Home-schooling during COVID-19

Hint: Focus on home, not school

If you’re new to this newsletter, welcome! And if you’re part of my original crew, thanks for being with me as I start small but think big, mulling over what matters most at the end of the day.

The overall purpose of ATEOD is to take an overwhelming crush of news and funnel the information that empowers us to make decisions in life.

ATEOD wasn’t meant to be a coronavirus newsletter but COVID-19 information is that firehose of information I’m talking about (on steroids!) and it’s so emotionally-charged at that.

The fear is real. Today, Ontario released data on projections that show this province could see 3,000 to 15,000 deaths and that the time frame of the pandemic is 18 months to two years.

It takes a lot of energy to take in these types of key messages, keep the fear at bay and focus on caring for the people we love – our family, our friends, ourselves – in whatever way we can. It might be extra video-call time or checking in or staying calm in the face of a fort-related tantrum. (Why so many fort-related tantrums? Perhaps child engineers need to design better blankets-to-sofa-cushion ratio instead of yelling at me! Ahem).

Fist bump to the parents. Somehow, we all became accidental home-schoolers overnight.

A dear friend of mine, Joey Mandel, read my newsletter and asked if she could add a few home-schooling tips for the ATEOD community. Personally, I’m in a zone where I want my 6-year-old to accelerate her literacy so she can read my “DO NOT DISTURB” sign as I work. (Who am I kidding? She can read! She just doesn’t care about my work, which frankly, is fair).

Obviously, my answer to Joey was, “Yes!”

Joey is an elementary public school teacher in Toronto and parent to two sweet kids. She has a rich background in developing curriculum for students, both academic and social-emotional. She wrote me a bunch of tips which I’ll put at the bottom but we also got on the phone, so I’ve edited and condensed and we’ll start there.

As parents in Ontario get ready to enter into the next phase of home-schooling their children, with teachers going online to deliver curriculum starting April 6, I peppered Joey with the first questions that came to mind.

ATEOD: Here we are, all thrown into a home-schooling situation. What have you been seeing and hearing from parents?

JM: Every family wants something very different because every family has unique needs. The parents have needs and the children have needs.

ATEOD: How would you rate the quality of information out there for parents?

JM: It’s just overwhelming. Facebook has had so much information, so quickly, about how to home-school. In some ways, that’s cool and there are really great suggestions. But it’s so much information when home-schooling right away likely isn’t the top priority for many families.

At the beginning, the conversation was geared towards how to teach your kid at home. That has shifted. Now, more people are saying, slow down, let’s take a breath here and not try to recreate school. Now, it’s about crisis-schooling and that is very different.

ATEOD: For parents who are overwhelmed, what’s your advice on how to approach this situation as a teacher and a parent?

JM: In general, mental health and family well-being during this time is the most important thing. Schools take a pause all summer and nothing falls apart. The phrase I don’t like, that people keep using, is “kids are going to fall behind.” Fall behind from what? We’ve stopped everything -- we’ve stopped the economy to stay safe. So it’s also ok to pause on the school curriculum and take care of people’s emotional needs first.

ATEOD: How can we put kid’s emotional needs first from a teacher’s perspective?

JM: How I see my role as a teacher, is that I am helping the parents with whatever they need right now. As a teacher, my job is to differentiate my program for every kid in the classroom -- now that extends to the needs of each of my families. There are some single parents working full-time at home, with their child at home. My role is to touch base with that parent and let them know they are doing right by their child just by keeping them at home, safe. They can’t work a full-time job, be a full-time parent and become a full-time teacher. That is too much. As the teacher, I have to help that parent with whatever they need for that child during this time.

Behind the scenes right now, teachers have been on conference calls 24-7, I have four meetings today. We know it’s taking a little while to get the plan but it is because we are trying to figure out plans that are equitable. We have kids in the board who don’t have access to computers and whose parents work outside the home and are much more worried about whether they’re going to contract this virus than about how they’re home-schooling.

Meanwhile we have other families where there are two parents at home, desperately wanting to engage with their kids in an academic way. And that’s been the challenging part.

ATEOD: What should parents do this weekend to prepare for school going online?

JM: Parents need to reflect on how these last two weeks have been for them. Has it been easy? Has it been hard? Have their children been bored or are they keeping busy baking together and playing Monopoly? Parents have to use this time to really think about what’s working for them at home and what isn’t.

I don’t think parents should be waiting until Monday to get what the teacher tells them to do. It’s the opposite. What do they want from their teacher? And they have to be willing to say it to their teacher. Let the teacher know what they are capable of doing as a family. What is best for the adults and the children during this time is what should be leading our goals over the next month or longer.

If [families] are spending time together baking, reading a book, planting some seeds to make lettuce to eat, that is way more valuable time than a math workbook.

And so you can read what teachers give and keep in mind, Will that enhance the learning and the mental health in their family or just add another burden during this really hard time? If that is the case, they should feel empowered to let the teacher know -- kindly. This is the time where feedback from parents is crucial, understanding that teachers have never done this before and they are getting this directive with this idea that parents want this. We have to all be kind and forgive each other and be able to say, “This is what I need,” as we figure this out together.

ATEOD: Do you have any advice for parents who are working and they have an only child?

JM: Kids typically can keep busy doing what they like versus what we want them to do. And whatever it is that the child is doing, that is not harming anyone, is what that parent can be happy with. That parent should be reminding themselves they are keeping their child safe, they are working to feed their child and they should not be making themselves feel guilty during this time.


  • health (physical, mental and emotional) is the priority right now

  • all families are experiencing this differently and equity in education is a priority

  • families spending time together doing tasks is valuable learning time

Joey pointed out that the Ministry of Education in Ontario has guidelines for how much time they expect children to be doing home learning. For elementary students, it’s one hour a day. For older students, it goes up to 2 hours a day or 1.5 to 3 hours per week per course.

From an Ontario government press release, March 31, 2020

For those who have the time and capacity, here are a few of Joey’s tips for helping your children learn:

  1. Resist the urge to home-school your child online. If you want academic materials, try to find ones you can print. If you don’t have a printer, write math questions on a piece of paper. Kids actually LOVE this.

  2. If you want to teach money, Monopoly is better than any online game.

  3. If you want to teach fractions, have them help you cook.

  4. Connect kids by sending emails or letters in the mail. There is academic learning in this but the main objective would be that children are reaching out to each other.

  5. For the parents who can, this is a time to focus on a subject your child struggles with. If you’re going to do a half hour of work a day, it’s better to do that work on whatever lagging skill the child has, whether it’s academic or social-emotional

  6. Kids can wait. It is good for them. We have to allow ourselves to slow down during this crisis. Be willing to say, “I am working right now, I will be there in 1 or 2 or 5 minutes,” (depending on how long your child can wait). Say, “While you wait for me, keep looking at your problem,” or “Do push-ups, I’ll be there when I’m done.” It is delightful to see how many times they figure out what they needed while they were waiting for you.

Huge thanks to Joey for being so keen on teaching (if she’s your kid’s teacher, you are super-lucky) and for being keen on my newsletter. I’m so grateful to you, Joey, and to all the teachers and daycare workers (I miss ours very much).

If you liked what you read, please forward it to a friend or pull a Joey and tell me what you’d like to see in a future letter.

Stay safe, wash your hands and hug those kids if you’ve got ‘em. If you’re looking for them, they’re probably in the sofa fort.