Homeschooling

A mother and her son review algebra before he takes a test in their Mechanicsville home.

RICHMOND — The number of students being home-schooled in Virginia has risen substantially over the past decade.

There were 23,290 home-schooled students in the state in the 2009-10 school year, according to data from the Virginia Department of Education, and that number has surged to 38,282 this school year.

With every K-12 school in the state shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, the state’s roughly 1.5 million public, private and ordinarily home-schooled students are at home. Many parents and guardians are trying to use the time — at least until March 27, under Gov. Ralph Northam’s order — to still have their children learn amid rising uncertainty over when schools will reopen.

Virginia’s K-12 education leader, James Lane, said Tuesday that there’s a “very real possibility of a significantly longer shutdown” than the two-week break announced last week.

With the future of the school year unknown and parents attempting to home-school for the first time, the Richmond Times-Dispatch spoke with experienced home-school parents for their tips. Here is their advice.

Don’t try to recreate the school dayAlycia Wright taught for 12 years and now runs a home-school co-op in Henrico County with roughly 20 families.

Her first piece of advice: Don’t default to the structure of a school day.

“That’s just not realistic,” Wright said. “I suggest people think more in rhythms of their days instead of hard schedules.”

Wright suggests creating learning opportunities in everyday life. If you’re going to the grocery store, for example, see if your children can figure out what’s the better deal on a certain product.

Yvonne Bunn, the director of home-school support and government affairs for the Home Educators Association of Virginia, said parents should wake up before their children and make sure they complete any school-sponsored work provided by teachers.

Tracy Epp, the chief academic officer for Richmond Public Schools, for example, said she hopes students dedicate as much as three hours per day toward their schooling during the break.

Nurture interests

Bunn suggests asking your children a simple question: If you could learn about anything, what would you like to learn about this week?

“That draws them in,” she said.

There are online resources — public libraries are closed, but their websites have tools, for example — that can help nurture those interests, Bunn said.

It might be classical music or board games. Sports or science. Whatever it is, Bunn said, try to stimulate their interest.

“Get their focus and give them some direction, but do things that they are interested in,” Bunn said. “For this short period of time, they don’t have to do certain things unless the academics have been provided for them from the school system.”

She added: “I would suggest that they start looking into subjects that really interest them or that they would like to do or what they want to learn more about.”

Limit screen time

Spending time with things they’re interested in, Bunn said, helps with the battle over how much screen time children have.

Bunn recommended turning off the TV and putting cellphones away — that includes parents.

“Once parents get on their cellphone, then that’s an opportunity for the children to model that,” she said.

Bunn endorsed having students go outside on a nature walk and report back with a journal entry, among other activities. Reading is also important, Bunn said, with a physical book or an audiobook.

Richmond Public Library announced Wednesday that it is expanding access to online resources, lifting the checkout limits on audiobooks, movies, comics and music to encourage online borrowing.

Wright said it is important for parents to make sure screen time is productive.

“If you can tailor the screen time so there’s a purpose to it, I think it’s great. But I always would suggest doing as much real-life learning as you can,” she said, adding that families should try to spend as much time outside as possible. “It’s easy to let kids watch TV or be on their phones. Just remember, those habits form quickly and they’re going to be extremely difficult to break once they get back into a structured schedule.”

While federal, state and local officials have recommended social distancing as a way to tame the coronavirus outbreak, hikes, bike rides and trail running are seen as OK.

Do things together

No matter what you do during the break, Wright and Bunn said, try to do as many activities together as possible.

“Real moments where you can talk and discuss and bond and have learning happening, those are the most valuable,” Wright said.

That might be cooking together or making arts and crafts together, activities both experts recommended.

School is going to be out through at least March 27, so appreciate the time together, Wright said.

Said Wright: “Supply them with some resources. Maybe supply them with some online opportunities that have educational goals and just bond and enjoy each other.”

Five resources to help

1. Nearly 30 indoor activities you can do with kids.

2. Take your children on a virtual field trip.

3. Educational shows you can stream.

4. Watch TED talks.

5. Foster your child’s creative side with these art-at-home resources from Henrico County teacher Caroline Velazquez. Velazquez is also going live on weekdays at 3 p.m. on Instagram with an art tutorial of something you can make at home.

6. Bonus: School districts across the Richmond area have set up specific pages for learning at home. Here are the pages created by Richmond Public Schools, Henrico County Public Schools and Hanover County Public Schools.

jmattingly@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6012

Twitter: @jmattingly306

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