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UT Extension helps parents prepare for home-based virtual learning

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – “Well, I guess we’ll just figure it out…I’m not prepared for this!” These are the thoughts and emotions of many parents across the country as school reopening plans and fall options continue to be unveiled. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many aspects of our daily lives, and now it is further impacting the education system and the rhythms of life affected by school.

University of Tennessee Extension specialist Heather Sedges is in the same boat, deciding what is best for her family and making plans accordingly. The human development specialist is providing advice and resources to parents and families who are navigating this new reality and who may choose a home-based schooling option for the very first time.

“The single most important factor in having a successful fall with your child will be managing expectations,” states the human development specialist. “Establishing a routine and helping your child understand what to expect from you, and what to expect from themselves, will provide structure and help maintain a positive and productive environment. Modeling flexibility is a real positive that can come of this experience, so go easy on yourself and the children when things don’t go as planned.”

Sedges says, “You’re not trying to recreate an in-school classroom schedule. Instead, the goal is to find what works best for you and your household that incorporates learning and accomplishing assignments from the school.” Experts agree a maximum of 90 minutes of work-time, broken into 5-10 minute segments throughout the day is attainable for kindergarten, first or second grade students. Children in grads 3-5 should spend no more than two hours on schoolwork each day, broken into 10-15-minute segments, and for older children, plan for three hours each day, in 30-45- minute blocks.

With these guidelines in mind, Sedges suggests families schedule their days, with a set start time and end time, and with a regular pattern for when it’s time for school, when it’s time for play, and when it’s time for chores or time together as a family. “Be sure to include physical activity- you’ll be surprised what a quick walk around the block will do for concentration”, Sedges shared.

Regardless of the schedule that works best, creating an environment that is conducive to learning is important. This might be an area of the kitchen table or an actual desk, but designating a space for learning and clearing that area of potential distractions will be very helpful. Sedges emphasizes the importance of involving your children in creating their workspace and encourages thinking outside of the box. “Children love ‘nooks’ to read in—even if it’s a blanket thrown over two chairs, it’s a novel and interesting place where a child can peacefully and safely escape.” Spending a fortune isn’t necessary either, she says. “Decorating an unused container is a fun and easy way to personalize the space. Now is the time for using those ideas from your Pinterest boards!”

“Ultimately, having patience and grace for both you and your child is the most important advice we can share with parents navigating this difficult season,” adds Sedges. “Remember everyone in your family is on the same team and expect for things to not go as planned sometimes.”

“Be sure to contact your local county Extension office for help as well,” urges Sedges. “There are 4-H and family and consumer science agents in every county who can assist you and help you find local resources as you navigate this new season as a family.”

Many resources for families navigating this season are listed below, including specific web pages built by UT’s College of Education, Health and Human Sciences for parents teaching grades Pre-K-5 and grades 6-12 at home this fall.

More resources:

–       4-H Youth Development Lesson Plans – STEM-based lesson plans for grades 4 through 12

–       Shelby County Schools Weekly Learning Guides – online, downloadable resources

–       Metro Nashville Public Schools Digital Tools and Resources – instructions for accessing online content and useful tools

–       Knox County Schools @Home Summer Edition – lesson plans and activities organized by grade

–       Common Sense Media – free online activities, lesson plans, virtual tours of significant places, and games

–       Kiddle – kid friendly search engine

–       Tennessee Electronic Library (TEL) – online library for elementary and middle school students

–       Wonderopolis – inquiry-based learning website with “I wonder” and “why” type articles

–       Dictionary.com – online dictionary, thesaurus and word of the day

–       Khan Academy – explanations and practice modules in math, science and humanities

–       National Geographic Kids – animal research

–       Fact Monster – general information divided by subject area and great for research

–       A Guide for Parents Teaching at Home – guidelines and suggestions for parents

Through its land-grant mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. utia.tennessee.edu.



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