Children all over Walton County are at home instead of in the classroom due to the spreading risk of the coronavirus, leaving overwhelmed parents in charge of their offspring’s education in a much more direct way than usual.
While the distance learning measures used by local schools, using technology and other resources to connect pupils with their teachers and their classwork, are filling the void, this still leaves parents on the hook for ensuring students stay on task, focus on their studies and complete their educational tasks every day.
Of course, some parents in Walton County do this every day, keeping their children in the house and homeschooling them rather than send them to a public or private school outside the home. At this time, it’s those homeschool veterans whose advice is most needed by the rest of Walton County’s parents as they deal with new duties and responsibilities.
Emily Diaz is a local homeschool parent who already has already homeschooled two children through high school and still has an eighth grader and a sixth grader calling for her attention each day at home.
She also teaches through a local homeschool cooperative and offers physical education to numerous homeschool students in the area.
“Parents should remember during this time that our role is first to ensure our children are safe and feel loved,” Diaz said. “Children are not unaware of the chaos we have found ourselves in the last week. We should be talking to them to remind them that all these measures are precautionary.
“We are not in lockdown because of fear. We are simply following guidelines that our authorities have set in place to help reduce the spread of a virus that spreads quickly.”
Diaz said the first step is to make sure parents don’t forget their primary task is that of parent, not of teacher.
“As a homeschool mom, I frequently need to remind myself that my first job is to be the parent,” Diaz said. “Moms and dads of public and private schools need this reminder too. The school system does not intend for you to pick up the slack and do all the education yourself.”
By relying on the work already provided by the distance learning protocols, parents can ensure they do not overwork themselves or their children.
Diaz did provide some direct tips to parents looking to directly supervise their children’s school efforts while remaining at home.
“While your child may go to school for eight or more hours a day, your child is not doing academics for all those hours,” Diaz said. “Schools need time for transitioning to and from classes, breaks for lunch and bathroom visits, and specials such as art, PE, music, etc.
Many homeschool families are done with lessons before lunch based on the required number of hours for lessons.”
Structure is important and can differ for every child, Diaz added.
“Some students can easily do 41⁄2 hours of academics before lunch,” she said. “Some children need more breaks. A child can work for a couple hours in the morning and a couple of hours in the afternoon.
“Flexibility is the key for me as a mom that educates at home. Small children need more breaks and require less time for lessons.”
Diaz also encouraged parents not to overdo it.
“Don’t forget the reason for education,” Diaz said. “We want our children to be able to read, write and do arithmetic. Those are the basics. Keep it simple. We want to encourage those three basics each day.”
Focusing on those aspects can ensure parents emphasize the right things.
“Sometimes teachers (including myself) tend to focus on memorizing facts instead of the application of what we are learning,” Diaz said. “So, if you read a story talk about what it means. How you can learn what to do or what not to do from that story. If your child is struggling in a certain area, now is a good time to pause and focus on that particular area.”
Keeping students focused on the enjoyable aspects of their schoolwork can ensure greater participation and engagement, too.
“Don’t forget learning should be fun,” Diaz said. “Don’t try to turn your home into a classroom that you would see in a brick and mortar school. Homeschoolers often use games as a way to help our kids remember lessons. Don’t be afraid to use technology. Watch documentaries about people in history, animals or science experiments. There are so many online options for engaging children in areas of interest to them.”
Overall, Diaz emphasized that even while staying at home, parents are not in this by themselves.
“Please remember, you are not alone,” she said. “We are all facing some changes and challenges. Reach out to a friend if you feel overwhelmed. Don’t expect perfection from your children or yourself. I start and end each day in prayer seeking much needed guidance. We will not only survive this time, but we will embrace it, learn from it and grow from it as well.”