Celebrity and expert-approved tips on how children can learn at home while self-isolating

By Heather Cichowski

With schools closing and families going into self-isolation in the hopes of stopping the spread of COVID-19, the coronavirus pandemic has left parents wondering what they can do with their children at home, especially in the way of educating them.

No one knows what each day will bring, nor can we predict what things will be like in a few days from now. This can make it difficult to plan, let alone figure anything out. Many of our favourite celebrities are figuring all of this out, too!

While parents might seem overwhelmed right now, we thought we might be able to help. With that in mind, HELLO! Canada spoke with education experts for suggestions on how parents can engage children during these unprecedented times. Here's some of what they had to say.

Turn to celebrities for inspiration!

Social media is keeping people connected, and has let people share all sorts of ways they are using this special time to teach their children, including your favourite stars.

Daphne Oz, the former host of The Chew, shared on Instagram that she has been using online educational resources such as the Khan Academy to keep her four children occupied. On March 12, she told followers she'd bought "a bunch more workbooks and flash cards and planned some creative cooking/craft projects."

"We told [the kids] their school needed to be cleaned and that we and other grownups are here to keep them safe and healthy," she wrote.

Kim Kardashian has been using "Pokemon yoga [and] princess yoga" to keep her kids' brains nourished. Amy Adams and Jennifer Garner started @savewithstories, an Instagram account where more than 100 celebrities have been reading children's books and tales since the coronavirus pandemic began.

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THANK YOU to everyone who has given so generously to #SAVEWITHSTORIES and a BIG BIG THANK YOU to @onceuponafarm for donating $50,000 to these efforts, providing approximately 37,500 children with meals and educational support that they would normally receive when school is in session. ♥️ . “Big Red Barn” by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Felicia Bond (published by @harperkids) . THIRTY MILLION CHILDREN rely on school for food. Responding to the needs of kids during these school closures, @savethechildren and @nokidhungry have a new fund @SAVEWITHSTORIES to support food banks, and mobile meal trucks, and community feeding programs with funds to do what they do best—and also—with educational toys, books, and worksheets to make sure brains are full, as well as bellies. . If you can manage a one time gift of $10, please text SAVE to 20222. If another amount would work better for you, please visit our website—link in bio. There is no maximum and there is no minimum—together we will rise and together we can help. . Thank you and stay safe. XX #SAVEWITHSTORIES

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Kate Winn, teacher and parenting writer at This Mom Loves, said she's enjoyed Pink, Amy, Jennifer, Busy Philipps and Shonda Rhimes's approaches.

"Amy Adams’ daughter Aviana has been using an app to learn piano, Busy Philipps played tennis with her daughter in the carport for physical education," Kate explained. "Everyone is getting resourceful, and it’s great that they don't seem too stressed about the academics!

"I love how Pink went the colour-coded schedule route but with just an hour of academic time for her 8 year-old daughter, and the rest is creative time, chore time, quiet time, etc.," she continued. "And the stay-up-late bonus for kids who don’t fight with each other!"

Lisa Marie Fletcher of The Canadian Homeschooler pointed to Astro at Home and how former NASA engineer Mark Rober is teaching science every afternoon on his YouTube channel.

"My 12-year-old was excited about that!" she said.

Across the pond, many British celebrities are turning their social media accounts and websites into learning opportunities for kids! Joe Wicks of The Body Coach is helping parents make sure their little ones burn off some steam with kid-friendly workouts on YouTube every morning at 9 am BST. Author David Walliams is reading his beloved children's books live every morning at 11 am BST on his website.

Rethink the idea of school

Parents might feel pressure to recreate a similar academic setup for their children. Every expert we spoke to said given this is a rare and extraordinary situation, it's important to remove thoughts about "traditional" schooling, academia, curriculum, subjects, etc.

"I don't think we should expect parents to be teachers," said Vidya Shah of York University’s Faculty of Education. "Therefore, we cannot replicate schooling at home.

"We need to break away from our traditional notion of schooling and broaden our notion of learning," she continued. "We need to recognize that learning happens in all places at all times, and that while parents are not qualified teachers, they have always been the child's first teacher. To really recognize, they are doing the best that they can."

Teachers and educators undergo years of training and typically have a curriculum to follow and various resources. Parents are being asked to do much more beyond their usual bandwidth. They not only have to care for their children, but they're also being asked to continue working from home, take care of the house and each other, keep their families fed and healthy and also teach on top of that!

Judy Arnall, a veteran home schooler of five university graduates and the bestselling author of Unschooling to University, pointed out, "Nothing in this world is NOT educational."

She also stressed it's important for parents to listen to their children, saying kids will push back against anything they don't want to learn.

"Allow kids to explore what interests them. In no other time, will they get to do this," she explained. "Many people call this self-directed education and there is valid research behind this unique methodology of learning.

"Let's welcome this unique situation and empower children to use this time to explore their passions," she implored. "Drop the desks, textbooks, workbooks and embrace the power of the internet. With time to explore, children might even know what they want to do when they grow up before they enter university."

Vidya encouraged parents to let their children ask questions at this time, because it's important to remember they also likely don't understand what's happening.

"We are in the position of learning with our students," she said. It's a wonderful position to be in and to have the ability to practice that is great."

