“Do you have any dot stickers?” texted my daughter-in-law Lindsey, now tasked with home schooling a four-year-old and a toddler because of the COVID-19 crisis.
I found a cache of them in a kitchen drawer stuffed with Fourth of July sparklers, recipes and other assorted junk. The dots – inexpensive and invaluable craft items – were leftovers from my years of teaching Sunday school to a preschool class at St. Joan of Arc Church.
After dinner, my husband and I drove to Lindsey’s house and left the dots on the front porch, along with a jug of Clorox and some homemade chocolate chip cookies. The next morning, I got another text, this time a picture of Eleanor, whose Montessori school is closed, diligently at work at the kitchen table using the colorful dots to make a rainbow on a piece of paper. Another photo showed her little brother Felix standing up at an easel, drawing on a chalkboard.
Fortunately for Lindsey, home schooling comes naturally. She has a master’s degree in educational psychology with a focus on early childhood, and several years of teaching experience.
Backing her up are four grandparents with decades of teaching experience and lots of suggestions. Robin is a retired elementary school principal; Jim is a retired band teacher; Paul was a lecturer in the business school at Michigan State University, and I have taught students ranging in age from three to 73, in some cases religious instruction, but mostly writing at the college level.
I can understand why families who make their living waiting tables, working on an assembly line, or arguing cases in court may be intimidated by being turned into instant teachers overnight.
Teaching, though, should come naturally and easily to many parents stuck at home with kids. A good place to start is with life skills. Cooking together is a fun way to learn about measuring and math. Cleaning up “the germs” opens the door to a science lesson. Recess – getting outside and running, jumping or riding a bike – is an important part of the day, too, in school or at home.
My new group of college-essay students is starting to get going on their applications (via Skype sessions), and the COVID-19 crisis may be a good jumping off point for some of the prompts on the Common Application.
The 2020-2021 prompts have been posted and are carried over from last year. One of them is perfect for students coming to grips with a world turned upside-down and the adjustments to online learning: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
This is also a good time for students of any age to start keeping a journal about this historic time. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, just a date for each entry and a brief reflection consisting of a sentence or two about what everyday life is like – and what they are feeling.
A good supplemental exercise would be to keep track of current events from around the world related to the crisis by reading online publications such as the BBC, Al Jazeera, and the international edition of the South China Morning Post. Students could record the headlines each day as the crisis unfolds, how it is covered by different media outlets in different parts of the world, and discuss what they find with their adult caregivers.
There’s really no need for worry, advanced teaching degrees or special materials.
Lindsey texted me a few minutes ago, with a handmade “thank you” note for supplying those basic teaching materials. She added: “I think we could use a lot more dot stickers!”