The Ultimate Learning Curve: Educating Children During COVID



COVER STORY | By Kassidi McKayla Kaminski –

The “word” for 2020 has quite a few contenders: unprecedented, pandemic, quarantine, social distancing.  No one has been unaffected by COVID-19, and two populations that have garnered tremendous concerns are school-aged children and their parents or caregivers.  Whether the child is in preschool or high school, there is no doubt that homeschooling or “distance learning” – learning through Zoom or another online platform at home – will have an effect on the developmental progress of children socially, physically and academically.  The questions caregivers have are valid and numerous, but they are not insurmountable to answer.  In fact, with creativity, structure and grace, caregivers can help their children succeed in distance learning this fall.

Fostering Social Development

Rebecca Deurlein, Ed.D.

“The social aspects of distance learning are what worry me the most and are what parents need to focus on,” said English professor, published author and national speaker on teen educational success Rebecca Deurlein, Ed.D. When school-aged children are not around their peers, Dr. Deurlein said that their motivation can decrease because they are not watching other students exhibit positive study behaviors.  This naturally affects academic success as well, but the consensus among educational experts is that the social development of children is what is most at risk.

To foster social development while schooling at home, both Dr. Deurlein and Meghan Kaminski, M.Ed. Assistant Director/Curriculum Coordinator of Gingerbread Kids Academy, suggest making safe and responsible opportunities for children to interact with their peers, such as a Zoom call or outside hangouts with small, socially-distanced groups.  These types of interactions are “especially important for children who do not have a sibling at home,” according to Kaminski.

Peers influence children in a way that caregivers cannot. When children reach their teenage and high school years, Dr. Deurlein remarks that parental influence is not as strong as peer influence, so caregivers cannot downplay the importance of peer interactions and must make cognizant steps to promote it.

How to Keep Your Kids Physically Active

Meghan Kaminski, M.Ed.

Another area of concern for caregivers is how to keep their children physically active while schooling at home.  According to both Kaminski and Dr. Deurlein, the keys to solving this problem are structure and – again – peer interaction.  “One of the most important things is keeping the kids moving because they are spending so much time looking at a screen,” said Kaminski, and she advises caregivers to create a weekly or monthly schedule of outside activities to do each day.

For early childhood and elementary school children, Kaminski suggests using the website Pinterest to find creative ways to keep the children active outside, such as an educational scavenger hunt, a nature walk or reading under a tree.  Having a schedule is especially imperative for children in this age category for them to develop inference and regulatory skills.

For older children, Dr. Deurlein advises caregivers to help their children – especially athletes – maintain athleticism through limited organized play.  “If a caregiver’s child played in a sport that has been cancelled, they need to get the child out of the house and replace that sport with another sport or activity, like tennis or golf or weightlifting – something that they can do with a person or two.”  This incorporates peer interaction into the upkeep of athletic skills and hobbies, so caregivers can address two areas of development at once.

Academic Concerns

For more information about Teenagers 101: What a Top Teacher Wishes You Knew About Helping Your Kid Succeed by Dr. Rebecca Duerlein, go to https://www.amazon.com/Teenagers-101-Teacher-Helping-Succeed/dp/0814434657.

How do children succeed academically while distance learning?  Based on the abrupt ending of in-person learning last Spring, this is a valid concern among caregivers.  “Back then, no one thought all of this would last so long,” said Kaminski. “Survival was the only goal.” But now, Kaminski says that both educators and caregivers have had the time to adapt, learn and problem-solve for the Fall.

Some problems educators will face are the array of ways that students learn and how they can make their teaching as accessible as possible for students who are used to hands-on learning.  Because the teachers are not physically with the students, the caregivers must step in, but as healthy guides in order to maintain academic integrity.

There is a difference between “guiding” and “doing when it comes to children’s homework.” According to Dr. Deurlein, “If you’re a parent, the absolute worst thing you can do is do the student’s homework for them.  The best thing to do is to teach them that they are smart enough to complete their own work and to let them take full responsibility for it.”  Fostering academic integrity at home may seem like a daunting task, but it is necessary in an educational setting that might no longer have opportunities for extracurriculars, thus making academics extremely important.

For athletes, musicians, artists and actors who no longer have access to their athletic and creative outlets, transitioning to distance learning can be especially challenging.  For those children, Dr. Deurlein wants to remind them that coaches and schools recognize the unprecedented school environment and are making concessions where they can.  However, this does not guarantee a competition season or an acceptance to a college, so academics need to become the main focus.  It is imperative for caregivers to empathize with children who usually engage in extracurricular activities and now have less opportunities to do so, and they should also encourage those children to succeed in academics to help their chances of getting into their desired colleges.

More Questions?

Caregivers have options when it comes to their child’s schooling from home. It is not something that should be tackled alone.  Whether a caregiver chooses private tutoring, micro-schooling (splitting the cost of a private tutor among the caregivers of small groups of children), distance learning or homeschooling, learning how to best educate school-aged children over the upcoming year is absolutely doable.  Moving past the survival mode of the Spring, caregivers want their children to succeed in school and not fall behind.  With the tips and knowledge of educators like Kaminski and Dr. Deurlein, caregivers should feel empowered against the uncertainty of the arriving school year.