UArizona Expert Offers Tips for First-Time Home-School Teachers

With the COVID-19 pandemic turning parents throughout the country into in-home educators, an expert with the University of Arizona College of Education has tips on how to get started.
March 24, 2020
Extra Info: 

Friesen recommended several online resources:

  • Khan Academy: A nonprofit that offers free practice exercises, instructional videos, and a personalized learning dashboard.
  • MobyMax: Offers personalized lessons in math, science, social studies and more.
  • Art of Problem Solving: Programs to help students with problem-solving skills in math and other subjects; features free options under "Resources."
  • Beast Academy: Under the Art of Problem Solving umbrella, Beast Academy provides a subscription-based math curriculum for students age 8-13.
  • Math Playground: Free online math and logic games.
  • Worlds of Words Booklists: Free online resource to find quality books for educational purposes.
  • Project Gutenberg: Resource for free online versions of books.
  • Reading Eggs: Online reading program for students age 2-13 (especially good for reluctant readers).

For the latest on the University of Arizona response to the novel coronavirus, visit the university's COVID-19 webpage.

For UANews coverage of COVID-19, visit https://uanews.arizona.edu/news/covid19.

On top of managing an uncertain period of self-quarantine and social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents are facing an additional challenge: making their first attempt at home schooling children whose schools have closed.

Rebecca Friesen, doctoral student in the University of Arizona Department of Educational Psychology, says learning at home with children can be "a delightful experience." The key, she says, is modeling a genuine enjoyment of learning. Friesen, who home schools her three children, shared her advice for parents trying to tackle teaching for the first time.

Q: Do you have any suggestions on setting a schedule?

A: Talk about the schedule together right away and reinforce it often. Put the harder tasks first. Sometimes a checklist or sticker chart can be helpful. No schedule ever runs perfectly, but try to cover the skill-based subjects  – such as reading, math, foreign language or music practice – at least a little every day. It's much easier once habits are established.

Q: How can you keep kids engaged and focused when there are so many potential distractions at home?

A: Aside from making the task fun, require them to do the hardest work first, and promise to reward them with time doing their favorite activities. It can also be helpful to have a goal-setting session with your child on what they want to accomplish and learn by the end of the school year. Turn those into daily goals. If complaints arise, remind your children that their school, or the state, is also requiring this work. It's harder to argue with someone who isn't there!

Q: Parents are going to be facing this task largely without expertise in teaching or the subjects they're trying to cover. How can they bridge that gap?

A: Turn to the experts. Your child's teachers should be your first resource, but there are other experts to tap into. Programs like Khan Academy and Art of Problem Solving provide entertaining videos and provide the benefits and satisfaction of instant feedback and adjusted challenges. If a science experiment is overwhelming for you, find a YouTube video that demonstrates it. Or give your kids the space and resources to do it themselves. Remember, you don't have to have all the answers. Learn with your kids and teach them how to search for knowledge themselves.

Q: This is a stressful and confusing time for kids as well. How can parents make sure they aren't overloading their children?

A: The concept of flow describes the experience of being fully engaged. It requires the optimal challenge and unselfconscious time. Finding the right amount of challenge fosters both interest and achievement. If your children are enjoying the topic, it's probably the right level for them. If not, it may be too easy or too difficult, or it may not be the right approach.

Q: Do you have tips for parents trying to juggle home schooling with their regular jobs?

A: Here are a few things that work for me: I wake up early and get work done before they wake up. I schedule time when everyone knows that I am working and they need to be independent; for my family, after lunch works well because they are done with their schoolwork and ready to start independent activities. If I have a phone meeting or class, I put on an engaging educational show or confirm that they are happy to continue quietly with whatever they are doing.

Q: How do you home school children who are a few – or many – grades apart?

A: While my children are close in age, I will often ask the older children to help the youngest. They will read with him, do flashcards with him or help him with math problems that are challenging him. It can also help to work with one child at a time, while the others do independent work.

Q: Can you provide an example of what a typical day looks like for you and your children?

A: Here is our ideal schedule: My three boys usually read, practice music and do chores before breakfast. We talk about grammar or critical thinking together at breakfast. Then they do independent work ­– math, Spanish or writing. We usually do science together before lunch. After lunch is my time to work while they have free time. At about 2 o'clock, I read to them while they eat a snack – especially one that takes a long time to eat! Stories make subjects like history and global issues meaningful and memorable. I don't think we've ever had this exact schedule happen, but we usually have a version of this. We also do a lot of field trips, so we will look forward to trying out some virtual field trips!