How to Support Your Teens During School Closures
Mar 13, 2020
Are you in a mild panic at the thought of having your kids home for the foreseeable future? Are you wondering where to even start as you think about how to keep them busy and on track with their academics?
With the recent school closures because of the COVID-19 outbreak, I wanted to share some ideas and resources for parents who are facing home education for the first time, even if only temporarily. I’m getting lots of inquiries as people think about how they want to approach this season, and I am happy to help you think through this opportunity and take a deep breath - because you can totally do this!
Educating your child at home doesn’t have to be stressful. This post is meant to build your confidence as an educator, and offer ideas that are simple to implement and focused on what is most important - the health and happiness of your family collectively.
First things first: Set an intention
Before you jump into the academic suggestions I’ll provide, I think it makes sense to check-in with yourself and your kids. What is most needed in this moment? What are my kids most lit up by? What are they dreading? (What am I most excited about or dreading?)
The answer to these questions will help you attune to what is needed. It will give you insight into the activities that are worth prioritizing and could also help you avoid the type of relationship stress that can result from pushing your young adults in a way that isn’t helpful. In my experience, it is always worth prioritizing peace in your home. Home should be a respite from the world, especially in times of high anxiety or uncertainty, and that goes for you and your kids.
I am choosing to view this time as a gift. A pause in our regularly scheduled programming. An opportunity to reset.
My daughter had just started attending our middle school in January and was loving it. So she is bummed that she won’t be able to see her friends and pursue the studies that she had started with her classmates. We are hoping that her teachers will provide some guidance and assignments, but that is unclear at this point. Her school has shut down until the end of April, so we are going to make the most of this break.
Some things to think about during this time:
- Can I provide my kids with a chance to sleep in? Getting adequate sleep as a teen is the #1 thing you can do to help their brains grow and it will keep their immunity high. So this is definitely worth making space for!
- Instead of jumping into instituting a rigid schedule, you might consider a more flexible routine. This creates consistency in your day and provides a structure to make sure you work your way through the important stuff. It gives you the space to adapt to what is needed at the moment and helps you keep your sanity. So after waking up and having breakfast, perhaps you read together or tackle some thinking work, then head outside to ride bikes or jump on the trampoline, then have lunch, then do some art or fun activities in the afternoon before doing household chores together and making dinner. When you find yourself spending a lot of time at home, this type of routine can help keep everyone on the same page and reduce the nagging that inevitably enters the picture when trying to get stuff done and stay productive. (Pro tip: We use the Pomodoro technique when we need a spurt of motivation - this gives my teens a definite endpoint that is negotiated ahead of time and helps them focus and comply.)
- Is there an opportunity for curiosity to run the show for a bit? Allowing your teen to go deep on a topic that they are interested in (regardless of how worthy you think it is) is a gift that can build confidence and allow them to better understand who they are and how their brain works. Interested in sustainable fashion? Take an online sewing course and before you know it, you will have created the capsule wardrobe of your dreams. My daughter taught herself how to draw on our iPad and is now making professional-looking illustrations. It is rare to have a pocket of time to follow your curiosity, so if your teen wants to go down a rabbit hole then I'd make sure they have the time needed to see it through.
- Could we use this time to get organized? Maybe some spring cleaning is in order to clear the visual clutter and those left-over projects that are getting in the way. Starting with a fresh space can help reset your mental health and bring new energy to your home. So watch the Netflix special Tidying Up with Marie Kondo with your Crew and plug away at minimizing the unwanted stuff in your life.
- How am I approaching this time? If you are feeling anxious about the virus or about where your kids are at academically, they will pick up on that. Spend a moment getting clear on your own fears so that you can energetically manage them (vs letting them seep out into the environment). A lot of the fears that I have about my kids are really projections of my own insecurities that I need to resolve before I make them an issue for my teens! Worried your teen isn’t motivated and feel like you need to crack the whip? Maybe listen to Julie Bogart’s recent podcast on When Your Kid Has No Passion to help you get perspective. I loved this podcast and it really helped me reframe how I was feeling about my 15-year-old son. It prevented me from making some pretty major mistakes in how we approach his education.
Now that you are more clear on your intention for this time, I’d like to offer specific resources I’ve used and loved that are easy to implement, fun to execute, and free or cheap to use. You should not attempt to do all of these during this time. Rather, pick one or two and start with what inspires you and/or your kids the most.
Your objective is not to try to recreate school at home. It is to create a nurturing environment that is intellectually stimulating and emotionally safe.
Homeschooling resources by topic:
Most people think about academic work by subject area, but homeschooling offers an opportunity to explore a topic from an interdisciplinary perspective. So you can use a historical fiction book as a jumping-off point to explore a specific period of time, or a chemistry lesson to dig deep on a biography of an interesting inventor. Don’t let these subjects dictate how you think about what is academic or valuable. I’ve just included them as a way to organize these resources so they don’t feel overwhelming.
I’ve included free or cheap options in each area as well as one or more suggestions on how to take it to the next level if you are looking for more academic rigor or have time to prepare lessons.
- A temporary break offers an opportunity to brush up on math facts, and XtraMath is my favorite tool for that. It is adaptive and tests kids based on the facts they are stumbling on. It has a game-like feel and limits the work that kids can do daily in order to maximize retention and learning. Best of all, this resource is free and allows parents to monitor their child's progress over time. (This might seem basic for teens, but getting faster at math facts can really help improve fluency with more advanced math and science later on.) You can also play online games here to practice specific math skills.
