A couple of weeks ago, as I began to work on plans for our Back to School Bootcamp Blog I reached out to one of my dear friends, who is a teacher and a mama and asked her, "What questions would you have for back to school content experts?" Her questions were awesome, insightful, important, and HARD! Fortunately, my wonderful friend also knew how to answer them! Read on for some brilliant questions and answers from this super smart teacher mama, Lacy Cunningham, M.A.Ed.
For Virtual Students: What are some resources for parents looking to provide online students with safe enrichment opportunities?
Transitioning to online learning for the foreseeable future can certainly seem daunting for parents and students alike. If we learned anything in the Spring, it is that there is a strong need for enrichment for students of all ages and abilities. I like to look at enrichment as a philosophy of challenging learners to examine concepts that they already understand on a deeper level; that's where critical thinking and creativity can really take the wheel.
There are so many enrichment options available online, it can be overwhelming to navigate what is right for your student (not to mention your device's storage space). Below are my recommendations for a few top-rated apps for learners of multiple strengths and abilities.
IXL: This app focuses on enrichment for the core subject areas (Math, English, Science and Social Studies). It's full of fun games and activities that teach PreK-12th graders to use the skills that they have in other capacities. IXL also features adaptive learning for students with disabilities. Younger students will love the rewards for each lesson mastered (virtual balloon animals and stickers, yes!) This one does come with a monthly or annual membership fee.
BrainPop: This one has it all; interactive and immersive activities for the four core subjects to Health & SEL and everywhere in between. The site/app also features a daily BrainPOP Topic that enrichment activities are centered around (ie: make a movie about sharks). How cool is that? Bonus: BrainPop Jr is available for lower elementary students. Double bonus: there's a free trial period.
Adventure Academy: Targeting early to mid-Elementary, this interactive app puts the player in the school of Adventure Academy! Students can unlock special accessories and access to areas of the Academy by mastering lessons from the four core subjects. Perfect for the young gamer who must reach the next level! This one also comes with a free trial period.
Looking for enrichment off of the screen? Studies have shown that playing Chess has big-time benefits for developing student's 21st Century skills. If enrichment for your student means (safely) engaging with other virtual learners in person, Homeschool Co-ops are having a moment right now! For more information on Co-ops in your area, check out thehomeschoolmom.com.
For In-Person Learners: How can parents operate as partners for educators in this new classroom?
Entering into the 2020-2021 school year is uncharted territory for all involved. Fortunately, education is an institution that is used to adapting to constant change. As we march forward through the "new normal", partnering with your student's classroom teacher is more important than ever. Ensuring that your family is in each teacher's corner starts with following the Three P's:
Practice: Make sure that your student is spending a few moments throughout the day properly wearing their face covering. The first day of school should not be their first experience with a mask. If possible, let your student "pick out" their mask or face covering...check for fit and comfortability.
The weeks leading up to school are a great time to practice social distancing within the home. Young students, in particular, can struggle with proximity and understanding how to keep a safe distance. Practice eating and independent play from a safe distance between siblings throughout the day. No siblings? A beloved stuffed animal can act as a great stand-in. The key is to introduce the new safety procedures that students will experience throughout the day prior to the first stroll down the hallway.
Patience: My daughter's first-grade teacher was a parent-communication all-star. Nothing brought more joy to my workday than to see an update on the SeeSaw app! I had the assurance that if a question or concern arose, I could send Ms. Teacher an email and receive a response before the end of the school day. These communications were among the pre-COVID luxuries that I do not anticipate or expect during the 2020-2021 school year.
Practicing patience in communication is going to be crucial this year. The amount of time that teachers will need to spend monitoring student interactions is going to be unprecedented; that means the time spent on emails and interactive apps will be at an all-time low. Our teachers' priority will be to keep the learning environment safe. Our role as partners should be to respect the amount of time and energy required to be a teacher in the "new" classroom, which means allowing additional time and understanding on receiving the answers to our burning questions.
Preparedness: School districts across the country that are forging ahead with in-person learning are sitting on a Plan B. As parents, we must also have a Plan B. If your student must return to virtual learning, start having those conversations sooner rather than later. If we learned anything from Spring, it is the importance of flexibility!
Wishing everyone a safe and healthy 2020-2021 school year!
Lacy Cunningham, M.A.Ed., is an educator and professional Teaching Artist. Lacy spent six years in the classroom, teaching English Language Arts and Theatre to middle and high school students. Lacy now works with various arts organizations around the Kansas City metro to develop and implement arts-integration curriculum for students K-12; her greatest passion is to help to develop a creative spark in youth of all ages.