Parents’ advice: How to make sure your kids are learning and you’re working during extended time at home

HOUSTON – In an instant, hundreds of thousands of children around Houston are out of school. Suddenly, there’s a dizzying array of new problems for parents. Education, child care, meals, activities...the list goes on.

For now we’ve traded certainty for flexibility. Each day teachers, parents and students have swapped old routines for new ones... and fear for hope.

Advice from one longtime home school mom

Brittany Sawyer, a seasoned home school mom, already knows the ropes and can help you climb them.

“My first piece of advice is to trust yourself. You are the parent,” said Sawyer. “At the end of the day, you know your child best and the child trusts you and knows you. You can teach your child to do anything.”

Sawyer advises that parents not try to replicate a school day at home.

“Let go of that standard. Let go of that expectations, and know learning at home is not going to look like their public school life. You don’t need to sit there and go hours and hours and hours on school subjects. Homeschooling is so much more flexible than that," she said.

And don't think of learning as just workbooks and laptops.

“We are going to be doing puzzles, playing board games, cooking and baking, reading either together or personally,” said Sawyer. “For example, this is a wonderful time to talk to your kids about germs and handwashing and why that’s important. That’s a science lesson that counts.”

Learning new routines

The Norris family in Kingwood is learning how to work from home and do school work together.

“I didn’t want the kids to think this was summer break, you know? We were going to have this grand old time and sleep in till 11 and go to bed at 2 in the morning,” said Carolanne Norris, “I came up with a routine.”

The first thing to do is start a routine.

“I think it’s important that you establish that kind of routine at home,” Norris said. “Let’s face facts — kids like structure. They like to know what is expected of them and they like to know what they have to do. I feel like we have to give that to them during this time.”

So far, it’s working for her family.

“My middle-schooler already has assignments so she’s tackling those,” Norris said. “My fifth grader, I’ve just picked a good book and I’m like, ‘Enjoy a book for an hour.’”

“I feel like it’s more efficient because I roll out of bed and do my work and just do whatever I want when I’m done,” said 14-year-old Alex. “I know it’s for the better, I know it’s for our good, but I miss my friends and I miss my favorite teachers. I guess I miss learning which is weird to say.”

“It makes it easier for me to do my work, less distractions, a.k.a., my friends,” said 11-year-old Christian. “I have friends in literally every class so I’m always talking. So it’s easier for me to work here.”

Norris says the goal of the schedule is that both she and her husband can efficiently work from home while her kids tackle what they need to.

Of course, this is all a big shift for teachers too. In many cases, they are learning new technology and managing their classrooms over the internet.

“It’s definitely different, but it can be done,” said Marla Sheilds, a teacher at Beth Yeshurun Day School in southwest Houston.

Through social media, she meets with her students daily online and is making it work.

“I definitely miss the kids. Most of all, my morning hugs. But we have to do whatever we can to make sure everyone’s safe,” Sheilds said.

Favorite resources for homeschooling

Khan Academy is a free resource for instructional videos on many topics.

Mystery Science is offering free science lessons during school shutdowns.

TED-Ed has video lessons and series by top educators, made into animated videos for kids.

Scholastic learn-at-home is offering free online resources during the crisis, including 20 days of lessons for grades pre-K to 9.

Open Culture has free textbooks, movies and audiobooks and links to free online courses from professors.

Enjoy a daily doodle lesson with popular author Mo Willems.

Jarret J. Krosoczka, author of the “Lunch Lady” graphic novel series, is hosting daily drawing webcasts on YouTube.

You can also enjoy storytime twice a day with KPRC 2 anchors.

Join the KPRC Art Assignment with daily drawing activities you can share with us!