Let kids learn independently

Kate said one of the biggest things to remember is it's not your job to keep your kids occupied all the time! Judy agreed.

"A tip from veteran home school parents is to 'de-school,' which is the process of undoing the school mentality," Judy said.

"Home-school parents do not even try to entertain the kids. As babies and toddlers, they own their learning and soon learn that they are responsible for their learning."

While parents aren't technically "home-schooling" children now, it can be helpful to think of this in these times.

Experts told us children will take ownership of their learning and entertaining. If they become bored, kids will likely become creative and find ways to amuse themselves, like coming up with a project.

"School-age children are more than capable of entertaining themselves, for longer stretches than you might expect," Kate explained. "Make sure they have access to age-appropriate materials (blocks, books, toys, baking and craft supplies, etc.), and that you send them outdoors as much as you're able."

Lisa Marie agreed.

"You don't have to fill your child's day with non-stop planned activities," she said. "Bored kids can come up with great inventive ideas."

And chores are always a fallback option.

"[Kids] will either help out or they will suddenly find things to do on their own," Lisa Marie said.

If you're worried about structuring your child's day, Kate suggests offsetting academic time with breaks can be helpful, such as reading time followed by a snack, a math app and then some physical activity.

Lisa-Marie said it's also important to remember you may not get as much work done at home as you could because your kids are there with you – and that's okay.

"Your house might be a mess," she said. "Life is going to feel upside-down. Be patient with yourself."

What should you teach?

"If you haven’t been given any specifics, for me the only absolute essential academically is reading," Kate said. "Kids should be reading material at their level, that interests them, every day.

"They don’t have to write a book report on it, just enjoy it and hopefully learn from it!"

She suggest finding real-life ways to work on skills. For example, her younger daughter is writing Easter cards to family members while her elder daughter is writing a book!

Judy suggests numeracy and literacy.

"Have the kids read out loud to the family pet. Let children read whatever they want whether from a book, screen or TV.

"Have a family reading time every night where someone reads out loud. This works even for teens."

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“Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey (published by @penguinkids and @penguinrandomhouse) - read by @margaretqualley . THIRTY MILLION CHILDREN rely on school for food. Responding to the needs of kids during these school closures, @savethechildren and @nokidhungry have a new fund @SAVEWITHSTORIES to support food banks, and mobile meal trucks, and community feeding programs with funds to do what they do best—and also—with educational toys, books, and worksheets to make sure brains are full, as well as bellies. . If you can manage a one time gift of $10, please text SAVE to 20222. If another amount would work better for you, please visit our website—link in bio. There is no maximum and there is no minimum—together we will rise and together we can help. . Thank you and stay safe. XX #SAVEWITHSTORIES

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For writing, she recommends empowering children to put thoughts to paper or screen on whatever they wish to write about.

Numeracy can be built into daily tasks, such as learning math skills while playing board games like Battleship and Blokus. And shopping and cooking can be brilliant ways to learn about fractions and decimals!

"Now is the time to enjoy learning so ditch the books and textbooks and learn experientially," Judy said.

Lisa Marie recommends focusing on areas your child might be struggling with first.

"Use this time to help them become more secure and confident in skills they might be behind in," she said. Following that, she states the three Rs (reading, writing, arithmetic) are good core subjects.

"From there, add in any extras that you can - science, history, art, etc."

And remember – stay up to date with your local school board and province. Information is likely changing every day, so be sure to follow along.

"If specific lessons and coursework are being provided for your child, then you know what they need to work on," Kate said.

Use the resources you have – and breathe

Every family is unique in terms of what they can access. These things can change in uncertain times, sometimes by day. Lisa Marie encouraged parents to use anything they have as potential learning opportunities.

"Use whatever you've got in your toolbox – craft supplies, books, screens, games, puzzles, etc. – to give them options of things to do," she says.

If a house has limited access to technology, Kate suggested making the teacher and school aware because some are finding ways to assist. If items such as computers or tablets must be shared, work out schedules for doing so. Maybe your older child gets them for school activities in the morning, and the younger one has a turn in the afternoon.

Printed resources, workbooks and other paper-and-pencil tasks can also be brilliant. And don't discount TV! Remember, Sesame Street is 100 per cent educational and children's programs are full of fun ways they can learn.

"If anything children watch is followed by a child’s reflection or an adult-child conversation, it is educational," Judy said, and pointed out you can use this as a time to really focus on your child's development in a way you may never be able to again.

"In fact, many schools do not have time for meaningful discussion and conversations with children. Now is the time that you can."

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dysfunction junction

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Don't have any other resources? Focus on life skills, says Lisa Marie, like planting a garden, cleaning the house or doing laundry.

There is so much to take in and adapt to at the moment. The experts emphasize it's important not to get stressed and know you and your family are doing great.

"Learning at home during a pandemic is new to everyone, and you are absolutely not expected to become a teacher," Kate emphasized.

"Just breathe. Relax. You are not screwing up your kids if things don't go like you think it will or it should," Lisa Marie agreed. "Just do the best that you can. Make sure that your family comes first because school *will* come back at some point but your relationships with your kids' needs to still be intact at that point."

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