Food for Thought: Schooling at Home News Article

September 9, 2020

By Mary Parker Draper, Extension Agent – Smith County

“Well, I guess we’ll just figure it out…I’m not prepared for this!” These are the thoughts and emotions many parents are feeling as they try to navigate a new look to the school year with their children. 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 Sedges. “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 grades 3-5 should spend no more than two hours on schoolwork each day, broken into 10-15 minute segments. 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.” For more information, contact Mary Parker Draper at the Extension Office at 615-735-2900.

Best Five-Cup Fruit Salad

1 cup sour cream

1 cup shredded coconut

1 cup miniature marshmallows

1 cup pineapple tidbits, drained

1 cup mandarin oranges, drained

Mix sour cream, coconut, marshmallows, and pineapple together in a bowl. Garnish with mandarin oranges. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 8 hours to overnight. Submitted by Laura Piper, Night Owls FCE Club.