In the spring of 2020, like many people, I suddenly found myself juggling my regular job with teaching my own two kids at home. We weren’t homeschooling, necessarily. I was lucky enough to receive a steady stream of resources, lessons, and direction from my kids’ amazing teachers, as well as books, art supplies, and a range of daily videos and digital resources from school. But the responsibility of making sure my kids continued to learn suddenly fell squarely on my shoulders. Our dining room became a classroom, complete with a chalkboard for the daily schedule, and tabletop caddies for pens and pencils just like at school.
Despite my 20 years as an educator, teaching my own children at home was an enormous challenge. At the start of the pandemic my son, Jackson, was in the middle of kindergarten, and my daughter, Lily, was in fourth grade. Currently, Jackson is in first grade, and Lily has transitioned to middle school and is in fifth grade. Each day presented new hurdles… and just when we figured out the solution to one thing, the weekend would arrive… and on Monday, it was like starting all over again.
We eventually found a way that worked for us. As we went along, I made note of what things felt the most challenging, and created resources that I hoped would help other families. Now, as the end of the current school year approaches and I begin to think ahead to next year, I hope to continue to do a better job supporting families with learning at home.
The biggest at-home writing challenges this year inspired me to create resources to support other families. Here they are.
Challenge #1: Getting my kindergartener to write ANYTHING at home.
Early on in the pandemic, I found it nearly impossible to get Jackson to write anything at all. It was incredibly difficult for me, as a writing teacher, to realize my son simply did not want his mom to also be his teacher. Juggling my own work-from-home situation and their separate school schedules felt overwhelming in the beginning.
As a teacher, I know that consistency, routines, and clear expectations are so important for children’s learning–all things that a typical school day provides.
So I tried my best to recreate the consistency of school at home, and beyond the pandemic, I wonder if there is more I can do to support families all the time.
Here’s what I learned in the first month or so of the pandemic.
Resource: April 10, 2020 Writing With My Kindergartener at Home
Challenge #2: Sharing writing with other kids, creating an authentic audience for my kids’ writing.
One of the reasons it was so difficult to get Jackson to write at home was that there weren’t any other kids to work with, or share with, or read to–his older sister was busy with her own work. I knew that if my son had somebody to share with, he would be more engaged with writing. As the end of the school year approached, digital online writing celebrations were helpful in motivating him to write.
In a someday-world where the pandemic is behind us, I’m hopeful that digital writing celebrations will be one of those things that we keep. Jackson and I loved seeing all his classmates’ writing, and an online celebration is inclusive of families whose schedules or circumstances make it impossible to attend an in-person celebration at school.
Resource: May 28, 2020 End-of-the-Year Distance Learning Writing Celebrations
Challenge #3: Finding the right paper and materials for my kindergartener and fourth grader to use for writing at home.
At home, it took a little while to find the right paper choices and materials for my kids to work with. Lily, in mid-fourth grade was just learning to type and Jackson, in kindergarten, was easily frustrated by mistakes and erasing. As a teacher, I knew I could provide all kinds of choices, but I wasn’t sure if other families knew this.
For Younger Students:
For Older Students:
In the future, it would be powerful to share information like this with families early on in every school year via family literacy nights, in a class newsletter, or in online sessions for families.
Resource: September 4, 2020 At-Home Learning Resources Teachers Can Share with Families: Choices for Writing
Challenge #4: Increasing the amount of writing my kids could do at home.
By the fall of 2020, my kids and I were getting used to doing school at home, but until then we had been surviving by doing as little as possible. It was time to try to write a little more each day. Lily was now in middle school with increased expectations, and Jackson was now an enthusiastic first grader, excited to write more and read more.
An understanding of the importance of stamina and volume could serve families well–for distance learning during the pandemic–but also for summer learning and other home-school connections. Sometimes, expectations for writing (and reading) at home aren’t aligned with what their child is ready to do, and this can lead to frustration.
Resource: September 16, 2020 Resources Teachers Can Share With Families: Increase Writing Volume and Stamina at Home
Challenge #5: Supporting spelling and handwriting at home.
Once we had an established routine for writing every day, and my kids were a little more confident about their work, it felt appropriate to focus a little more on spelling and handwriting.
I held off on making spelling and handwriting a big focus with my own kids because I knew it would frustrate them and lead to less writing. As a teacher, I know this to be true with many, many kids–particularly if they are already working in less than ideal conditions.
Handwriting and spelling can also be an area of excitement and interest for kids, when the time is right, and the work is at just the right level for them. It also tends to be an area of intense interest for caregivers and parents, so providing some information can be reassuring for the adults in your students’ lives.
Resource: September 30, 2020 Resources Teachers Can Share With Families: Spelling and Handwriting
Challenge #6: Finding inspiration for writing at home.
It dawned on me at this point how heavily I rely on mentor texts for helping my son and daughter understand craft moves in writing–and how helpful this might be for other families.
In the past, I have worked in schools with strong “Book of the Month” programs — a beautiful picture book was chosen each month and provided to each classroom. Then the book became a familiar touchstone for the whole school and students could even take turns bringing the book home to read with their families. A lovely variation of this is when the book is also a great mentor text for the writing students are doing.
Long after the pandemic ends, I hope that meaningful home-school connections like this might continue.
Resource: October 26, 2020 Resources Teachers Can Share With Families: How to Use a Mentor Text at Home
Challenge #7: How to deal with writer’s block at home.
Both of my kids struggle with writer’s block from time to time–as do I. Knowing that many families might not be familiar with some of the tricks we have up our sleeves, I created a resource to support them.
Resource: December 3, 2020 Resources Teachers Can Share With Families: How to Help a Child With Writer’s Block At Home
Challenge #8: Sharing this information with families.
In my own school district, we had just begun the process of creating a district website for families prior to the pandemic. Resources like these could be housed on the website in the future for easy access, in addition to using social media to share. A few other ideas:
- A school or classroom website or blog to organize and share resources
- A school or classroom newsletter
- Continuation of Google classrooms/digital classrooms as a place to share information and celebrate student work with families
- Family literacy nights, family workshops, or online sessions to share information
The pandemic prompted me to shift my focus from the learning that happens at school, to the learning that could be happening outside of the classroom as well. It’s a shift I hope to continue to make for years to come.
- This giveaway is for a copy of The Responsive Writing Teacher by Melanie Meehan and Kelsey Sorum. Many thanks to Corwin Literacy for donating a copy for one reader.
- For a chance to win this copy of The Responsive Writing Teacher, please leave a comment about this post by Saturday, May 8th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Kathleen Sokolowski will use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose names she will announce at the bottom of the ICYMI post on Monday, May10th. NOTE: You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter the giveaway.
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