Parent helping a child with schoolwork. School days look very different as parents take the lead in their children’s education amidst the coronavirus. (Photo: Fabio Principe/Shutterstock)

Across the country, students are returning to some form of school, whether it is completely remote learning, a balance of attending at home and school or being full-time back in an actual school building. For parents, learning to balance whatever incarnation of the school day they’ve been dealt with while doing their own full-time jobs without the option of outside help takes on a new level of complexity. In addition, there are concerns about how safe the school environment will be for their children amidst the coronavirus. Numerous colleges have already reverted to online learning as students were diagnosed with COVID-19.

As a parent who homeschooled two children (although not during a pandemic), I have some experience in this area, both as a parent-teacher and as a full-time employee balancing a demanding career. Since this is such a new area of responsibility for many families, reached out to parents who have teaching expertise in the home and classroom settings while working to provide some real-world suggestions on how insurance professionals can survive and thrive during this season.

A recent Gallup poll found that the number of parents choosing to homeschool their children this fall has increased five percentage points to 10%. The number of children attending public school dropped slightly from 83% in 2019 to 76% this year. The COVID-19 pandemic has given parents far more involvement in their children’s schooling and Gallup found a 10-point drop in parent satisfaction concerning the education children are receiving in their K-12 schools. While parents are generally happy with how schools are handling remote learning, it’s no surprise that families find teaching and remote learning a challenge.

Becoming the teacher

Making the transition from parent to teacher takes time, patience and some adjustment. “People need to breathe, step back every now and then, and know we are all in this together,” shares Lois Gorman, an educator and former school principal with more than 30 years of education experience. “Teachers are being asked to do much more than they ever anticipated, and they are stepping up to the plate for the students.” In addition to using new platforms, turning their homes into virtual classrooms, or having to work from home and their actual classrooms, educators are adjusting to new modes of teaching as well.

Gorman says parents are also being asked to do more than they ever anticipated. “These poor parents are trying to work from home and help their children with online learning. These are difficult tasks for anyone, and I’m concerned about the mental health of people in the current and very near future.”

Gail Boyes, a Maryland-based parent who oversees her homeschooling co-op, was a full-time teacher before having her own children and has been homeschooling for over 12 years. She is in a unique position to see all sides of the issue for parents. “Whether you are new to ‘homeschooling’ or just temporarily there for the moment, remember there is no perfect schooling situation. There are positives and negatives to every educational path,” she shares.

From a practical standpoint, Boyes recommends covering more difficult subjects such as math, science or reading in the morning when students are fresher and have more energy (and parents are likely to have a little more patience). “Sometimes, less is more,” she adds. “It may be better to focus on just a few subjects and do them well rather than covering a whole bunch and leaving everyone frustrated.”

Something for parents to keep in mind is that even though a full school day may be seven to eight hours long, parents teaching their children at home don’t necessarily need that much time to get through the daily curriculum because there should be fewer distractions and more flexibility in what is taught and when.

Set up a regular schedule so the children understand when they will be ‘in school’ and when they have time for other activities. Think creatively too. Science class can become a nature walk, collecting leaves or other items to be turned into art projects. Gym class can be playing ball or some other game in the yard or a park. At lunchtime, involve the kids in making their own lunches and make sure you have a set lunchtime each day. A schedule that includes ‘work time’ for parents will also help students to understand when mom and dad are not available.

In a family where multiple adults are available to teach or help with schoolwork, consider alternating who’s teaching and when. “Taking a step back is always good, such as having one parent handle two classes and switching off to give yourself a break,” suggests Jack Savin, another Maryland-based parent. “Frustration leads to disappointment.”

Many employers are aware of the issues parents face as they balance their home and work lives, and the traditional eight-hour day may now be split between an early-morning shift and another one later in the day. While not all companies will allow this flexibility, the use of technology is providing employees the opportunity to adjust their hours to some extent.

Play vs. work time

Help children understand the difference between work and playtime. While having a separate office space is helpful, not everyone has that luxury. Here are some ways to help younger children understand the need to let mom and dad work for a period:

  • Create a funny ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign to put on your door or work area. Considering using something out of colorful Post-it Notes and make sure they understand what the sign means.
  • Consider telling them ‘Mommy is in time-out’ and can’t be disturbed to put it in terms they can relate to more easily.
  • Set a timer and tell them, “Daddy has to work for a bit and can help you when the timer rings.”
  • Have specific activities that they can do only when you’re in a meeting or need to finish a project. Add some sort of a contest aspect to their project so they will take their time and give it their best effort instead of racing through it.
  • Enlist the help of older children to help entertain or manage the younger ones during conference calls.
  • Have hand signals they can use or teach them simple sign language to let them quietly get your attention when you’re on a call.
  • If you promise them a special treat for being good or completing a project – make sure to keep your word.

Part 2 of this article will look at the challenges of teaching multiple students, particularly younger children.