This post was originally published as the introduction to an issue of TheHomeSchoolMom newsletter.
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If your kids are learning at home for virtual classes, it’s time to call on grandparents, family friends, and helpful aunts and uncles to join your virtual education team. How can they help via Facetime or Zoom? Share these nineteen ideas for your relatives and friends who are meeting with your kids online.
Helpers can hop online at an agreed-upon time to:
- Tell stories. Spin a version of a “back-in-the-day” memory, or let the imagination fly with made-up characters and events. Props sometimes help a story get going: a feather, a hammer, a pet, a carrot. Invite kids to suggest the prop or to tell you a story, too!
- Read aloud. Read books a kid has assigned for school and is otherwise having a hard time getting through, or read a title from a favorite series or author. Don’t insist kids stare into their screen while you read. Encourage them to draw, build with Legos, or do handwork. While it depends on personality, don’t be surprised if older kids and even teens enjoy your reading.
- Listen to the kids read. Encourage kids to read to you. You could also alternate reading if you each have a copy of the same book. If you’re the one with more time, be the one to orchestrate getting the books to each household.
- Cook or bake. Send the kids a recipe and a surprise package of ingredients, or provide a shopping list and a list of pans, bowls, and utensils needed. Then, you make your dish while they make theirs.
- Tutor. Offer to help with a subject or topic you have expertise in or that a parent and child are having a hard time connecting over.
- Watch movies and documentaries. Watch the same film or doc together by sharing your screen on Zoom or using Netflix Party. Discuss! Follow some rabbit trails together.
- Talk about current events and contemporary history. Many kids are not offered the chance to learn about the most recent decades or current events. You can tell them about presidents you’ve voted for and share changes in technology, standard of living, medicine, civil rights, social justice, music, food, and business.
- Play Games. Sure, you can play the usual online video games and maybe introduce the kids to some new ones or vice versa. But you can also play chess online or adapt board games like Battleship, Yahtzee, and Boggle for play via video.
- Show-and-tell. Give kids a chance to show you and talk to you about their latest find on a nature walk or their newest video game. What’s new at your house that you can share? Talking and listening build relationships with side benefits of practicing vocabulary, comprehension, oral expression, and attention.
- Share hobbies and skills. Do you paint? Knit? Code? Take photographs? Collect coins? Whatever your hobby, is there a way you can share a taste of it with a kid? The key is to invite, not compel. It’s okay if what they learn is that you have this interest, but it’s not one they share right now. But who knows? They might love it!
- Tell family history. Can you share photos and history about when parents and grandparents met? How they grew up? What their lives were like? Ask kids to imagine what they might like to share with the great-grandchildren they might someday have!
- Enjoy Poetry Teatime. Send a tea set or mugs, a sampler of tea, and a few poetry books to the kids you love, and gather the same supplies at your house. Take turns reading poems to each other. For inspiration for seasonal and holiday themes, check out the Poetry Teatime website.
- Demonstrate science. Share simple science principles with demonstrations. YouTube is your friend, showing you demonstrations of varying complexity for different ages, which you can reproduce on your end of Zoom. For example, Raising da Vinci has videos of some easy demos. Again, you can send supplies or a supply list if you want the kids to do them at the same time.
- Birdwatch. Order birdseed and a birdhouse online and have them delivered. Send them a bird field guide, or download the same birding app, like Merlin. Record species you see on your birding life list, and encourage the kids to do the same. Share links to favorite bird cams. Talk about what you see!
- Craft. Ask the kids what they’d like to make, or come up with a craft you think they’d enjoy. During holidays, they might like making gifts for parents or friends or creating decorations. Send supplies and make a craft together on a video call.
- Move. Take turns picking music and dance together. Do yoga together. (Yoga with Adriene is a great YouTube channel to start with). Do a martial arts kata. Let them teach you what they’ve learned in ballet. Let them share videos of skateboard tricks. Do an online workout together. Get moving!
- Perform. If you’ve got a knack for acting, puppet shows or magic tricks, perform for your young Zoom audience! Can they dress up and get in on the show?
- Play Music. If you play the guitar and sing, you could give lessons or start a singalong with the kids. Could you help by giving online piano lessons? How about sharing information about genres and artists through your Spotify playlist? Listen together!
- Speak a second language. If you speak a language other than the kids’ native language, this would be an amazing time to share your gift!
Keys to video sharing with kids
If you’re a relative or friend helping out by offering some video meetups for the kids in your life, remember:
- Keep online video sessions short.
- Give the kids something to do or talk about. This is not about you. You’re the one helping.
- Whenever you can send supplies to go with your “plan” (baking ingredients, craft supplies, birdseed, etc.) you are likely to increase the kids’ interest. If you’re the one with more time than the parent, try to make it as easy as possible for the kids to have supplies.
- Hold your investment of time lightly—sometimes things don’t “go over” immediately, but you’ve still planted a seed.
- If you’re able to flex what you might offer, ask what parents feel would be valuable. Parents who have homeschooled for the long term have kids who may be missing usual community activities, in-real-life lessons and classes, and homeschool co-ops. Kids who will return to public school may be trying to keep up with school lessons virtually. Everyone is missing social interaction. And parents themselves are stressed.
- Don’t take it personally if kids don’t engage readily over video. Some of them are spending a ton of time online during the pandemic, and even though you’re doing something special, they may struggle with sitting in front of the screen. Give it time.
- Don’t adopt a teacher-y tone. Don’t instruct and compel. Share and invite! Unless it puts them off, ask the kids questions and let them show you things. Keep video sessions conversational and natural. Learning may occur, but it won’t if they tune you out. First and always: connect!
- Cooperate with parents as they keep internet safety at the forefront of all online interactions. Even if you are a safe and loving friend or relative, keep in mind that parents are also helping their kids learn general rules about interacting via video.
Families and friends need each other as we educate our children. Sometimes giving people practical ideas of how to help means you will actually get some help. It’s less overwhelming for grandparents and aunties to know it’s valuable to bake a pie together or work through just the most challenging math problems of the week.
Share this post with anyone who has asked, “Is there some way I can help with the kids?”