Tips To Spark Learning While The Kids Are At Home

Mar 17, 2020

File photo of Amia Byrd, 7, looking at the book Rapunzel in the children's section at the Richard B. Harrison Community Library on July 9, 2018.
Credit Madeline Gray / For WUNC

Families across North Carolina are adjusting to a new way of life — and of learning. 

As students statewide stay home from school to prevent the spread of COVID-19, North Carolina teachers are hustling to create digital learning plans. But in the meantime, many parents are wondering how to occupy their newly homebound children.

Jeff Greene is the McMichael Distinguished Professor in Learning Sciences and Psychological Studies at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education, and a dad to a 10-year-old and a 13-year-old. He has these tips to share:

First, Talk To Your Kids

As a psychologist and father, Greene says the first step is checking in with your children and letting them know you care. Make sure your family is safe and healthy, and then ask kids how they feel about the upcoming changes.

Greene suggests posing questions like, "What do you think's going to be difficult about learning online? How are you feeling about it? How can I help you be successful?"

These questions open up discussion to troubleshoot potential issues.

Build A Routine

If your students are officially on spring break, as Greene's children are, he says it's okay to give them that time to relax and play, with the expectation that things will change when school is back in session.

Kids also need structure. In his own home, Greene's family is writing out a daily schedule, with times for getting up, having lunch, taking breaks, and working on particular school subjects.

"A schedule helps kids know what's going on and understand the plan, and focus on what they need to focus on."

Seek Out Additional Resources

This is also the time to ask students about what they have been learning in school.

"Talk to the student and say ... 'Is that where you were in math?'" Greene said. "And then if you go online there are lots of resources that will provide you with materials that are aligned to [state] standards."

Greene discourages seeking out complicated lesson plans, but a few additional resources can help supplement what teachers will plan for their students. Explore the North Carolina Department of Education's state standards website for ideas.

Give Your Students Freedom

"The research is clear," Greene says, "Students stay motivated when they have a level of choice."

That choice can take many forms — allowing a child to decide when they want to work on a particular project, or letting them choose where in the house they want to study.

When students have more flexibility in their schedule, this can also be an opportunity to encourage kids to dive deeper into subjects that spark their passion.

Parents Have A Role In Keeping Students On Track

Summer slide. Learning loss. Melt. Educators have many terms to describe what often happens to the knowledge students built up over the school year when they're away from school, typically over summer break.

"They start forgetting what they learned and then they come back in the fall and they kind of have to remember where they were," Greene said. "I'm worred if we're out of school for a long period of time, we may have melt now."

Parents and caretakers can help prevent learning loss by creating a strong learning environment at home for their student, and supporting them in their education. During these isolating times, it can also be important to reach out to other families by phone or online to share your own challenges and tips.

The UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education will continue to update this website with further guidance.