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How SC parents tackle the new normal — home-schooling during coronavirus closures

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Kindergarten teacher Candy Aimar hands out schoolwork to take home to Jordan Snider's daughter Hazel Snider at Oakland Elementary on Monday, March 16, 2020, in West Ashley. Andrew Whitaker/Staff

The new coronavirus pandemic has forced widespread school closures across the United States and as a result, millions of parents face the daunting task of educating their children from home — whether they want to or not. 

As of Thursday morning, more than 95,000 public and private schools across the country closed to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus, affecting at least 42 million students, according to data compiled by Education Week. The virus causes COVID-19, a flu-like disease that has affected more than 60 people in South Carolina. 

Some schools have turned to Chromebooks or iPads to facilitate eLearning from home. Others are relying on worksheets, study guides and other paper-and-pencil assignments.

Regardless of the medium, it can be intimidating for parents to step into a new role as a part-time educator, especially if they’re juggling their own work obligations from home as well.

“It’s challenging at times,” said Maureen McAnnar, whose second-grade son goes to Memminger Elementary School in Charleston.

Since she’s also working from home, she and her son have had to adapt.

“On Monday, I had a video conference that I needed to be a part of. And at the same time, my son had questions," she said. "I had to put him to work on something else for 10 minutes."

Since then, she's tried to schedule her meetings around her son's schedule if possible.

It’s normal for parents to feel intimidated or overwhelmed when it comes to home schooling if they’ve never done it before, said Courtney Ostaff, a home-school parent and online educator with more than two decades of experience.

"People are going to make mistakes. This is not going to be an easy transition," Ostaff said, who works as an online instructor for Well-Trained Mind Academy.

Ostaff and other home-school experts say it takes time for parents and students to get settled into a successful work/school routine from home. 

"There does need to be a new normal, and this is probably a marathon and not a sprint," said Merle Tyroler, a licensed clinical psychologist based out of Mount Pleasant. 

It's important for parents to pace themselves and their students so they don't get overwhelmed too quickly, Tyroler said. 

"The novelty of doing online learning over time may wear off, and this may become a more difficult exercise than what people have in mind at the moment. I think that they really need to be patient with themselves," she said. 

It's important for parents to periodically check up on their children, Tyroler said.

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JaQuelle Gethers holds Lauren Washington's hand while picking up schoolwork packets for her at Oakland Elementary on Monday, March 16, 2020, in West Ashley. Andrew Whitaker/Staff

A big adjustment

While it may seem fun and exciting at first, switching to online learning or home schooling is a major disruption to students' lives. 

This can cause children to feel anxious, confused or out of control, and these feelings can manifest in different ways. 

Kids might be more disruptive. They might have more trouble sleeping at night. They might ask their parents for more reassurance or find it harder to concentrate. All are normal reactions, Tyroler said. 

One of the best things parents can do for their children and for themselves when transitioning to at-home learning is establishing some sort of a daily routine. 

Keeping bedtimes and schedules in place can be helpful for students to maintain a sense of normalcy, Tyroler said. 

"Kids thrive on schedule and they thrive on routine, and the more parents can institute those, the better it's going to be," she said. 

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Since students will likely have more screen time than usual in the coming weeks, Tyroler also emphasized the importance of unplugged play time.

Creating a positive workspace

All that students need to be successful with at-home learning is a flat surface, usually a desk or a table, and lots of paper, Ostaff said.  

Headphones can also be helpful for limiting distractions, especially if there are multiple kids working in the same room.

While establishing set routines is generally beneficial for students, it's also OK if students learn at their own pace and on their own time, especially because not all parents have the ability to work from home and monitor their students' progress 24/7. 

"It’s hard for me. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to do it as a single working mom," she said. 

Ostaff recommended that parents in this situation prioritize their students' math and reading assignments if possible — "those are the essentials," she said. 

She also reminded parents to be patient and not be too hard on themselves if their students don't get to their schoolwork during the day.

"If your kids goof off and watch Netflix during the day, it’s OK," she said. "If your teenager is doing algebra at 11 o’clock at night, that’s OK, as long as it gets done."

She also recommends that parents encourage their students to read everything they can get their hands on — everything from comic books or graphic novels to 10-cent paperbacks from a thrift store will work. 

Online resources

While most libraries have also closed their doors as a result of the coronavirus, many still have a wealth of online resources that can help facilitate learning from home.

"Most children are naturally curious, and it's great where we live in an age where we have access to a ton of information right at our fingertips," said Stacy Winchester, a research data librarian at the University of South Carolina.

Audiobooks, movies, documentaries, reference materials and language learning tools are just some of the resources that parents can get access to online via public libraries, Winchester said. Many offer online programs including virtual field trips or art lessons. 

"This is definitely a challenge for all of us, but it's also definitely an opportunity to think about kids' education in a different way than we normally do," she said. 

Usually parents will need a library card to access material online, Winchester said. But some library branches, like those in Charleston County, are temporarily offering residents the chance to apply for a temporary digital library card.

Other organizations, such as the Charleston Museum and the Charleston Gaillard Center have also announced special, online educational resources or lessons for students. 

"They might have schoolwork, but they also might have a lot of free time. Encouraging children to learn is such an amazing way for them to spend this time," Winchester said. 

For most parents, teaching their kids from home is an opportunity to gain a greater appreciation of the school system and what it provides, Tyroler said. 

"Especially now, teachers deserve a heck of a lot of credit for what they do every day," McAnnar said. 

Contact Jenna Schiferl at 843-937-5764. Follow her on Twitter at @jennaschif. 

Jenna Schiferl was born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina and is a graduate of the University of South Carolina. She has worked as an education reporter for The Post and Courier since 2019.

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