Why Trying to Re-create School at Home Isn't Working And what you should be doing to encourage independent learning while your kids are at home.
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Imagine this: You're sitting in the office of a college admission's officer a few years from today. You and your child, now a senior in high school, are there for an interview. The officer looks up from her desk and asks a question that has become common: "What did you do back in 2020 when everyone was stuck inside? How'd you spend your time during the quarantine?"
You probably know how your child would answer. "I mostly just did my homework then played on my phone," they might say. The admissions counselor would be polite but wouldn't have much more to ask about, and she'd move on.
Now, consider another possibility. Imagine your child looks at the counselor and says: "I learned how to design games using the Python coding language. I even made friends with a kid from the UK who was also stuck inside and was taking the same class as me. We made a game together, and eventually my uncle who's a programmer helped me get it on the app store. My friend and I actually still talk. We're going to meet up when his family visits the states in June."
You could guess how the admission's officer would react. More importantly, you know which scenario would be the better memory for your young learner.
Of course, this is a made-up story. But a version of it will happen many times in the near future. "How did you spend quarantine?" might become the new version of "Where were you when you heard?" about the moon landing, or 9/11.
These are difficult and unusual times. We can't pretend things are normal. But most importantly, we need to radically rethink our definition of "school" right now.
Why re-creating school at home isn't working
Schools worldwide have been thrown into remote learning. But the problem is that teachers and students are not set up to make this quick shift. Many parents find themselves printing worksheets sent home by teachers or trying to make sense of new material. This is hard enough for parents who have time to help their children. It's even harder for parents who are working. They're caught between doing their job and helping their kids. It's a can't-win situation.
Not to mention every parent knows that learning is a social activity. Kids learn best when they are collaborating with other people, and that means adults and other kids. Staring at a stack of lifeless worksheets, or following a self-paced digital curriculum is not only boring but also depressing.
So it's not surprising that parents and children are feeling anxious. While a global pandemic rages on, families are pressured to keep up with a flow of homework, curriculum and even tests.
Another path forward
At the same time that the world experiences untold physical and emotional suffering, we're also witnessing people adapt in incredible ways. Much of this comes through leveraging powerful technology taken for granted during more typical times.
Right now, families have the chance to experience shared adventure and closer connection as you grapple with challenges. You can help your child to make friends outside of your local community by engaging online.
Instead of adhering to the typical curriculum, your child now has the freedom to learn the subjects and take on the projects that you'd never usually have the opportunity to do. You know what I'm talking about: that list of things that sound great to do someday, but never actually happen.
These valuable learning experiences include things like going on a virtual nature hike with your family while doing bird-watching or discussing cloud formations. Maybe planting herb or vegetable seeds at home and making observations as they grow. You can even start a business with your child with help from online resources that show you how.
You can open up the chance for your child to truly explore their interests or even try new things that might not fit the mold of their typical favorites but sound just crazy enough to try. And you can give your child the chance to engage with modern technology to unlock its most promising benefits: to help foster human connection across borders, cultures and beliefs and to unlock learning experiences that were impossible in earlier times.
It's likely that you may not be able to spend hours every day providing these experiences for your child. Fortunately, there are more resources than ever before for parents who are looking to provide their kids with curiosity building learning experiences from home. Here are three favorites:
GoNoodle: Movement and mindfulness videos created by child development experts
Outschool: A marketplace for live video chat classes for kids ages 3 to 18 (full disclosure; this is the company I co-founded and am CEO of)
TED-Ed: Hundreds of "lessons worth sharing" made by hosts of the popular TED Talk series
When you look back on how your child spent their time in quarantine, they probably won't remember time spent on worksheets and homework. But if you can help them find a new interest, learn a new skill, or spark a new connection, that's a memory that can shine bright for your child, even during a time of darkness.