With the news last week that school closures could be extended until May due to the coronavirus outbreak, many parents are feeling somewhat overwhelmed in their newfound role as educators, while trying to keep on top of work-from-home responsibilities.
Parents with kids in international schools report differing experiences than parents with kids in Czech state schools. At the former, teachers are conducting distance learning while the latter is calling upon parents to guide kids through homework and activities assigned via e-mail or e-classroom platforms — and receiving instruction via broadcast television.
Whether you are facilitating your child’s distance learning or taking a more hands-on role in his or her remote education, these general strategies, provided by teachers from Prague’s international and state schools, are sure to help:
1. Stick to a timetable
Karolina Santander, a spokesperson for English College in Prague says that in order to minimize disruption to the curriculum, their classes are sticking to a normal timetable. Anthony Peachment of Prague British International School says PBIS students are following a published timetable as well.
Brandon Moseley an administrator at Hill Castle International School, an online school that is enrolling year-round and currently in full operation during the COVID-19 crisis, says doing so is a must.
“Structure will allow your child to replicate the school day appropriately and to focus better. Consistent times for starting, breaks, and lunch are the key to recognizing success,” he says.
Subarna Gupta a teacher at American Academy in Prague says that it’s important to make that timetable a family affair:
“Since parents are also working remotely, it would be great to create a schedule for everyone at home,” she says. “Set working hours when everyone is working and that way there is a routine created.”
Marie Samkova is a teacher at ZŠ Formanská in the Prague suburb of Újezd u Průhonic. She says that whether you have young children or older ones, “The important thing is not to lose the order of the day.”
Moseley advises starting each day with your students (older ones can do it on their own) by making a list of tasks for the day and sticking to the plan.
2. Communicate with teachers — and classmates
Santander says parents are communicating with teachers via a number of platforms. “We have made video and audio connectivity through Google Hangouts and Meet a priority as students and parents have relayed that they appreciate the personal contact with their teachers.”
At PBIS various approaches are being used to keep teachers and families connected. “For our Early Years we have been using a lot of video as well as communication through SeeSaw for primary, and tasks sent out through our own parent portal.” Older students have been live-streaming lessons.
Gupta, who has a 10-year-old son, says it’s crucial for parents and teachers to remain in touch. Her school has been using Zoom, Skype, and Loom to increase interaction and engagement.
“Stay in communication with the school and teacher and encourage your child to also do the same,” she says, adding that this can also help parents who aren’t able to figure out assignments.
Moseley says that for older children keeping in touch with classmates is just as crucial as keeping in touch with teachers.
“Just like in traditional school, your classmates can help you when you get stuck,” he says. “Communicate with each classmate directly; during breaks, connect with friends via phone, chat or voice messaging.”
It’s also a great time to use the technology to collaborate, says Gupta, who suggests creating a study group. “If they can play together online, I am sure they can study together too.” Moseley adds that communication gives a sense of community support that will benefit everyone.
3. Balance online and offline learning
Santander says that students in their lower school have been given reduced lessons to curtail screen time. “A well-being program has been provided instead,” she tells us. This is a good rule of thumb for parents of younger children to implement as well, switching out screen time with activities that focus on movement.
Peachment agrees. “Our PE, dance and drama lessons are all happening as normal, encouraging students (and their parents) to get away from their desks,” he says.
Gupta says that while screen breaks are especially important for younger kids, for older children it can be trickier to enforce.
“For the younger students, parents can plan a day where they can offset the screen time with offline activities, be it painting, playing board games, cooking, teaching a skill, organizing, etc.”
But she says that for older students, “Unfortunately, the screen is their life. Forcing them to take a break to sit and chat, play some board games or make them do chores like groceries or laundry are some ways to manage the screen time.”
Samkova, as well as other Czech educators, are assigning tasks geared toward keeping kids active and learning, which involves collecting plants for a herbarium or observing the changes of the season outside with a notebook.
