do is to have a check-in at the end of the day with my students. I would ask questions such as: “What was one thing you learned today?” or “What is something that brought you joy today?” I loved hearing their answers. It’s always a great way to finish off a school day and also refer back to what they learned/enjoyed.
You could do this at home as well. You could do it verbally, or you could have them re-create something they learned or enjoyed using art media – a collage, drawing, journaling. There are so many possibilities.
All in all, establishing an extended classroom in your home will provide consistency and classroom connection for your child. It is also important to teach children about flexibility and communicate to them if there is a change in plan or routine. Whether you are distance learning at home, doing a hybrid model or back in person full-time, having a space at home that reflects a classroom environment will be beneficial for your family now as well as post-pandemic.