Seattle Children’s Teachers Offer Advice During COVID-19 School Closures

The teachers at Seattle Children’s are experts at supporting kids and their families when children and teens are suddenly out of school. Scott Hampton, manager of K-12 Education Services, shares advice to support families in the community as they adjust to a new way of life while schools are closed. 

Our world is facing an extraordinary challenge right now. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, it has disrupted and influenced all aspects of life. For families with school-aged children, a primary concern in these disruptions has been the closure of schools across our region and around the world.

Our teachers at Seattle Children’s know that it is an incredibly uncertain time for families as they manage a myriad of complex responsibilities. We want you to know that we believe in the strength and resilience of your family. Despite what you may be seeing on social media, educators are not expecting parents to become professional teachers or to set-up robust homeschool programs.

Teachers everywhere are rooting for you as you provide emotional and physical safety for your children throughout this global health emergency, and they cannot wait to once again fill their classrooms with the sounds of school. Until that time comes, our team of teachers would like to offer five pieces of advice for promoting learning in your home.

Focus first on helping stabilize the health and well-being of your family. 

Creating routines, finding fun, and caring for the emotional needs of your family will help offer stability in the midst of this crisis. The expectation from your school should be that parents help their kids stay ready to learn, full of hope, seen and loved, and curious about the world around them. If you can nurture your child’s sense of self, and ambition for life, the education system will gather itself and figure out how to step in to truly support academic learning.

Build a framework for your day that is scalable. 

Part of what works so well about a school environment is the high degree of structure and consistent expectations. Our homes tend to have less of both. By increasing structure and routine, you offer predictability to your children. Learning time focused on core academic subjects can aid in the development of that structure and offer a sense of normalcy to your children. This doesn’t mean you need a Pinterest-ready schedule that you adhere to rigidly. Some of the best home schedules are scrawled on the backs of napkins, and revised as needed through observations of what went well and what needs improvement.

By scheduling time to foster curiosity and wonder, and nurturing your child’s muscle for learning, you’re creating a framework that is ready for increasing rigor once we better understand the academic expectations during these school closures.

Create buy-in by asking your children for input and giving them choices. 

Like you, your children are experiencing a loss of control and a loss of independence. Many of the rites of passage like walking to school, traveling with sports teams to away games and getting together with friends on Friday nights have been taken away. As you build your home routines, include your children of all ages in the discussion and try their ideas.

Many children have learned through their school experiences what works well for their own learning needs and will be eager to show that expertise. Likewise in their learning, if your child demonstrates interest in learning about certain topics, then pursue that learning with enthusiasm. Giving your child the opportunity to self-direct some of their learning will go a long way in creating buy-in for also completing work required by their teacher.

View yourself as a partner with your school.

Your child’s teachers miss them, long for them to return to the social experience of face-to-face learning with peers and want to be on your team. Our current education model was developed over many decades, and is now trying to reinvent itself in a matter of weeks. It will require a shared responsibility from teachers and parents as we all get our footing in our new learning environments. Education will figure out how to lead so that parents don’t feel they are supposed to become their child’s school teacher.

When things work well for your child, freely give that praise to their teachers. When things go sideways, offer feedback about what didn’t go well. Approach these discussions with the gracious understanding that you both have the common goal of meeting the needs of your child.

Schools are working to help families who don’t have the technology needed, are housing or food insecure, or don’t have caregivers that are available to assist with school during the day. They’re also working to meet the unique learning needs of students who receive special education services or 504 accommodations. Increasing communication with your school during this time will help ensure a plan is developed to meet your child’s individual needs.

Find a screen-time balance that works for your family. 

Right now, many schools are defaulting to screens because there are great learning resources available, and because we’ve never done this on such a large scale or undergone such rapid change before. But the reality is that the natural environment of a child’s life is ripe for learning.

Cooking is a good way to work on fractions, proportions, time management, volume and conversions. Bath time for younger kids can be a great time for thinking about cause and effect through the science of “sink or float” predictions with toys. Even watching movies can lead to opinion papers, justifying positions of thought, practicing summarizing and finding the main point.

For many families, their values around screen time, and their ability to provide alternatives to screen time during shelter in place will play a major role in this decision. Ultimately, as we emerge from this crisis, our hope as teachers is that kids would return to resources like real books, not ebooks, and the social experience of working shoulder to shoulder with classmates, not virtually through Canvas. For now, families need to give grace to themselves, set up a schedule they’re comfortable with and stick to it.

Our Seattle Children’s team of Washington state certified teachers is here for you. On our website you’ll find tips and tricks, print and video resources and links to reliable insight for caring for your family during this crisis. As well, you can reach out to us directly through the website with your education questions and we will respond. We’re standing ready to support you as you endeavor to support your child’s learning.