4. Be flexible and patient (with teachers, too!)
Peachment says that along with structured days and plenty of patience along with breaks are key as is making it fun for children.
Moseley says, “Build in down time and relaxation opportunities. Kids work best in 15-25 minute bursts of focus. Understand this need and allow your child to stand up, move around, chat with classmates or family members.”
As schools are trying to remain flexible parents should also do the same. “We have also made sure that the lesson plans are not exceeding the time that a student would have spent in each class should school have still been open,” says Gupta who adds that her school was “more considerate” on submission timelines during the initial weeks.
Moseley adds that it’s important to recognize the freedom that goes along with the experience as well. “Enjoy the freedom. Recognize all of the good parts of this change and stay positive.”
Gupta says that parents should extend patience to teachers. “For most teachers out there it is their first time teaching virtually and also the students are learning virtually for the first time as well.”
5. Use this time to teach other lessons
Peachment believes numerous lessons can be learned from the experience, not just those found in books and online courses: “For older students, it’s a good lesson in self-discipline and time management,” he says.
Gupta concurs. “I personally believe this is a good time to give your children some responsibilities,” she says. “Teach them how to make some quick lunches or do chores around the house so that they can learn to help themselves. This will not only help the child learn new skills but ease the situation for the parents.”
Samkova agrees saying, “It’s important for children to be motivated not just to do something for teachers but for themselves.” She says that this is also a good time to challenge your child to work independently.
6. Create a private study space
Moseley says that setting up a place for your child to complete his or her daily coursework is important, especially for children in 6th grade and up.
“The work area should allow the child to have all tools in his or her reach and be able to spread out and be comfortable without visual distraction. As in school, access to electronics should be limited to the necessary tools for completing the work provided by the school.”
He adds that it’s important that parents themselves don’t themselves become a distracting element. “Beware falling into the trap of talking to your child during the school day. Reserve your chats, requests to clean up, chore duties, snack offerings, etc. for the appropriate times.”
7. Go easy on yourself
While the international school teachers interviewed here all said that work done at home will be reflected in final grades, Gupta says that as both a teacher and a parent, she recognizes that this is a difficult time for everyone and assignments are being adjusted to reflect that.
“Let’s cut everyone some slack and be a bit more flexible,” remains her current mantra.
Samkova offers advice to parents with kids in Czech schools who are worried about the workload or that they will their child will fall behind.
“I understand parents are very busy, they have to work from home or to go to their offices and don’t have enough time to constantly study with their children,” she says. “But they can help with some of the more difficult things in the evening, choosing key information.”
She wants to reassure parents that as long as kids don’t stop doing the work completely, they shouldn’t be anxious about returning to school.
“After the children’s return to school it is up to us to repeat some information though we won’t necessarily have enough time to do everything,” she says, which is why some level of parental involvement is needed. But the work doesn’t need to be perfect.
“Don’t be stressed, your only ‘homework’ is to persuade children to do their best, follow the timetable, and support them in their work,” she advises.
The teachers interviewed in this article have also suggested some resources and learning platforms they have found useful. For more tips, please see our article 10 educational resources to help parents survive school closures in the Czech Republic.
English College Prague
- The English College Prague has compiled a list of “well-being” activities that it suggests for its students. The list, which includes fun activities like fitness bingo and an indoor photo scavenger hunt, can be viewed here.
Prague British International School
- ClassDojo – a platform for classroom communication
- Mathletics – currently offering a free trial
- Reading Eggs – currently offering a free trial.
- British Council – free games, spelling, and reading activities in the English language
- Skolakov.eu – Czech online grammar exercises
- Matyskovamatematika.cz – Math in the Czech language
The American Academy in Prague
- The American Academy is making its best practices for helping all schools manage online studies at virtualiskola.americanacademy.com.
- Tekkiuni.com – Coding skills for kids
- Khan Academy – Free online courses, lessons, and classes.
Please share your experience of homeschooling in the comments below.