Concerns over coronavirus have schools in West Virginia closed until at least April 30. And in Jefferson County, schools are closed for the rest of the academic year. As a result, thousands of kids throughout the state are staying home and attending school in new ways.
West Virginia Public Broadcasting explored some of the resources available to help West Virginia’s kids and their families succeed.
Checklists And Routine Help Young Children
We can all agree, times are pretty tough right now, and that can be especially true for parents and kids who are now teaching and learning from home.
Fortunately, there are lots of tools out there to help navigate this new normal.
Clover Wright, an assistant professor of the Childhood Education Department at California University of Pennsylvania, started a YouTube video series as a resource for parents.
In one, she is wearing cat ears and placed a stuffed dragon next to her as she reads a book called “Dragons Love Tacos,” written by Adam Rubin. She has donned her YouTube persona, “Story Girl,” which she created in response to the coronavirus pandemic to help parents with preschool aged children stuck at home.
“I thought maybe I can do this, you know, be their child's teacher for like 10 minutes so [the parents] can get a tiny break,” said Wright, who is married to West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s former news director Jesse Wright.
Wright worked as a preschool teacher for 12 years before starting her job at California University of Pennsylvania in 2009. Every few days, she makes a new video reading a different children’s book. She ends each video with a fun, creative exercise for the children watching, like drawing or coloring.
“I can reach out to the kids and provide a little bit of comfort, sort of normalcy for the ones that are used to a preschool kind of routine,” she said.
The videos Wright makes are just one of many resources out there parents can use to help keep learning exciting, and manageable, while self-isolating.
Like other West Virginia parents, Wright is juggling working from home, teaching her college students online and now making lesson plans for her three sons, ages 6, 7 and 10.
She said kids thrive on routine, not necessarily a strict schedule, but a handful of daily tasks works well, especially for children. For her kids, she provides them each with a personal checklist.
“I included their assignments on it, and when they’re done with each of them, they can check it off themselves, which gives them a feeling of autonomy and accomplishment,” she said. “Who doesn't like checking things off their list, right?”
She also includes a section at the bottom of the list where her children can add what they want to do each week, and she keeps in contact with each of her children’s teachers.
Tips From A Homeschool Parent
But how else can parents help their kids learn while staying home?
“The first thing I definitely see is the need for everyone to just relax and not feel pressured to have a 9-to-5 school day,” Charles Town resident Amy Mason said in a Skype interview. She is formerly a second-grade teacher now homeschool parent. Amy has five children aged 11 to 21, and all of them have been or are currently homeschooled. (Full disclosure, Amy is a friend of Liz’s.)
Mason has been teaching her kids at home for more than 20 years, and she’s found for her kids, letting them drive what they want to learn and not keeping to a strict daily schedule has been a major key to learning.
That included lots of games.
“Board games, card games, video games; they all provide so much stimulation to the brain and so many things can be learned. My kids are the most strategic and creative thinkers,” she said. “And I'm sure it's because of the games we've played since they were 2.”
Mason also points to free online content to help learning at home, such as virtual tours of museums, or programs like Khan Academy, which offers free online coursework to kids of all ages. This also is a resource available to all of West Virginia’s public schools, according to the state’s Department of Education.
“Khan Academy has been a fantastic homeschool resource. They have an engineering, free course right now, and I know my 11-year-old is taking that, and he's having a lot of fun,” Mason said.
And West Virginia Public Broadcasting is also providing an array of resources for kids and their parents to promote learning at home.
Eddie Isom, WVPB’s Director of Programming, said the organization has teamed up with the West Virginia Department of Education to offer a new, locally-produced program on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9 a.m.
Education Station is part of WVPB’s PBS Kids schedule and features elementary school teachers across the state sharing their lessons.
“We know that all kids do not have internet access,” Isom said. “So we hope by expanding some of our TV programming during the day, our children will be able to watch something to keep them engaged and learning something during this time away from school.”
West Virginia Public Broadcasting is also airing history and science documentaries on The West Virginia Channel from 12 to 5 p.m. each day.
The state Department of Education’s website also offers various digital and non-digital resources for parents and their children.
And in an emailed statement to WVPB, the department said many West Virginia teachers are using social media, YouTube, FaceTime outreach and others for online learning, but it all depends on internet availability.
If broadband access is not available, the department said many teachers have sent home pencil and paper packets; they make telephone calls, or send texts and emails, to stay connected with their students.