At 10 a.m. on March 13th, Errol Nakai, Navajo, received a text from his daughter’s school. The family had just returned from a spring break trip to California and hadn’t watched much news.
Nakai read the text and then watched the news. The family’s world was about to change.
“Yeah pretty much, after I heard of other school districts closing, it was only a matter of time,” By 8 p.m. that same day, his daughter’s school announced it too was closing.
“I’m glad they’re safe and they’re trying to stop the spreading of this virus,” he said. The family lives in Phoenix. One daughter is in 8th grade and the other is a freshman in high school. He doesn’t know when they will return to school, if at all this semester. So now, like thousands and eventually all parents, Nakai finds he and his wife are homeschooling their kids.
While some schools in cities are already closed, school districts on tribal lands have just begun shuttering.
It took a week for the school district to teach the teachers how to use the on-line technology. Monday was the actual first day of homeschooling for the Nakais.
“Well the girls started on-line, video conferencing,” he says. “The teachers send out curriculum in email. So it’s ok.”
One way for all parents to keep things, “ok” is to start a calendar.
Teresita Krenytzky, Taos Pueblo, is an early childhood education specialist.
She has 20 years of experience working with kids from birth to eight.
Her first piece of advice to parents who are now suddenly homeschooling their kids; create a schedule.
“Ritual is the best thing for them,” she says. So keeping to your family’s regular time of waking up, getting dressed, eating and then going to school should remain the same even though the commute is now only down the hallway.
If the parent is also working from home, the space needs to be divided as best as possible.
“Put up the calendar. At 8 a.m. you’re going to do math,” she suggests. You need to show them the agenda that should include breaks and recess for both kids and parents.
After you schedule your morning, and take your lunch break, Krenytzky says give everyone an hour break of free time. The kids can go to their rooms and talk on the phone, read a book, take a nap, it’s their choice. During this time the parent should also have a, “Do not disturb,” sign posted. This gives parents time to relax, make their own calls, or check social media without interruption.
Your homeschool schedule should start and end when your kids would normally be at school yet you can schedule more play time in between subjects.
Some parents are posting on social media the name of their newly established homeschool, some calling it the family academy. Humor and levity will help everyone adjust. Other parents are already planning for “school spirit days” and designating Monday as Pajama Day, Tuesday as Crazy Socks Day, and so on.
Krenytzky also says you have to talk to your kids about the reason for staying home at this time. Keep the information simple and grade appropriate. “There’s an illness going around and we just want to make sure we don’t spread it,” she advises.
“Let them know it can affect grandma and grandpa and we want to keep them safe and healthy.”
She also suggests parents limit their news intake when the kids are in the same room. “Make sure the news isn’t on all the time. When you’re looking at news take deep breaths so when you talk to your kids you don’t look or sound anxious.”
“Don’t take them shopping,” she warns because there is too much panic shopping going on and that will only increase your child’s anxiety.
And watch for that anxiety to show up in behaviors such as crying, or lashing out or if your child starts to complain about a tummy ache or a headache.
Reassuring your child that things will be ok, and that staying home is one way to help things get better will help your child process the new normal.
When it comes to play time she has a whole list of activities that older children can enjoy as well.
Dig out your playing cards for a good ole fashion game of Go Fish. “Tell stories, read stories,” she urges.
Put old socks to use by making hand puppets. “They are very good for literacy and for social and emotional learning,” she says. It’s also a good way to get older children involved with helping with younger children, especially preschoolers.
“Any time you play with kids you’re teaching them,” she says. You can have the puppet tell the kids to take turns at games, or teach them how to wash their hands thoroughly and even brush their teeth.
The kitchen is also a good place for learning in a fun way. Baking can teach both math and science. “They can use food to count and measure.” She suggests using beans, macaroni or even rice for these activities.
“Children learn through play and doing.”
After school it’s time to do chores. Rather than just asking kids to clean their rooms, Krenytzky says be specific.
“When you go into a messy room say, ‘We need to pick up the cars.’ If you say, ‘We need to clean up,’ that’s overwhelming.”
“You tell them what they did right and then tell them, ‘That was very helpful. Thank you for keeping us healthy.’ It’s a more positive way of doing things,” she says and, “It gives the child a buy in, they are helping the family.”
Kids of all ages enjoy playing and Krenytzky says don’t forget to go outside and take walks. If you can’t go outside, use music to relax.
Balloons can come in handy for both children and parents to calm themselves. “Blow up a balloon three times using big deep breaths and then let out the air. It puts air into their lungs and helps relax them. It gets rid of the anxiety.”
“It’s our job to help them breath and find techniques to calm down,” she says.
“My kids’ school closed on the (March)16th,” says Megan Bang. The school projected a return date of April 13th. “Though I’d bet they extend that,” she says. They live in suburban Chicago.
Her children, 10th grader Nimkii Giiwedin Curley and 6th grader Akina Nde Curley, both Ojibwe & Dine are zipping through their lesson plans.
“In terms of homeschooling, my kids are doing ok,” she says. “They’re making it work which is kind of amazing. Seems to be lots of busy work at this point so we’re trying to use our time together for more meaningful learning though! Art making, music making, beading and quill work, and we’re reading together!”
She’s established a family book club and they are reading, ‘Trail of Lightning,’ by Rebecca Roanhorse which she highly recommends.
“We’ve been listening to stories online. Some great storytellers have been holding story time! My son started a Native gamer hub so he could hang out with other Native kids.”
“Truth be told my kids are kind of feeling like this is a respite from schools where the daily microaggressions they experience are exhausting. I recognize though we’re very blessed. I can work from home and won’t have a loss of income. It means we have less stress than many people right now.”
“This is precious time with them,” says Krenytzky.
There are a number of links to explore and learn with your children outside of the course work the schools send. Here’s a partial list including some Native specific links.
In addition Jillene Joseph, the director holds a Native Wellness Power Hour at Noon PST during the weekdays on the organization’s Facebook page.
“The intent is to bring you and your family uplifting messages, information, entertainment and tools to help your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. We’ll have programming for all ages and stages!”
Nasugraq Rainey Hopson is an Inupiaq illustrator and she has several coloring pages you can download for your kids.
Perhaps for extra credit, you can get lessons from the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Curriculum is k-12 and focuses on the Pueblo peoples.
If you happen to have some leather on hand, or if you just want the practice, Trip Charbs posted a video on YouTube to show you how to make your own moccasins.
Indigenous educators in Canada are offering lesson plans to teach at home.
National Geographic's website has a section on the coronavirus and gives parents tips on how to explain it to kids.
Storytime can take your kids into space. You can watch astronauts read books while floating in space. Watch the videos here.
NASA also has all its media library available which will give kids hours of exploration.
You can even take field trips to a variety of zoos and aquariums. The Georgia Aquarium has cameras to watch whales, sea otters or jellyfish.
Due to the school closures other organizations have suspended subscription fees to access curriculum and projects for 1st thru 7th graders. Here are two websites to explore. Kids activities blog.
Tips for teaching remotely for grades k-12 can be found on this website.
Parents and older kids might enjoy looking at the 100,000 images posted online from museums in Paris.
If your child needs help learning how to type to access all of this online content, have them taking typing lessons. This could also help parents who are not quite proficient typists.
And in sticking to Krenytzky’s advice have some fun with your sixth graders and learn how emojis are made.
Be prepared, says Nakai’s wife Katosha, to watch your kids devour their homework. Without a classroom full of kids asking questions, her daughters were able to focus. “It took each of them an hour and a half to bang out two days of assignments.”