As the U.S. confronts another season of coronavirus-related school closures, Homes.com surveyed almost 700 parents to uncover their greatest concerns of at-home learning, and assembled a panel of experts to offer guidance and encouragement.
Spring School Closures Forced Many Parents into New Roles
Only 35% of parents said their children completed remote coursework independently, and nearly 23% of parents had to teach some or all of the curriculum themselves. Just 21% of parents considered the at-home learning experience “completely successful,” but that number dropped to 9% for parents who took over teaching. Another 26% said the strategy was “mostly successful, but almost a third (32%) said it was only “somewhat successful.” And 21% of parents said it was “not successful at all.”
In a recent Homes.com Panel Discussion with parents and teachers, Anne Bianchi, a Virginia Beach City Public Schools teacher, provided some context on why it was difficult for so many. “What happened was “emergency learning,” which is very different from a planned, virtual learning experience.” Bianchi noted that within hours, students, teachers and parents had to pivot to a remote learning atmosphere.
Aside from the influx of adjustments families had to make, Bianchi also highlighted the stark contrast between traditional and virtual learning. “Most children in school systems don’t spend the majority of their learning time in front of a screen. We are very hands on and very collaborative; we want them interacting and [when they can’t] it obviously limits the amount of knowledge they’re going to absorb.”
Learning at Home Impacts Parents’ Professional Lives
An overwhelming 65% of parents said they struggled with job issues because of their children’s at-home learning needs. Of this group, 42% made adjustments such as moving their work hours, 35% said their actual work suffered, 23% had to reduce their work hours, and 5% quit their jobs entirely because they didn’t have childcare. These insights shed light on an issue many parents may face if learning from home continues in the fall — how to balance work with supporting childrens’ at-home education.
Jesse Coulter, lifestyle blogger and social media expert for IBM, advised our panel, “if you are fortunate enough to work from home and you can group your work into hourly chunks and work out with your employer, assuming your child’s school isn’t synchronous, that would help set expectations with your employer and yourself.”
Torie Scot, a full-time working mother, CPA and lifestyle blogger, highlighted that communication is paramount. “Setting expectations with the school, like your child’s teacher, is important,” she said. “Explain your situation and ask if there is any way you can tweak the schedule so your child can still deliver their work and everybody is happy.”
Kids Need Better Home Learning Environments
Over 37% of parents set up their children’s learning station in the kitchen, living room or other common area. Perhaps not surprisingly, almost 60% of these parents stated that their main concern about online learning in the fall is their children’s ability to focus and learn effectively.
Briana Santiago Ravdin, an Educational Equity Specialist, highlighted for our panel that the key to learning and focusing on school work is less about the space itself, saying “you can’t recreate the classroom environment, but removing distractions is crucial.”
With multiple family members utilizing the common areas of the home, how does Ravdin recommend doing that? “Developing a schedule for everyone in your household will help students be focused on their schoolwork and mindful of the adults working in the same space.” Many find switching rooms when a child or parent is on “live” is conducive to fending off any interruptions.
Parents are Most Concerned for Childrens’ Focus and Social Development
With 27% of answers each, parents cited that their greatest concerns for their children learning at home is their ability to focus in a home setting and the loss of crucial social interactions, particularly for children in preschool and elementary school. A lack of after-school programs (13%), parents’ inability to substitute for teachers (12%), the need for childcare (10%) and inadequate technology at home for online learning (9%) rounded out parents’ main concerns.
“I really just hate Zoom,” blurted Coulter. “It’s really tough; I see the importance of it to connect with classmates but it’s not the same as in-person, which is sad.” As children miss out on building personal relationships, they also miss an essential part of their daily happiness.
But, what can parents do to bridge the gap of social isolation for their children? There’s no one-size-fits-all-solution, but our educators recommended mixing up Zoom playdates by integrating elements of fun during learning hours. “There is a fine line between Zoom for learning and Zoom for socialization,” added Bianchi. “One thing we’ve done to support that social and emotional learning is have morning meetings with a theme, such as a ‘Show and Tell’ with toys and let students host.” Bianchi recommends asking silly questions (ex: ”What’s your favorite sandwich?”), to breakup instructional time and keep children engaged.
A recent New York Times article also shared that there’s much to be gained from time with family to help with a child’s social skills, highlighting that parents, siblings and pets can provide valuable interactions, while digital communication can help to fill in the rest.
Simply Put? Parents Feel Unprepared for At-Home Learning
An overwhelming 82% of parents said they feel some degree of unpreparedness for their children learning at home this fall, with 24% saying they feel completely unprepared. How can parents feel more confident as they approach the fall semester? Our panelists encouraged grace, stressing the importance of parents going easy on themselves.
“Don’t let this whole school issue overrun your life,” Scot advised. “Take a deep breath, step back – we are all in this together.”
“Give yourself grace,” Ravdin added. “Be gracious with yourself. Recognize that none of us have lived through a pandemic before, so take your time and do what you need to do.”
“I think leaning on your community and family is important,” Coulter said. She advised parents to seek out other groups on social networking sites like Facebook. “I’m a part of a working moms group in Austin; it’s a great place to find resources and talk through things that we are all dealing with.”
Perhaps the most crucial piece of advice? Advocate for yourself. If you have the energy and strength, advocate for others, too.
Parents, we support you. You will get through this.