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What Options do Parents have for School in the Fall with COVID Looming Overhead?

Families for decades have used the public and private education system to educate their children to prepare them for careers and college. Today, with COVID, parents are facing a tough decision, because there are more questions than answers. Where do families turn to get the support they need to ensure they provide the best educational experience for their child in this unprecedented time?

Should I use the school provided distance learning or home school? What’s the difference between distance learning and home school? How do I know what is the best option for my children? What happens when schools open up full-time again? Will my child learn what he/she needs to be successful with the curriculum when they return? What if graduation is this year? How will I help my child learn the curriculum? How will I set up routines and procedures? How do I know I am making the right decision? 

As you approach this decision, do you really know what the difference is between all the classifications of schooling: home schooling, outschooling, unschooling, distance learning, online learning, remote learning, hybrid learning, blended learning? Why are there so many different ways to describe it!! 

Home schooling is a decision made by parents who WANT to teach their children at home. These parents have the time, money, desire and schedule to support their child learning at home with a curriculum of their choosing. This curriculum may or may not support the standards which are being taught at the local public or private schools. The rules about home schooling and the expectations on parents for implementation is based on your local school district or state. Before dismissing the traditional educational setting, know what you are getting into. 

According to TheHomeSchoolMom.com, “unschooling is an approach to home education based on learning through living rather than through the conventions of school, parents partnering with their children rather than re-creating “school at home,” children following their interests and curiosity, with help and resources from supportive parents.”

According to Forbes.com, “outschooling is focused on out-of-school learning that helps families and organizations to access high-quality content in an array of subjects.” This is a way to pay for the learning your child receives in a similar method as tutoring but in a structured way mimicking the school day.

Remote learning, online learning, elearning and distance learning are all the same thing: learning with technology full time with curriculum provided by the local institution. People have been taking online courses for years, but when people take these courses it is their choice. Most people in the past who took these courses do so based on their time or financial limitations. This option made college and university course work more available. For people who have been forced into this method of learning, whether at the K-12 environment or post secondary level, it has been a difficult transition. 

According to teachthought.com, “Blended learning is an approach to learning that combines face-to-face and online learning experiences. Ideally, each (online and off) will complement the other by using its particular strengths.” Hybrid learning is another way this learning has been described.

These options make it difficult to figure out what best meets the needs of the family without research, which is usually time intensive. I don’t know many parents who choose to spend their time researching scholarly and political articles about education and I’m in the business of it.

If you are like most families who have been sending their students to traditional public or private school, adhering to the options the schools provide makes the most sense. You will have the curriculum provided along with teacher support.

How much time should be spent learning online? According to Illinois’ Department of Education, the recommended amount of time spent remote learning is different for each grade level band. If you have been giving your child more time than this for each learning cycle, it may explain some of the frustration you have been experiencing.

Fear based decision making has been the ruler of the day since the beginning of the COVID shut down. With all of the unknown factors with the pandemic, many people are worried about what it means for their family, whether they have been exposed or not. Parents wondering will my child catch it at school and bring it home to the family or if they stay home will my child get all they need to learn from me? This puts parents in a tough spot! Either way they seem to lose. How do we keep our kids safe and provide them the level of education they need and deserve? 

Whether you decide to home school, unschool, or distance learn with your child, you need to evaluate the level of support you will be given to help your child to learn. The support provided by the school system in the past for many families has not been enough. Parents struggle with the level of rigor required by today’s Common Core Curriculum in 90% of the US public schools. How do they teach their child know 11 ways to show addition or 13 different ways to multiply double digit numbers when the parents only know one way?

Solutions at the school site and district level are minimal at best. I’ve heard over the years – join our PTA or PTO and get involved. This does help your child see you value their education, but how does it help you as a parent to learn how to help your child do their own homework without your constant frustration because you don’t understand what they are learning or why they are learning it. Some schools have provided classes for parents to learn english, but where is the content knowledge support?

What if you were told, it’s not your fault you don’t know how to help your child? What if you were told, not only it’s not your fault, but it’s been intentional to leave you in the dark by the education system? What if you were told, the school will take care of it and would count parent support as icing on the cake? What if you heard a school or teacher say, we can only do what we are in control of and we can’t control the parents so we need to take that out of the equation?

Today’s learners need parental support more than ever; but with single parent homes, parents working multiple jobs with opposite shifts of children’s schedules, sometimes it’s hard to connect with the school/teacher everyday. Many teachers and schools have improved the parent involvement and communication, through programs such as ClassDojo and using the integrated systems like Infinite Campus. If your child is enrolled in a distance learning system, you may be familiar with Canvas, Blackboard, or Google Classroom. The issue with these systems is the expect a certain level of technical understanding by a parent, and the parent may have never learned online before and is completely unfamiliar with this structure of learning. Parents also still have no support in knowing the expectations for learning the grade level standards as provided by the teachers.

Just imagine for a moment though, what if parents had a forum which allowed them to learn at their pace, have a community to ask questions, worked within their family time schedule and was affordable, would parents do it? The problem is that this has not been an option until now. Why not? Teachers enter the education field to teach kids, not work with parents. People teaching at the adult collegiate level to teach the adults who want to learn, for the most part. 

