The year that schools shut — how to help the children that got left behind by COVID-19

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Education is the most powerful weapon with which you can change the world. — Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela would probably find that we are leaving the children of 2020 with the education equivalent of a blunt arrow — and no bow. Millions of children have spent months behind closed doors, isolated from their peers, facing the challenges of new subjects, and final exams, on their own.

After the tragic loss of life, the greatest victim of COVID-19 may be the education of our children. (For Mom Hacks to Homeschooling, scroll to the end!)

Many will look back at the year and remember many hardships.

As 2021 begins, the world is reflecting on the past year. Coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, has dominated global headlines, decimated industries such as hospitality and leisure, and reached its ugly spikes into virtually every aspect of our lives. For many, the biggest impact this year was the loss of a job. Unfortunately, for over 300,000 Americans (and counting), it will be forever tainted by the loss of a loved family member or friend to COVID-19.

For tens of millions of parents on five continents, 2020 and the year of the coronavirus will mean another thing: home school.

Children from the same school went home to different ‘classrooms’

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As the rising infection rates caused schools from coast to coast to close their doors, children faced very different classrooms at home. Students from lower-income households lacked the same resources, learning environments, and access to technology as their wealthier peers.

For many children, schools were a sanctuary from toxic homes. They were then trapped for months with their abusers.

Virtual learning platforms such as Google Classrooms, Seesaw, and Moodle have peaked in use during the pandemic. Other teachers opt to use the conference call application Zoom to conduct remote lessons.

Online learning has its flaws, however. Many teachers were pranked by “Zoombombing” with strangers or mischievous students entering their tutorials (always set a password for the call). Watchdogs cautioned that virtual classes could be recorded without the teacher’s knowledge. There was one case of a teacher’s class being used in a deep fake that could have destroyed her career.

On the other hand, video calls do provide a window into the home environment of a child and can allow teachers to check the safety and wellbeing of their students.

Kids are falling behind

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Around 50% of schools across the United States have yet to open, and children are still learning virtually. Most live in households where one or both parents work. These children must therefore motivate themselves and even face the more challenging subjects alone. According to one report by the consulting firm McKinsey and Company, the average student could lose five to nine months of learning by June. Latino and Black children could fall even further behind.

Parents who were already struggling to manage their households and work remotely are now being asked to become a teacher, too. For many moms, the golden hours where their children were at school provided crucial time to get on top of chores, run errands, and work.

Those parents who agree with Nelson Mandela that education is the most “powerful tool” you can give your child, now stare at an empty toolbox. Some have never used online platforms like Zoom or Google Classrooms. Many are themselves unfamiliar with the curriculum their child is following.  Being responsible for your child’s education is a heavy weight to bear.

Moms and dads across the nation are finding themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. They either focus on work — and neglect their children’s education, or throw themselves behind home-schooling, and risk their job.

A survey by Catalyst.org found that over half of working parents (54%) feel guilty because they cannot fully devote themselves to childcare, while another 43% feel regret that they are neglecting their work when they are caring for their families.

Education is more than math grades

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For millions of children around the United States and the world beyond, it is not just their grades that are being impacted.

Do you remember how much time you spent with your friends as a child? For teenagers, “hanging out” with their peers feels much more important than studying for an algebra test. Social interaction has a value that is impossible to quantify. The emotional wellbeing, psychological health, and future personalities are all at stake when children and teenagers are devoid of physical contact with their peers for months on end.

There could still be a bright side.

The coronavirus pandemic has divided the world like never before. Some families have not seen their loved ones for nearly a year. With the disruption to travel or the decimation of savings accounts through job losses, holidays to visit faraway friends and relatives are becoming a distant memory. Yet, COVID-19 has also united us.

The entire world has simultaneously experienced a life-changing virus, and for the first time in history, we can all communicate instantaneously. The memes that went “viral” through social media connected the lockdowns of people from Mexico to Myanmar and Belgium to Botswana.

The children struggling to learn from home (and the exhausted parents trying to help them) can be found on every continent. Many people are reflecting on the need for change in the society that emerges after the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for a more connected global community.

Is it time to rethink education?

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Home-school has pulled back the curtain on how kids learn, and not everyone is happy with what they see. In many ways, education has not changed for hundreds of years. Children learn by rote, teachers dominate the classroom conversation, and education is largely held indoors. Many believe education is long overdue for a complete makeover.

As the advances of artificial intelligence and autonomous technology disrupt the sectors of logistics, travel, and commerce, jobs are on the line—both those of today, and those of tomorrow. Perhaps we should equip our children, not for the world of today, but the future that tomorrow brings.

