Learning in the Time of COVID-19: Montclair Teachers and Parents Offer Ideas

An aspirational schedule for a 5th and 7th grader.

On Friday, what felt like an inevitable outcome was confirmed: The Montclair Schools District would be closed for a minimum of two weeks, possibly through April 20th. (en español) With libraries and museums closed, township parks and recreation areas off limits, and a kibosh on group activities and playdates, parents and caregivers are approaching the challenge of maintaining routine and a sense of normalcy in different ways. Those with mandates to work from home need to keep children occupied, and those with commitments to work outside of the home are scrambling to cover childcare and maintain some routine, which is beneficial for most children. And while parents in public schools are not expected to “homeschool,” providing space and designated time, as well as possibly explaining directions and assisting with assignments is likely. All this on top of managing social distancing, upheaval in “regular schedules,” and quelling nerves – our own and our children’s! With the rapid influx of new and developing information, the first thing to do is take a slow, deep breath. Now take another. (Maybe a third?)

Over the last week, Montclair’s teachers and staff have been working hard to develop meaningful lessons and activities for their students, all while working to provide access to devices and online connectivity for families who need it. In anticipation of the weeks to come, some families have been creating schedules and plans to organize virtual school days while balancing emotional and social well-being. It’s new ground for everyone, and sometimes seeing what others are doing can spark ideas for ourselves. If you’re feeling at a loss for a starting point, take a look at some families’ aspirational daily schedules throughout this post for ideas.

Suggestions for all ages from Montclair Teachers:

  • Try to follow a consistent schedule during the week.
  • Promote a regular wake-up time and bedtime.
  • Create a “learning area” away from bedrooms and playrooms.
  • Break up learning time with outdoor breaks and movement.
  • Be patient with yourself and the kids!
  • Be flexible: bend, but don’t break the schedule.
Covid19 Pre-K and early elementary schedule by Kimi Wright

Younger elementary children will need more oversight. Shorter learning blocks with more variety are suggested. A strong suggestion is to set up learning materials (pencils, books, paper, devices) into categories for each subject. One Montclair K-2 teacher urges, “Make sure to get outside. Get the sun on your face in the air in your lungs. Build this time into the schedule.” Creating a space to “get away” and be calm. Many of Montclair’s students will be able to teach their parents about “mindfulness” based on what they do in school every morning. Let your children lead in a “Mindful Moment,” and be present for their “lesson.” One method of helping children to learn “on their own” seems counterintuitive: Spend time reading favorite books out loud together first. This may help children feel confident to work on their own. And don’t forget to play!

Older elementary and middle school students may still need guidance, but many will be much more capable at figuring out Google Classroom and submitting assignments than their parents and caregivers. Scheduling blocks of learning time versus downtime will help tweens and teens focus. You know your child. Are 30-minute blocks interspersed with walking the dog or playing drums best for them? Or does your child settle in and get super-focused on a project with any interruptions throwing them off? Involve your child in schedule creation; they probably have insights you haven’t considered. Teachers have asked that caregivers are active in monitoring assignments. As one 6th grade teacher said, “We are all doing this for the first time, and we need to know how families are affected as we progress.” If your child is repeatedly stumped or often needs support from you, email the teacher to let them know.

At the high school level, most students will be self-directed via Grade Level Google Classrooms, although teachers urge caregivers to be aware of due dates and progress and to look for emails once a day to stay up-to-date. Mr. Grosso also shared this NYT article addressing anxiety about Covid19 in teenagers.

Early elementary schedule. See Tracy Rebe’s link of resources below, too!

Families with children who receive special services should have found, or will soon find, communication from the district regarding how teachers are handling each individual student’s situation. Parents who want additional outside advice for reducing anxiety and scheduling daily activities can sign up for a Webinar from Autism.org or another Webinar from National Council on Severe Autism to share ideas and support for individuals on the autism spectrum.

Other services are also being addressed for MPS students. The district letter sent to all families shared a link geared towards students receiving counseling support. And arrangements have been made to ensure all students on the free/reduced lunch program are provided with a daily breakfast/lunch and a week’s worth of fresh groceries.

Naturally, students who don’t respond well to virtual learning or an upset in their routines will need to get creative with their learning. One piece of advice from a NJ teacher: “Find a balance between anxiety and throwing up your hands in surrender. We are working hard, and we don’t want to make anyone frustrated or stressed out. Most of the teachers are in the same boat with our own families!”

As time goes on, all families will surely adjust and figure out what works best for each member of their household. Re-read the emails you’ve received from your child’s school. Plan out what works for your family. Keep on keeping on.

We are listing various resources below. Please share ideas for making the next several weeks as productive and positive as possible in comments. We may add more as time goes on!

PBS Kids has launched a weekday newsletter with daily activities and tips to help kids learn and play at home.

Local parent Tracy Rebe added specific links and activities to her schedule for Pre-K and early elementary.

This Google Doc is full of various educational companies offering free resources during the Covid19 closures.

Fun suggestions to help children ages 4-11 become more responsible in the household from ParentingMattersNJ.

Cultural institutions and businesses are trying to make sure we all have some art, music, and literary entertainment in our lives.

Khan Academy has posted a schedule and links for current school closures.

 

And most important, keep your sense of humor when things go wrong. That way you can pick yourself up and start again!

 

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