In the old version of “normal,” only 3.4% of parents homeschooled their children. In the new version … well, we still don’t know what the new version of “normal” even is. We know that schools are shut down for now. That school systems and teachers quickly (over maybe a week or two during spring break) devised “virtual school” methods to finish out the spring 2020 semester. But what will fall look like?
No one knows yet. The only thing they DO know is that “Covidschool” isn’t working as it stands. Whether you think traditional school systems were broken, not inclusive enough, too focused on testing, etc., these were the problems of yesterday. The truth is that traditional education as we know it was a machine that had been built and honed and “perfected” (in the sense that they tried to make it perfect, not that it was) over the course of centuries. But the thing is, it was always based on the classroom. And now that it is out of that context, learning from this curriculum is extremely difficult, if not impossible.
On the other hand, homeschool, real homeschool, not this slapped-together Covidschool most of us are now dealing with, was designed for parents who wanted to homeschool. Or felt they needed to for another reason. It certainly was not designed for the 1/3 of the US workforce that also happens to be parents. These “teachers” don’t have time to create elaborate baking or building projects that we are told count as school but are actually fun. They are barely surviving.
But that doesn’t mean these parents don’t want their kids to learn. Sure, they are forgiving some extra screen time and letting playtime reign over work time, but they know that their kids need mental exercise as much as they need physical activity, and it’s not about a test anymore. It’s about fewer slammed doors and the sense that kids aren’t “losing” this time in their overall development.
There is an opportunity here to develop content, tools and resources that stimulate learning in a way that is conducive to these circumstances. Regardless of what school looks like in the fall of 2020, everyone recognizes that some measure of “distance learning” will still be needed, and parents, especially working parents, need it to make sense. There is an opportunity for brands, businesses, the educational system and the community to work together to create an improved Covidschool curriculum. Below are a few ideas for what that could look like:
- Reimagined online tools and apps that are not just for enhancing education, but for actual teaching. Right now most of the platforms teachers are using were meant to help out in the classroom, not BE the classroom. Zoom was designed for video conferences in the workplace, not for a kindergarten teacher trying to get a read on the mental health of 25 five-year-olds at once.
Developers, brands and sponsors could partner with schools to develop online platforms more conducive to the social interaction a Zoom meeting is trying to replicate. They can work on delivery systems for school work and assignments that are simple enough for kids to use with minimal parental help. Teachers could possibly even create assignments within them or just have modules to customize and assign.
- At-home resources and toys designed for virtual school. This could be something like board games that can be played via Zoom in small groups that incorporate math and spelling. This could be tinkering kits created through partnerships with schools, similar to Kiwi Crates or MEL Science and distributed among students. Perhaps they could be reusable and swapped weekly to cut costs. The force behind this could be a food brand that markets recipe kits with their product to parents looking for things to give their kids to do.
Right now learning is less about prescribed grade-level curricula and more about knowledge in general. Parents just want to keep the wheels turning, at least a little more than when kids are watching cartoons or playing video games.
- More video content. There really cannot be enough right now. Parents are still trying to limit screen time to some extent, but at the moment, they are plumbing the depths of Google to find virtual field trips, educational videos, documentaries and other learning programs that their kids can watch for any length of time, bonus if there is an online worksheet afterwards to reinforce the content.
But video content doesn’t have to be long-form or even well produced (though it needs to hold attention). It can consist of animated grade-level lessons or just the teacher of a classroom conveying lessons in a more scripted, thought-out video than he or she might be able to devise in real time on Zoom. Agencies and brands could help educators to create these videos locally or nationally.
- Doorways to virtual skill sets. Maybe now isn’t the time for kids to learn algebra or about the Trojan War. Maybe it’s time for a whole generation to collectively learn Photoshop or various coding languages. Maybe it’s time for younger kids to learn how to type on a keyboard with typing apps.
Public schools have prescribed curriculums, and while those might be adjusted, many teachers are generally not trained to teach these programs to kids. But software companies could consider producing and marketing this content independently to parents looking to stimulate their kids on a day-to-day basis.
- Learning content that utilizes the home space. This could be a side project for almost any brand, in partnership with schools or not. The fact that kids are not confined to a classroom can be worked to an advantage. This could provide an opportunity to design activities that incorporate different brands and products (or that are simply recommended by them) that utilize this home space.
For example, you might have a milestone assignment for the week to build a reading fort and read a book in it for so many minutes a day. Or a nature scavenger hunt that could be held in the backyard with minimal parental supervision. For social studies, focus on community contributions: kids help clean the kitchen, etc. For older kids, they could measure and build out a larger project. Or tend a garden. Or cook. Imagine how brands could inject themselves into educational activities simply with a blog post and instructions that are easy to follow at home. Imagine if there were daily content parents could count on.
- Flexible assignments with multiple options. Every student’s house, availability and abilities are going to vary. Some people have all the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies lying around or can get them easily. Some might need the assignment to just be a worksheet on baking they can grab from somewhere and read. One option should be accessible to everyone whereas other options might be more engaging for hands-on learners.
This is a general note for brands, businesses and schools looking to remain inclusive as they create more distance learning opportunities and tools. If the tools will not be provided, consider having levels of learning that almost anyone can access regardless of their situation.
Getting Covidschool right is something schools, brands, businesses and the entire communities surrounding them need to be working toward as we come together in this time of crisis. First and foremost we want all of our children to be safe, but directly after that we want them to be physically, mentally and developmentally healthy. Not just for them, but for their parents who are needed in the their workplaces, and not as the defeated shells of human beings Covidschool seems to be creating. Prior to this crisis, we might have underestimated how integral our educational system is to our economic prosperity. Hopefully we will not continue to make that mistake.