We need to change yesterday’s approach to prepare our children for tomorrow.

Some kids will be better at making and managing the machine. Subjects like computer programming, coding, and robotics could be implemented into curriculums. Other children may find they are better at doing the jobs that (as yet) only humans can still do. Creative writing, lateral thinking, and storytelling should be encouraged.

As the past year has demonstrated, the spread of COVID-19 is slower outdoors. If we are indeed entering the ‘Age of the Pandemic,’ then we would better serve our communities by moving some learning outside of the classroom. After all, Mother Nature is one heck of a teacher. Urban areas may find outdoor teaching is not possible because of the pollution blankets in cities. This is a good reminder to work together against climate change, to provide our children with the fresh air and outside playtime that we all once enjoyed.

But for now…Mom Hacks to Home-Schooling during a Pandemic

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The breakfast bowls are spilling out of the sink, the laundry bin looks like it is about to eat the bedroom, and now it’s time for your kids to go to school. Except, this time, the classroom is the kitchen table.

Don’t panic, here are a bunch of Mom-made hacks and tips for home-schooling your kids through the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Make space

Mess equals stress, and having a clutter-free zone will encourage your child to focus on their learning. Set aside enough time every morning to get that study zone ready for the day. Ask your child to help you, and you can even turn it into a game with music. Remember: many hands make light work!

2. Stick to the schedule

Making a timetable is easy — sticking to it is a whole other ballgame. The more you drill the routine, the less you will have to think about it. Perhaps one golden morning, your kids may even start on their own! Draw up a big, colorful timetable and stick it somewhere you can all see. Once it’s there in black and white (or blue and green), it will be harder to argue with!

3. Home desks

If you can find the extra time for one thing — make it one of these awesome home desks. This mom designed a mini desk cubicle using a foam board. This DIY workspace creates the perfect spot for your child to study distraction-free. You can stick up a schedule, encouraging stickers, a hook for headphones, and a slot for the pencil case and books. Best of all, you can find the foam boards for less than $10 in many stores!

4. Motivational milestones

Studying with classmates is hard enough. Learning on your own is exceptionally challenging. Your child is going to lack motivation, and this is where you can help. Get reward sticker charts for the smaller ones, or draw up incentives like TV time, or breaks from chores, for older kids.

5. Playtime

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Learning should be fun, but this may not always — or ever — be possible when your child is learning at home, often on their own. Education is about more than grades and sometimes keeping your child’s love of learning alive through playtime and breaks is just as important.

6. Pop quizzes

Encourage your child to learn through some healthy competition. A couple of times a day (depending on your schedule) you could set some fun mini-quizzes. This is where those stickers and rewards will come in handy!

7. Kitchen science

When home becomes a school, every room can be a classroom! Of course, turning your kitchen into a home-science lab will create a mess, use up supplies, and things can go wrong. That said, if you have the time, then simple tricks with baking soda, food coloring, and shaving foam could blow your kid’s mind.

8. Backyard geography

If you have the outdoor space and the weather permits, then outdoor learning is both healthy and productive. Why learn about soil composition from a desk? Go outside and get your hands dirty in the backyard! Even if your child drifts from the curriculum, that fresh air and time with nature could bring value that the books can’t provide.

9. Dress-up history

History can be boring especially if you’re reading on your own. Dressing up as a famous King, President, or explorer is way better than simply looking at books! While wading through the heavy reading and workbooks can’t be avoided, breaking up the intense learning with some fun dress-up breaks will keep any student engaged.

10. Reflections and rewards

At the end of a long day, the temptation is to throw yourself onto the couch, watch Netflix, and let turn your brain off. Reflecting on the day, however, can be a motivational reminder of how much you have achieved. If life got in the way, and you or your kids couldn’t meet your goals, then thinking about how to start afresh tomorrow will reset the day.

Learning from home, during a global pandemic — that deserves a world of praise. Get your kids to give themselves a well-deserved pat on the back for even completing another day. As for you moms, your rewards can be some chocolate or a glass of wine!

Science Moms understand the need for education

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Science Moms is a nonpartisan group of climate scientists and mothers who have spent decades studying the earth and the effects of climate change. They understand the need to educate our children to ensure they have a safe and prosperous future.

One way that Science Moms aims to help aid moms is by demystifying climate science and making it easier for moms — and their children — to digest. It is important that everyone understands the ins and outs of climate change because it will take all of us to demand change from our leaders.

⇒ Click here to send a letter to your Senators and Representative RIGHT NOW!⇐

Are you ready to stand with Science Moms?

This sponsored article was produced and distributed in partnership with Potential Energy Coalition in support of the Science Moms campaign.

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