Many families are making choices for how to move forward with their child’s education. Some schools are offering the options of on-campus, virtual, or a hybrid mix of the two. However, the major worry is, ”What if my child falls behind?” It’s vital to set realistic goals and follow these suggestions to help your child maintain academically in a non-traditional schooling environment.
Focus on the whole child
COVID has strained so much of what families may take for granted. Parents must be a teacher or teaching coach roles. It can be easy to fall into the trap of worrying about progress when children learn in new environments. Routines rescheduled and re-evaluated to see what’s most important. Much of a family’s downtime in the evening might become the school day as parents find free time at a minimum.
Consequently, children’s emotional stability gets overlooked, and without it, some of the simplest tasks become difficult. Help children start from a place of peace and contentment. Remember, if children are clothed, fed, sheltered, and loved, they are maintaining.
Who decides progress?
Ask yourself, whose standards are you using to gauge progress? While some public schools focus on early literacy starting in preschool, other philosophies like Waldorf view learning in stages. Waldorf, for example, doesn’t have a strong reading focus until 2nd grade. Still, children in this environment continue without issue.
Additionally, children starting kindergarten in a non-traditional school environment and learning in non-traditional ways may have an advantage. They are learning more modalities for education than most children have experienced. If we remind ourselves of age-appropriate expectations and skills, it can help lower stress and worry.
Progress can also be made outside of school: Say school learning falls apart one day, but your child helps with dinner. That day’s a win. Many families are seeing their children learning skills and hobbies they may not have otherwise discovered — for example, if your family started a COVID garden, that’s an opportunity for teaching science, math, and language arts.
Prioritize the right things
Emphasizing movement, mindfulness, and other self-care helps teach children self-love and self-respect. Teaching children how to take breaks and transition back to activities will help them learn skills beneficial to work and life. Remember that younger children need more breaks and movement. Ensure there are enough breaks added to their schedule to ease the transition into school life.
If your child is doing great in spelling, do minimal spelling work. You’ll want to practice and quiz, but don’t spend as much time with practice if it’s already a skill. If children are good at math, only make them choose a portion of the problems. In that same mindset, children who have difficulties should also have a shorter problem load to avoid burnout.
As with prioritizing subjects, schedule the right amount of time to go with specific needs. Children may only need 15 to 30 minutes of spelling twice a week if they are doing well, but an hour and a half may be required for math skills if there are difficulties. Don’t forget to schedule in breaks and have children take them. Model breaks for them. Do stretches, walk around, play with some sensory putty, and drink some water.
If motivation is an issue, consider that children do better progressing with goals when they have a say in the creation of those goals. Personalizing learning milestones with your child’s input helps identify motivators and creates excitement. Make colorful charts and graphs to check progress. Come up with a reward for meeting goals.
We’re all in the same boat
Your child isn’t the only one at risk of falling behind. Remind yourself that you and your family are not alone. Across your neighborhood, your city, your state, and the country, other families are struggling to support their child’s education. Children, in general, under COVID, will be maneuvering new school environments with varying levels of success. Every child requires an individual lens for success, so focus on them rather than others’ success.
Reach out to teachers and ask that they provide updates to alert you of potential issues and problems. If you know your child’s quirks or motivators, make sure to reach out to their teacher and collaborate over goals. Working as a team with school staff and other supports provides wrap-around care to your child.
If you are homeschooling your child, look into additional support systems to check in with others, and collaborate over potential activities. Home homeschoolers may be able to provide tracking systems and other record-keeping to help maintain goal setting.
It’s important to note a small silver lining in all of this: Some children, especially those with anxieties, don’t look forward to traditional school. For these children, we may see many flourishing during this school year. Children who are usually shy may come out of their shells with virtual classrooms and in the home environment. Don’t assume the problems of the masses are also your own.
Remember: The pandemic isn’t forever
Children’s resiliency is a fantastic wonder. Like information sponges, they are continually taking in the world around them. While parents want what is best for their child, they don’t always have control. COVID has taught us the importance of adapting and being open to change. Parents benefit by focusing on children’s mental health as a part of their educational path. Emotional intelligence is just as crucial as multiplication tables. Right now might be the perfect opportunity to embrace holistic teaching and learning.
About the Author — Vivian Nelson Melle
Vivian Nelson Melle is a bilingual Master's level Community Counselor and Certified Clinician Trauma Specialist. Before counseling, Vivian was a cross-category special education educator, specializing in early childhood populations. Vivian enjoys helping children and families find balance amid all the chaos and hope in the darkness. She believes in nourishing children's passions as soon as they ignite.