When Jennifer Szot sat down with her son to play a game involving mixed fractions, she found herself falling behind the fifth-grade math. “It took me five steps, and he did it in three,” she said. The assignment was one of many that her son is expected to complete at home, when he’s not working online, taking part in “live” classes, or participating in Google meetings with teachers. For Szot, who in regular life is a stay-at-home mother and volunteer, taking on the role of teacher, too, has been daunting.
“They teach everything differently,” she said, making her approach to such problems seem obsolete. And there are other challenges, she tells me while shushing the family dog, starting with the need to scatter everyone throughout the house so that the four simultaneous video conferences don’t clog the airwaves. She checks on her son while he’s in “class” to make sure he’s not secretly playing video games. She calms her 11th-grade daughter who is taking three A.P. classes and worrying about how she’ll manage the exams. Most of all, she tries to lower the collective stress that everyone feels under their roof, including her husband and 9th-grade daughter. “Nobody is sleeping well,” she said.
Parents like Szot who’ve been repurposed as teachers or managers of their kids’ schoolwork can benefit from the wisdom of experienced educators. Several teachers offered advice for mothers and fathers who need a hand:
Start with fun. “Try to have some fun before you get started,” said Becky Van Ry, an elementary school science teacher. Run around the house or do some yoga.
Build a routine. Kids do best when the world is predictable, said psychologist and author Lisa Damour. Start with “aspirational” practices—everyone up by 7:00 a.m., class starts at 8:00 a.m.—and refine them as needed. Think of them as provisional routines, Damour said, which over time can become sturdy.