There is not a specialized program world wide which works with parents the way that we do. Most teachers would prefer not to, to be honest. As much as you dread the parent-teacher conference, they do too. The teacher is just as nervous to meet the person who brought this child to life. The teacher is judging themselves, because this precious child is entrusted to them everyday and they know they make mistakes sometimes. The teacher wonders if they are doing a good enough job with your child, just as you wonder if you are doing a good enough job as the parent.

If you are lucky, you will get that teacher who truly sees you as an ally and will do everything in his/her power to make sure you are always included. This teacher sees the village that is needed to raise the child to be the amazing person you know they will become. This teacher recognizes her/his job is harder without eliciting your support as a help at home. This teacher can be hard to come by. But still, the teacher doesn’t always know the parent doesn’t understand the standards and expectations for learning in the school. So with the limited time a teacher has to teach your child, where are they going to pull more time from to teach you, too?

Parents have been searching for free resources provided by the school system or other non-profits and foundations. These services are rarely at convenient times for the family and quite possibly are not providing what the family actually wants or needs to move forward to help their child. Parents today are desperately searching for ways to enhance the relationships in the home, as well as, learning of their child. 

Families may need behavior management support and discipline strategies. There are hundreds of programs, books, websites and companies claiming to help in these areas to bring a family closer together, and we do this too. These programs can be as inexpensive as a free seminar to $300 hourly family consultations and do not include any support for parents in the area of content.

In addition to learning behavior support, children need assistance with curriculum: reading or math foundational skills, perhaps. Families who want help with the content have few places to go. Parents can buy workbooks,  go on facebook worksheet groups, watch YouTube and Khan Academy videos or hire a tutor; but this did not empower the parent to help their child. Before our company, families had to hire a tutor or rely on the after school help that their school provided for free. 

Companies are building educational software clinging to the gamification of learning as a way to increase the retention of concepts taught. Schools are utilizing every strategy they can think of to integrate the learning of school and take it to the home. This is why the worksheet/workbook industry have made millions of dollars. As long as parents have the answers at the back of the book, we are good to go. Are these low levels of questioning going to take your child to the deep level of understanding within the content? For example, does the question take your child deeper into the text and think of the motivation of the character? Is your child able to generate their own higher level questions? In math, can your child transfer the skills of computation to a real life application?

These supports provided the child with some additional learning opportunities, but are they the level of thinking required to be an independent thinker and problem solver? Furthermore, these activities may not help to build the relationship of the parent and child or allow the parent to fully understand what the school is requiring the child to learn. These strategies also may not provide a way for parents to be the knowledgeable resource in their home. In some cases, the technology, worksheets, tutoring and consultations could be a hindrance to the family, with financial and time obligations, requiring sacrifices on all family members. 

What if you could learn what your child needed to learn in the way they need to learn it? What if you were their main teacher and the go to person again? What if you were the hero in your home with your child, helping them to gain confidence and acquisition of skills because you knew the tricks and strategies teachers use to reach the 25-40 kids in their classrooms?

Many parents have concerns with the level of curriculum and face their child’s homework with fear. They don’t know if they are teaching or reinforcing it “right” to their child. Some parents have learned or are currently learning english as a second language and have limited knowledge and understanding of how to communicate effectively with the teacher and school. When a parent is disempowered in their parenting due to a lack of self efficacy, they have to trust the other adults in their child’s life are making the right decisions. This can be a scary place for a parent to be. They don’t feel confident in asking questions and sometimes do not understand the answers they are given. Parents in this situation will lean on their children to translate information from the home to school.

We work with families in a case by case customized manner. Families are able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their child, as well as their interests to assist us in developing an action plan to implement and help your child grow. With our support, you will gain the background knowledge necessary to help you and your child understand why they need to know when implementing their learning in real world activities. Your child will gain certainty and be proud of themselves with what they have learned as they see their understanding increase with classroom instruction. Your child will feel safe when learning new concepts, because you will be there to help.

Finger pointing has been a huge part of our daily lives as well in regards to education of our children. The government wants to play games with the taxes and safety, which make no sense to many people as much of it is contradictory. Schools/teachers think they know best when it comes to the content and as parents we have relegated that to them. Parents think they know best when it comes to their child and they have known them the longest and probably spent the most time with the child. Children think they know best and don’t really want to listen to anyone, do what they want while still pleasing everyone around them. People claim their way of teaching is best and families are torn with what to do about it. How do we know who to believe? Which way of learning and teaching is the best for my child? 

When working with parents who are uneducated, undereducated, had a poor experience in the traditional education setting or have challenges understanding the language and customs of our country because they are an immigrant, are we really going to condemn and judge them for this? If our society could embrace finding solutions rather than placing blame, maybe we will start to see a change in how education actually works for the families served.

I have worked with many families in my career and a common comment I hear from kids is “I hate math.” When I have the follow up conversation with parents, I hear, “I was never good at math.” When these comments are continuously used in a home, it creates a math phobia which runs through generations. I help families eliminate this curse and move past it with confidence. You will know how to implement and illicit answers from your child in regards to math, even when you may not feel sure in your personal ability with the computation. You will have us as your support with that too! Our daily homework help will allow you to ask questions right then when you are working with your children. 

Why has education turned into such an ugly business when really we all want the same things for our children. What do we all want anyway? We want children to enter society ready to be independent and self sufficient. We want people entering into society as an educated citizen ready to be a productive, contributing member. Does it really matter how they get there, as long as they get there?

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