How to Support Families and Out-of-School Kids

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Parents and educators across California who are in their first week of distance learning are now trying to plan for what's next when it comes to their children's education: schools that stay closed for the rest of the academic year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t want to mislead you," said Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday. "I would plan and assume that it’s unlikely that many of these schools — few if any — will open before the summer break."

The California Department of Education also put out new information late Tuesday giving guidance to educators across the state on the forms distance learning can take. There are still outstanding questions about waivers for testing, and how the needs of special education students will be met, but CDE does give examples of how they see distance learning working.

Guidelines for distance learning. (3/17/20) (California Department of Education)

Add to that the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place orders, many families and caregivers are wondering how to help their children stay healthy, safe and academically on track.

We hear you – and we've answered some of those questions below, with guidance from Dr. Jenny Radesky, a pediatrician and assistant professor at the University of Michigan who authored "Media and Young Minds" for of the American Academy of Pediatrics. We've also included advice from Denise Clark Pope, senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and co-founder of Challenge Success, which provides schools and families with advice and support on balancing school and life.

Q: Are children at risk of COVID-19 infection?

According to early data, kids overall appear to be less susceptible to the disease, though it's not clear why.

Q: Can kids meet in small groups?

While kids aren’t at as great of risk as people in other age groups, they can still carry and spread the virus.

“Every single one-to-one interaction you might have with someone else can lead to another possible infection, which can lead to three more, which can lead to three more, which can lead to three more,” said Radesky. If parents and caregivers have the means to keep children home and isolated with them, that is the best way right now of stopping the spread of COVID-19 infection.

“We are already very much at capacity for most U.S. hospitals for what we can handle and critical care. And so every little bit that parents can do really matters,” said Radesky.

However, essential workers, such as those in the health care profession who must work can ask child care workers to watch their children at home. For those essential workers who can’t afford in-home care, certain employers, schools and community organizations will be providing child care. For example, San Francisco Unified School District is setting up emergency child care for essential workers and those with low income, with the help of park districts and libraries.

Q: How do I home-school? Where can I find help, lesson plans and practical ideas?

This crowdsourced Giant List of Ideas for Being Home with Kids ("for actual quarantine, school closures, weekend social distancing, anytime!") from the West Contra Costa Unified School District has a variety of useful tips.

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But Stanford’s Denise Clark Pope says first, take a step back and realize that this isn't going to be school as usual. “This is not going to be, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. And in the grand scheme, you might want to think about it in terms of playtime, downtime and family time.” She says parents can focus on skills, not content. “Once you take that leap where you're not worried whether your kids are going to memorize certain facts and figures for the test, you can focus on other skills," she says.

Do they know how to collaborate? Do they know how to think through a problem? Do they know how to communicate with others? "These are all skills you can practice naturally during the day through things like chores, talking to the grandparents on Skype ... or having a FaceTime party with your friends,” Pope says.

Try to create some structure, says Pope, some exercise every day inside or outside the home, while being careful not to congregate with other kids.

KQED is offering an at-home learning response to school closures for all children and youth in California. With a new educational schedule for broadcast on KQED Plus in the Bay Area as well as free corresponding educational media online and activities for at-home learning. KQED is also providing support for teachers and parents in navigating this new learning landscape throughout the state. Find it here.

KQED's MindShift also has a brief guide aiming to help educators, administrators and parents better navigate the pitfalls of making the quick jump to online learning. It curates useful tools and resources with a view to maintain the indispensable human touch of teaching and learning during this period of social distancing.

Q: What about screen time?

Radesky says parents can model their own self-care by choosing good content and using media to connect and support their community. And yes, plan screen time with children, says Radesky, who works with the American Academy of Pediatrics on screen time guidelines.

“This is a crucial opportunity for families to work on making a plan of how you're going to use media and how much. Challenge your kids to unplug themselves sometimes and exert their own tech self-control so that they're not just gaming all day," Radesky says.

NPR’s Ed team adds Common Sense Media is a great resource for quality screen-time recommendations, educational and purely recreational — including privacy tips.

 I (Anya) like Duolingo for language learning, Tynker for coding and Khan Academy for academic subjects. Epic is a subscription service with endless books and comics for tablets, searchable by age.

Video chats can also be a helpful tool. In addition to checking in with grandparents, try setting up a remote play date for your kids. Some long-distance families stay connected with a Zoom or Google hangout portal that just stays open. Think about using video chat to continue learning opportunities: piano lessons, tutoring or religious education. A company called Outschool does live online classes for kids. GoNoodle offers both physical dance/movement and meditation videos.

Special note from NPR's Ed Team on teens and screens: Online spaces are their social spaces and it's good to respect that. Take this as an opportunity to learn more about their online worlds. Help them bust rumors and disinformation. (Check out this free online module to become an expert detector of coronavirus hoaxes.)

Q: For kids, this outbreak will be a pivotal event (such as 9/11, the JFK assassination, the Great Depression). How can parents help with healthy trauma processing?

Denise Clark Pope says it depends on the child's age.

“It's OK to say this is a really different kind of time and to let them know it’s OK to be scared and as a parent, 'I’m scared, too.' Let them know we're here together as a family for a reason and school is closed so we can keep people safe. And you're not going to do a playdate today because it's our job to keep everyone safe."

Pope says kids of all ages benefit from some kind of routine. “It might be family time. It might be exercise time. It might be reading for pleasure. Then have a conversation about it,” Pope says.

NPR’s Malaka Gharib created this comic specifically for kids who may be scared or confused about the coronavirus.

Q: What about kids with disabilities? How can parents handle full-time care?

Radesky says in her clinic when she's trying to coach families who are raising a child with self-regulation issues or autism, she often talks about games, play and getting outdoors. She suggests games that involve the parent and child having to take some turns and "having to connect emotionally, having to kind of feed off of one another, and it might not be playing in the classic sense," she says. Radesky suggests reading books, including comic books, together, or listening to audiobooks. And all of these things are conversation starters with kids, she says. "Kids don't always want to sit down and talk about the virus and what their fears are. Sometimes they play that out through being little kids, getting outside and pretending to slay the dragon, and others may just want to draw."

Radesky herself worries about kids who have autism, learning disabilities or speech and language delays, because they rely on regular therapy to maintain their skills. But she reminds parents they know their child better than anyone. She says ask your school therapist about the kind of basic coaching they do with your child and then work on play, social interventions and language-based work with your child. She advises parents to accept that some of therapies are going to be a little less frequent and says some families may have to rely on telehealth.

Q: What about my own stress as a parent? How can I handle working from home with overseeing my kids learning and coping with my own anxiety?

Radesky says we have to take it easy on ourselves with how much work we're expected to get done if we are teleworking and stressed about tracking the virus news. “It's moving at such a fast pace. We don't have to be connected to it at every single moment," she says. "Really take some time to get offline with your kids and that'll be healing for everyone.”

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