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Families becoming unexpected homeschoolers


COVID-19 has turned millions of families into homeschoolers who suddenly must decide how to structure learning for their students.


Anita Webb, a Mississippi State University Extension agent in Scott County, says parents have a long list of questions about the long-term impacts of missing traditional school, including its impact on graduating seniors, state testing and the length of the academic year.


“There are many things over which parents have no control, but there are also many things they can control for their kids,” Webb said. “Many young parents are creating extra art and craft opportunities for their children, and also getting their kids outside more to help with the garden or to go fishing or walking in the woods.”


Courtney Crist, an assistant Extension professor of food safety, encourages parents to explore family and consumer sciences skills with a focus on food while at home with their kids.


“Cooking and baking are processes that demonstrate the scientific method,” Crist says. “Many common sciences -- such as biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics -- are involved in the process of preparing and cooking foods. Food can be an easy, fun and tasty way to learn some of these principles.”


Baking cookies, for example, Crist points out, is an easy process to teach how to experiment. Create a hypothesis for what will happen when using different ingredients, and explore the impact on sensory properties, such as color, aroma, appearance, flavor and texture.


Beth Bell, Extension agent in Tallahatchie County, says some structure is a key to keeping students’ lives normal and their education moving forward. She emphasizes the importance of creating a routine, which does not mean a day has to be rigidly scheduled.


“Being organized is extremely important when students have lessons and assignments from their teachers that must be downloaded, completed and then uploaded,” Bell says. “It is also important to have a positive attitude no matter how inconvenient the whole situation becomes. Children of all ages respond to the negativity and complaints that they hear the adults in their lives express.”


Bell says parents who typically limit their children’s TV time may be tempted to ignore those limits for the sake of sanity or to create a quiet space for them to work from home.


“I worry that this new normal will lead to too much TV time, and that is not good regardless of the situation,” she says. “Children’s brains can stall when they get into screen mode, and that is not healthy.”


Samantha Laird of West Point has a young son who is missing preschool. She is working from home while trying to keep him engaged and learning.


“Encouraging students to read frequently during this period may be helpful,” Laird says. “Being organized makes it easier for parents to keep up with assignments from teachers and help their children follow lesson plans and activities.”


Kellie Gartman, a first grade teacher at Sudduth Elementary School in Starkville, is now homeschooling her third-grade daughter. Gartman says parents should focus on reading, quality conversations about material read or viewed, and encouraging imagination.


“With young kids, ask how the story made them feel and why, or explain whether or not you’ve ever done something like a character in the story or had something similar happen,” Gartman says.


She also encourages parents to be creative with learning opportunities, realizing that learning does not have to come from a book or a screen.


“Design and build a fort, design and create a game board to practice math skills, plant some flowers from seeds and then keep a journal with drawings of your observations,” she says. “Visit museums virtually. Many are putting up new material due to quarantine.”


EDITOR'S NOTE: Bonnie Coblentz writes for the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

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