The coronavirus pandemic has forced school districts across the country to figure out how to teach students without having them step out their front doors.
Starting on Monday, school will be back in session for the Campbell County School District, and all local families with school-age children will essentially be home school families.
With the school district’s adapted learning plan, each school has developed its own approach to teach students through a variety of methods, including video lessons, learning packets and hands-on assignments.
The district’s adapted learning plan was developed in a way so that families and teachers wouldn’t be overwhelmed. And it’s flexible so if kids are unable to start class in the mornings, they can do it later in the day.
Still, it’s a new and very different approach to education and parents must quickly adjust and work around their own schedules and get used to having their children home all day.
It will be the new normal for most families, but for those who already home-school their kids, it’s just normal the way they’ve always done it.
Candice Young, mother of four and a teacher of three, worked for U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi in Washington, D.C., for six years before moving back to Wyoming when she became pregnant with her first child.
Young started home-schoolinging when her firstborn, now a sixth grader, was starting first grade.
Her daughter had a good experience in kindergarten, but Young wanted to give her more individual attention. She also saw the effects the long school day had on her 5-year-old, who would get off the school bus at the end of the day exhausted.
Sara Dunn has been home schoolinging since her oldest daughter, who graduated high school in 2018 and is now enrolled in Gillette College, was in kindergarten.
She remembers her first year being “really hard,” and recommends parents take this new situation one day at a time.
Dunn’s middle child, a senior in high school, is doing dual-enrollment at Gillette College, which is moving to online classes for the rest of its semester. For her and her older sister, “this is a dream come true for them,” Dunn said about learning at home.
Home school families can adjust and fine-tune things over the years. But for public school parents, they’re almost going into this blind.
“I feel bad for everyone else, because they didn’t choose this. It was thrust upon them,” Dunn said.
“To put this upon a non-home schoolinging parent is not normal, the pressure is so much higher,” Young said.
“They’re so excited. They always were like, ‘Can we just do college at home too?’ Because they thrive in that environment,” she added.
One of the best ways to deal with stress is to have a daily routine, said Sam Burr, an instructional facilitator at Prairie Wind Elementary School in Gillette.
“Don’t spend so much time you’re frustrated,” said math teacher LeeAnn Cox.
The school district advises parents to call their teachers if they have any questions. The Campbell County Public Library also has resources available and encourages parents to call if they need help with something.
Not a competition
Mary Brunner is a registered nurse who has been home-schoolinging for five years. She has three kids ages 6, 9 and 10. She typically starts teaching at 9:30 in the morning and classes are done by 1 or 2 in the afternoon.
It’s not a competition, so “don’t compare yourself to other families,” she said.
Each family will approach education differently, but it’s “really important to support each other, rely on each other for resources versus judging or comparing,” she said.
Brunner starts her students on math every morning after they finish breakfast. If she has to give one child individual attention, she’ll have the other do chores until she’s finished helping his classmate.
When Brunner started homeschooling, she learned how her children learned and processed information.
“Once you figure out how your child learns, things go a lot smoother,” she said.
“That’s one thing I appreciated, is that I have an intimate knowledge of what my kids know,” Young said.
Young said she prefers to have structure because she finds that it relieves stress, but that’s not going to work for everyone.
“Know who you are,” she said. “If you’re not a person good with scheduling, don’t put pressure on yourself.”
Not everyone needs to have everything planned out in 15-minute increments or binders with color-coded tabs detailing every little thing.
“If that’s not you, don’t try and do something that is not yourself,” Young said.
“It’s hard, because I’m not a very structured person and I know my kids do like routine, so I try it, for their sake,” Dunn said. “We do have to make sure we make time for school, because it’s easy to get distracted by everything else.”
It’s important to be flexible and realize that many days, things won’t go according to plan. Some days are spent on one subject. Other days, everything gets done.
“Your routine is not the most important,” Dunn said. “If something is not working, just stop, don’t force it. That ends up with everyone in tears.”
“Don’t push it to the point where you or your child is really upset,” Brunner said.
Brunner suggested parents reach out to their kids’ teachers to figure out how to deal with different learning styles. And don’t be afraid to have kids of different grade levels learning in the same room because they can learn from each other, she said.
It’s also important to take breaks between subjects. Brunner said her kids spend their breaks doing chores, recess or practicing piano.
In a video made by Prairie Wind Elementary students, teachers encourage kids to take time between their assignments to do things such as play outside or take care of their pets.
Many families aren’t used to having everyone cooped up at home all day. Dunn suggests going “overboard with patience,” because it’s a stressful time for everyone.
“These kids are a little bit traumatized. This is a major upheaval, emotions are real, kids may not be able to concentrate,” she said. “Don’t expect perfection. Have a lot of grace with your kids.”
She recommends everyone have their own place in the home where they can go if they need some time away from other people.
Play games and do other activities to keep the mood light. Take the opportunity to teach kids life skills. All three mothers encourage reading aloud, even to older kids.
“It helps you relax and it impacts multiple age kids at varying levels,” Young said. “Even if my kids are acting out, if I start reading, they get drawn into the story and everyone’s calmer.”
The next few weeks will be full of challenges, but there is some good that can come out of it, Young said.
“It’s a great opportunity for kids to spend time with their siblings, work through conflicts and maybe grow as a family,” she said.
“It’s not easy,” Dunn said. “But it is really rewarding.”