Almost overnight, homework took on new meaning to students across Canada.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to shut their doors in mid-March, learning was shuffled from the classroom to the family living and dining rooms. It also thrust parents into a trove of new responsibilities.
While parents need to figure out what works best for their own unique situations, taking on the role of a teacher isn’t expected or necessarily beneficial, said Kristina Llewellyn, a social development studies professor at the University of Waterloo.
“We don’t want parents having to take on the burden, thinking they’re responsible for all those learning outcomes,” she told Global News.
“It does put parents in a different role, adding a level of stress and expectation that they may have not had before, but there are some distinct boundaries. It’s good for young people to have the guidance of expert educators, and students recognize that.”
So how does a parent ensure their child or teenager is doing their work without taking on the teacher role?
It will depend on the age of the student, according to Ann Douglas, a parenting expert and author of Happy Parents Happy Kids.
Parents will more likely have to take on an “operational” role while supporting young kids through remote learning by offering guidance and setting them up with the tools they need for each day, she said. That might mean checking in on schoolwork more often or, depending on the child, shepherding them through the day’s work.
High-schoolers are different, she said.
“You need to recognize their growing autonomy,” she said. “Nothing makes a teenager more unhappy and more likely to not do their homework is having a parent treat them like they’re a little kid.”
Douglas noted that teenagers might face more anxieties than elementary students, with grades and post-secondary school hanging in limbo while the virus lingers.
She suggests “laying the groundwork for a good outcome” while keeping studies going from home.
“Look at the best-case scenarios with them — say school does go back into session in the fall, and they’re able to go off to Grade 12 or university. By having them identify their own goals, it puts them in the driver’s seat. They’re not being pushed by you, they’re motivating themselves.”
What’s universal for all age groups is the stressors brought on by the pandemic, she said.
Data shows Canadian kids and teens are feeling the strain.
A recent poll by Angus Reid found that while most students aged 10 to 17 are keeping up with their schoolwork (75 per cent), the majority feel unmotivated (60 per cent) and don’t like the at-home arrangements (57 per cent).
“We don’t want schoolwork to become a major source of parent-child conflict because, right now, parents and kids have never needed each other more,” Douglas said.
“Try to see the situation from your child’s point of view. Think about what it must be like to be a kid or a high schooler at this moment, all the disappointments, the stress, the anxiety. Then ask yourself, ‘How well would I be able to learn?'”
But there are only a few weeks left of this academic school year, and parents also need to keep that in mind, Douglas added.
That might play into any resistance parents are seeing in their kids about homework.
“A lot of kids are already starting to unplug and be less engaged. In normal times, the arrival of nice weather means kids stop focusing on school to the same degree. This year, given what we’ve been through, the break from the screens is almost irresistible,” she said.
“They might have just naturally hit the end of what they’re capable of at this moment.”
And if parents are worried about the same sort of behaviour in the fall?
“I don’t think it would be as hard as it is right now, when we’re still just two months into radically shifting our reality. We have a few more months to learn strategies for managing some of this stuff,” Douglas said.
“Don’t borrow all of September’s worries in May.”
There is no guarantee kids will be back in their seats come September, despite several provinces aiming for that goal.
Fears of a “second wave” of the coronavirus could put a wrench in plans to resume schools in the fall. Should that happen, and students be forced to keep up their studies at home, the same sort of rules apply, Douglas said.
But the three-month summer break leaves room for improvements to be made to how the at-home learning — or “remote emergency teaching” — is done, said Llewellyn. That includes making sure the tools and technology kids need is accessible to all families, she said.
“In the long term, we know we can’t replicate what happens in the classroom, that often compounds in inequalities,” Llewellyn said.
“We’ll have to be equity-focused and equity-driven… We’ll need more support for educators and more support for mental health for families.”
Should schools stay closed come September, remote or distance learning needs to be “reimagined” to be effective in the long run, said Charles Pascal, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and former deputy education minister in Ontario.
“The stressful thing that’s taken place over the last month or so is because all of this was laid out with no consultation to begin with. It was dropped on the teachers. The educators, at the grassroots level, have done their best in spite of little guidance from governments,” he said.
“Implementation of distancing learning to this capacity requires involvement and participation from teachers on how to best to do things differently.”
Until then, teachers are always available to address parents’ concerns — even more so now, Llewellyn said.
“Some teachers are sending out Google surveys and polls, they’re reaching out by email. The message is constantly: ‘Please let us know how this is working for you. We want to make sure that the well-being of your family is a priority.'”
— with files from the Canadian Press
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