Home-school mom: COVID interruption can be an opportunity

RIVERTON — Make life a learning opportunity. That’s the advice for public-school families from Riverton home-schooling veteran Brooke Lehto as a prolonged closure of public schools continues statewide due to coronavirus exposure concerns. 

During the hiatus prompted by the March 16 closure of all schools in Wyoming, public school teachers, parents, and students have been striving together to work out home education remotely. 

Fremont County School District 25 staff began mobilizing devices and methods for online schooling on Monday. 

Lehto emphasized that there are many things families can do to keep children sharp during the interruption. In fact, parents might be surprised at how quickly they can get through a little focused teaching, whether it’s mandated by the school or unearthed at home. 

“You have a much smaller quantity of children, and pretty much their undivided attention, so to sit with one subject for an hour at a time is not really how it’s done in home schooling,” Lehto said.

It’s necessary instead to focus on a task to complete, and to learn each child’s strengths and weaknesses while working toward that goal. 

“Some kids will get their math done for today and tomorrow and have it done, and another kid will struggle for an hour and barely get the work done,” Lehto said. 

She said parents can find those strengths and weaknesses, and spend the extra time where it’s needed most. 

Many public schools have mailed out paper packets or links to learning websites. Lehto suggested using those resources while also borrowing the concepts in them for real-life application. 

“Make things around you teaching opportunities,” she said. “Your home can become a place of teaching opportunity, whether it’s baking and measuring for ingredients, or even going outside for a nature walk and then journaling. “Just make life a learning experience,” she said. 

For kindergarten-age kids, read-alouds are the best way to wake the universe inside each mind, she said. 

“Do read-alouds with them and talk about what you read,” Lehto said. “Having that rich, living literature – reading things that have historical or scientific significance but are still interesting – that will spark thought processes.” 

Don’t be afraid of bigger words, she said, adding that little minds absorb even unknown words like a computer downloading new data. Later, the language will be there for them when they’re old enough to understand the words and use them. 

First- through third-graders can benefit from hands-on learning, Lehto said: Play with clocks, count money, and delve into difficult parts of daily life and master them. 

Outside of online classroom hours, Lehto said, it’s important to limit the children’s screen time to what’s necessary – such as watching the occasional Youtube tutorial, pulling a writing prompt from an educational DVD like the “Planet Earth” series, or typing up an essay. 

“There is online schooling … where you have to log in and do the classroom hours,” Lehto said, but otherwise the computer is not as vital to a child’s education as experience and inquiry. 

Lehto was quick to acknowledge that many parents are still operating a work schedule, remote or in person, while their kids are home. For these parents, concerns over their children’s mental atrophy can be overwhelming. 

But because the coronavirus outbreak is occurring so late in the school year, Lehto said students aren’t going to “lose everything.” 

“They’re not going to be academically atrophied from losing a couple months of classroom school time,” she said. 

Regardless, she continued, it is important for parents to keep up with reading and numbers, and to stay as engaged as possible with their little ones’ minds. 

“Do your basics, do something fun, then do educational play,” Lehto said. 

With that done, she said, take a breath. 

“Sit back and relax, and enjoy this time with your kids, because this isn’t going to make or break their entire school year,” she said.