Even if your school plans to have students on campus for at least part of the school year, it’s wise to prepare for repeated shutdowns, closures, or quarantines when children, teachers, and staff test positive for Covid-19. Remote learning is here to stay, so we spoke to several edtech experts about identifying possible obstacles and aiming for reasonable goals.
Your child might not become an Intel Science Fair finalist this year. But they can still be healthy, happy, and able to pick up facts. “Don’t try to replicate everything. That’s just setting yourself up for disappointment,” says Sal Khan, founder of the online education nonprofit Khan Academy. “Focus on the basics first and get your legs under you.”
Assess Your Situation
Whether your school is public or private, you have to look at its plan for the upcoming year. Do they seem prepared? If they plan for in-person schooling, will students and staff be able to quarantine without penalty? If your school will be remote, does the curriculum prioritize interaction over clocking six straight hours online?
“Parents who are finding out that their kids are going to be learning remotely and feel unsure about the effectiveness of the implementation of the curriculum should be aware of other virtual options that are available to them,” writes Jorge Valenzuela, an education coach, advocate, and author of the book Rev Up Robotics, a resource for introducing cross-curricular computational thinking in the classroom, in an email to WIRED.
If your school’s current plans won’t work for your family—for example, if your child has special needs, but will be required to sit at a computer for 5 hours straight—you may need to consider other options. If you do withdraw your child, you may need to file a Declaration of Intent with your state’s Board of Education.
Online companies like K12 are used all over the country, and you can check their website for remote options near you. Educational organizations like Khan Academy can also be used to homeschool.
When you’re looking at your school’s plans, don’t forget to account for the time you, or other adults, will need to spend supervising. The younger the child, the more help they’ll need. K12 suggests budgeting 4 to 6 hours a day to help your kid if they’re younger than the fifth grade. Older children will need supervision for around 1 to 3 hours.
Social Skills Matter More Than Social Studies
Every educator I spoke to affirmed that kids don’t go to school to learn math and English, although those are important too! In a school environment, kids learn conflict management, discipline, and emotional regulation—all of which are hard to pick up remotely.
“In traditional schooling, the standards never say, ‘Make sure the kids make friends,’” says Khan. “Teachers and educators need to be focused on making sure that distance learning does not lose that element. Educators have to pull students out of the screen, do cold calls, do virtual breakouts rooms, ask them to convince each other of solutions, or teach each other.”
Whenever you can, facilitate in-person interaction—which can be as simple as reading to a small child, or asking an older one about something they learned at lunch. Pandemic pods, in which a few kids congregate in someone’s home or outside in their yard, may be a controversial solution. But they don’t have to cost money. “I think there’s nothing wrong with trying to find two to three families that have similar-aged kids,” Khan says. “You don’t have to hire someone.”
Another important life skill that kids learn in school is self-management—learning to follow a schedule, chip away at their workload, and meet deadlines.
Valenzuela provides a template for a daily schedule. But that schedule should incorporate plenty of free time and physical activity, especially for younger children. “There’s no way kids of any age should be expected to be sedentary at a screen all day,” says Devorah Heitner, media expert and author of Screenwise, a practical guide for helping parents manage their child’s relationship with technology.