- Gameschooling. One of the best ways to sneak in some math skills is by bringing out the board games. Some of our favorites that include math skills are Prime Climb, Cribbage, The Farming Game, Mastermind, Blink, and Monopoly Deal.
- Khan Academy offers free math curriculum by grade or subject that will allow your students to keep up with their area of study. It is nice in that it is gamified and is easy to jump around in if your kid already has covered certain topics. Sometimes we use the quiz sections to test our knowledge and then go back and watch the lessons if we didn’t understand. Khan also offers a parent dashboard so you can see how much time your child is working with the program and what their scores are, it offers suggestions for skills they may need more help with.
- Next level: You could use the SAT prep section of Khan Academy to get familiar with that test format.
- Use the reading list for the Bravewriter Boomerang picks as a guide for books to check out or listen to on audiobook. These books have been vetted and are fantastic literary picks - with a mixture of classics, historical fiction, and current literature. If you are looking for a discussion guide, these are the ones to purchase. They are so easy to use and explore literary elements, provide discussion questions, and require NO preparation! (If your teen is craving a more social experience, you could use the Boomerang discussion guides to lead a virtual book group. Kids can meet using Google Hangout to discuss the book they are reading together via video chat.)
- Checkout ebooks or audiobooks at your library. Or subscribe to Audible or Scribd. Or use Librivox to find free audiobooks online. Listening to books together creates an opportunity for cohesion within your family across age groups. Pull out a puzzle or some drawing supplies to put on the table while you listen. Some books we loved include, The Thing About Jellyfish, A Wrinkle in Time series, Pride and Prejudice, Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry, Farenheight 451, and Station 11.
- You can listen to a grammar podcast or find vocabulary lists to practice for different ages.
- Next level: If you want to practice literary analysis, my favorite resource is Annotating Literary Elements. It helps you very quickly pick up on how to keep track of different choices the author is making with minimal preparation. It is a quick book - more like a teacher guiding you through the process of dissecting the plot or stylistic choices. A teen could easily use this as a resource for their literature courses in high school.
- Documentaries are a great way to explore topics in science. National Geographic has a lot of programming, including the Brain Games series. We are partial to the PBS Nova series called Making Stuff, or the Cosmos remake. But there are lots on Amazon Prime or Netflix to watch too, depending on your interests. Netflix has a series called explained that we enjoy, and the documentary Inside Bill’s Mind was fantastic.
- Audiobooks that we’ve enjoyed include Stuff Matters, Napoleon’s Buttons, Culinary Reactions, and The Omnivore’s Dilemma (YA edition).
- Podcasts: We like the TED talks podcast and the Stuff you Should Know, but there are so many good podcasts out there now. Here is a list of 36 educational podcasts for teens that has a lot of ideas from a friend who is also homeschooling teens.
- Crash Course Youtube Series. These videos are fantastic summaries of science teachings. Even if your teen doesn’t pick up every little detail in these series, it could be useful in helping them get a big picture understanding of the topic they are studying.
- Khan Academy has courses for specific science classes that you can work your way through. Teens can use this as a resource for a topic they want to know more about or work through the prescribed curriculum. We’ve found the advanced science courses to be a little choppy, but have jumped around and learned a lot. This is a great free resource. You can also use code.org to learn computer coding.
- Next level: If you are looking for a more intentional way to explore scientific thinking, I highly recommend the Big History Project. This free curriculum has a couple of different tracks you can explore - one for teachers with assignments and extra videos and resources, and one geared towards families or adult learners that is a lighter version of the same content. Don’t be intimidated by the school version - it is very easy to teach these lessons and to pick and choose what would work with your kids.
Social Studies and Wellness
- CNN10 is a 10 minute daily series offered on Youtube that is a good way to stay abreast of current events. We will use The Daily podcast or theSkimm emails as an alternative depending on what we feel like each day.
- Books or audiobooks that we’ve enjoyed include Salt, Blink, Hardwiring Happiness, and How the States got the Shapes.
- There are a ton of documentaries or series on Netflix or Amazon, depending on your area of interest. Check out the Ken Burns documentaries, or the American Experience: New York on Amazon. On Netflix, we liked Dirty Money, The Great Hack, and are enjoying watching the Formula 1 series.
- Youtube: You can find great yoga or high-intensity workouts you can do at home, or art appreciation or drawing lessons to follow along with.
- Gameschooling: The Scrambled States of America, Code Names, Evolution game and expansion packs, and Pandemic.
- Practice meditation using the Waking Up app. This is my favorite because it has a series of 10 minute lessons to introduce you to meditation (they will waive the annual fee if you ask them to). You can also use the free Insight Timer app. Starting a habit of focusing on your thoughts for 10 minutes a day can help rewire the brain and set up our teens for better emotional regulation.
- Next Level: Snag a subscription to the NYT upfront teachers guide (you will have to call to order just one), but it includes a great discussion guide with quizzes and essay questions to go with the articles geared toward a high school audience. Or subscribe to The Masterpiece Society for art lessons that are fun and totally approachable.
(If you are looking for more suggestions, check out my posts for high school and middle school curriculum that we've used.)
Hopefully, there is something in this list that you are excited to explore with your kids!
Above all, have fun during this time. Take a deep breath and let go of any expectations you might have. Just be. Take time to bake together and establish some healthy practices. It is enough. You are enough.