By Mrs. Lisa Bailey.
I will say this loudly for those in the back of the room: DISTANCE LEARNING IS NOT HOME SCHOOLING. When you home school you get to choose your curriculum. You get to decide what material is presented, when, and in which manner best suits the child.
I hear this a lot. This means that we have never before seen this combination of circumstances, including guidelines regarding how to work, travel, shop, and how to teach our children.
Educators are scrambling to come up with a way to keep teaching their kids. I say “their kids” because for a great many teachers there is a sense of ownership in this process we call “education.” They celebrate when their classroom kids reach a milestone or master a skill. They are discouraged when a kiddo is struggling with something the rest of the class seems to understand. They see the troubles that kids carry with them to school from their homes.
These teachers are invested, and they CARE. They are equally stumped right now. This current model of schooling doesn’t resemble what they were expecting when they left college with an education degree.
This lock-down has overwhelmed them, too. Practically overnight, an entirely new educational model had to be created. Thankfully, we live in the age of the interweb (ha!) and that gives us options that didn’t exist a generation ago. There are video-chats, websites, e-mails that include worksheets and other “printables,” physical packets of materials can be sent home, for some kids they even have tablets with apps to further help them study and learn, lists of questions to answer, diagrams to review, etc., and scheduled video-chats with other students.
That sounds great, right? Is Distance Learning the way of the future? NO.
To assume that this mimics the classroom experience is the height of ignorance. Parents are desperately trying to juggle working from home while other children may be in the home (perhaps with their own packets of schoolwork to finish), and it would be nearly impossible to overestimate the impact of the significant amounts of anxiety in these kids and grownups; that has an almost paralytic effect on people.
You can’t learn if you don’t feel safe.
This whole mess is being termed, very loosely, home-schooling. It, this new style of education, is then discussed in less-than-glowing terms, such as “frustrating,” “difficult,” “upsetting,” and “complicated,” just to name a few. I see families in great distress in Facebook groups for COVID-19-impacted students, almost panicking at the thought of continuing this process for what seems like forever. Parents are so incredibly discouraged because they think they can’t home-school their kids; they also don’t understand the material or the processes involved in completing the work. What if they don’t have internet at home: would they have to drive around to find a hot-spot? Instead of having several hours a day with a teacher, or series of teachers, now they may have only 30 minutes or an hour of instructional time, and that time is shared with other students. Who can cover new material or ask their questions in so short a time?
Over and over, I hear that “home-schooling is so hard.”
The state law for Maryland (COMAR 13A.10.01) regarding home schooling includes the following language:
“….Provide regular, thorough instruction in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age…”
That does not say, “[p]rovide instruction at the kitchen table every day of the week, using a textbook, a notebook, and a #2 pencil.” It says regular instruction. There is no rule that says you must provide 1.5 hours of instruction in every subject, every day (to use an example).
One of my favorite examples of how wonderfully flexible home schooling can be, started very simply with my son watching a television show on animals, featuring an okapi. My son was fascinated and wanted to know more. There were a number of educational videos available on YouTube, made at the London Zoo. They had a baby okapi born some time ago, and it took full advantage of the opportunity to engage kids and families. The videos were not enough and he then wanted to SEE an okapi; I looked up the exhibits at the Baltimore Zoo and wouldn’t you know it–they have an okapi there!
Get in the car, child, we’re off to the zoo!
He had a clear interest in this rather random creature that I was able to encourage and support because we home school. The teacher in a typical classroom could never have satisfied this level of curiosity. THIS is home schooling.
My main point in providing this anecdote is not that you need to drive to the Baltimore Zoo in order to successfully home school; it is that you can stay engaged with your child and help them learn exactly what they are interested in. Skills don’t have to be mastered on a specific timeline; just on your child’s individual timeline.
Spatial reasoning, problem-solving, sequencing, verbal stacking, handwriting, reading comprehension, and on, and on, can be learned gently, quietly, indirectly, often by performing tasks and activities that seem to be unrelated. Pushing a child into a skill they aren’t ready for may seem like you’re building character, but you’re more likely to teach the child that they don’t like to learn. That’s a terrible lesson. How many kids have thought they were dumb or not as capable as their classmates simply because their brain wasn’t ready for a skill yet, but the syllabus demanded it? It’s like expecting every child of the same age to wear the same size shoes. It’s just absurd.
If you are participating in Distance Learning and feel like you’re drowning, you aren’t alone. I have yet to hear from a family who likes it and finds it an effective way to learn. But if you don’t get to pick your own curriculum, then you are not home schooling.