With the announcement that the Sacramento City Unified School District will begin the year with distance learning, many parents are looking for ways to support their children as they learn from home.
Supporting a student engaged in distance learning can be challenging for parents, particularly those who are juggling working from home, working in essential jobs, or supporting multiple students at the same time.
There are a wide variety of resources online, through the Sacramento Public Library, and through tutoring agencies. Here’s a guide to help parents get started as they support students learning from home this fall.
Andrea Venezia, an Associate Professor and Executive Director of the Education Insights Center (EdInsights) at Sacramento State University, said parents should be patient with themselves and with their children.
“Take a breath and know that this is an unusual time, and that our kids might not learn as much as we want them to learn. And that’s gonna have to be okay,” she said.
Venezia identified three categories she uses to support her children through the challenges of distance learning: mental health, organization, and academics.
“First and foremost is mental health,” Venezia said. Many students are feeling especially isolated, Venezia said, and it is important to support children who are coping with a new loss of the social environment that school can provide. Parents can look to online resources or doctors to learn how to support their students during times of stress.
Second, parents should find ways to help their students organize their distance learning coursework.
“I think in the spring we saw that it was so frantic that a lot of times every class had a different online platform and every teacher had a different way of organizing information. And that was really scary and anxiety-producing for a lot of kids. So helping them organize information I think is key,” Venezia said.
Academic support comes third, Venezia said. And for parents and students who are struggling with the stress of working and learning from home, it’s OK if supplementing your coursework with online resources like Khan Acadmey isn’t a primary focus.
“I go into the supplemental realm very carefully and very gently, knowing that we’re all feeling very overwhelmed,” Venezia said.
Instead of trying to provide extra academic resources for every subject, parents could focus on one or two academic areas to supplement with online resources, she said.
Wide Open School, a free collection of online resources for kids has a wide variety of resources that both parents and students can use.
They have a collection of resources for emotional wellbeing, which includes videos from the Peer Health Exchange, reflection activities from Facing History and Ourselves, and YouTube yoga classes.
Younger students can practice breathing exercises with Rosita from Sesame Street or learn how to meditate, while older students can write creative letters to their loved ones with Jason Reynolds at the Library of Congress.
Real Talk, a mobile app that teaches teenagers about public health issues including sexual health, has a Teen Mental Health Resource Guide that includes resources for managing stress, anxiety and worry, as well as suggestions for how to stay connected with friends while socially distancing.
The California State Government website provides a list of mental health resources.
Accessing the internet
For families seeking out free and low-cost internet access, Wide Open School has collected a variety of resources that can make learning from home more accessible for every family.
Services like Everyone On and Cox connect families to computers, and digital skills training, and low-cost internet.
Internet Essentials from Comcast connects families to in-home WiFi for under $10 per month.
Online resources for students
Parents can choose from a variety of online resources to supplement their children’s learning.
Khan Academy, a website that offers free online classes, began offering suggested daily schedules and weekly math learning plans (along with a guide to using them) when schools moved to distance learning in the spring.
Their parent quick start guide has tips to get parents and their children up to speed on all of Khan Academy’s resources.
BrainPop is another website that offers videos for K-12 students. Many BrainPop videos are free, but to access all of the videos families must pay for a monthly subscription.
BrainPop has a free video on the coronavirus pandemic, as well as videos that explain distance learning and flattening the curve.
The website also provides a free page dedicated to videos that support anti-racist education, which explain concepts around race and racism.
For students interested in going deeper into subjects from artificial intelligence to film studies, Crash Course and Crash Course Kids offer a wide range of free videos for learners looking to supplement their studies.
Wide Open School also has a page dedicated to virtual field trips, where students can visit the International Space Station, explore the world’s largest cave, and wander around the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
For students with reading barriers like dyslexia, blindness, or cerebral palsy, Bookshare provides more than 800,000 e-books in easy-to-read formats. Parents can register their students on the website for free.
For teenagers looking to connect with peers while socially distancing, COVID TV is a website where teenagers can submit editorials, write blog posts, and connect with other high school students who are doing community projects in support of those impacted by the pandemic.
For more online resources to support students engaged in distance learning, parents can visit the Distance Learning Resource Center maintained by Education Reimagined, a group dedicated to providing learner-centered education.
Sacramento Public Library
A wealth of resources are available to students, families and educators through the Sacramento Public Library. You just need a library card, which is free for all California residents.
Sac Public Library offers homework help resources to students, with live tutors available through their website seven days a week, from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m.
“I have always told students if you have something to do Monday and it’s 10 on Sunday night and you’re about to start that homework assignment, not that you would ever do that, but if it happens, you could log on and talk live to a tutor in English and Spanish about your homework assignment using this service,” said Amanda Foulk, K-12 specialist at the library.
Foulk also advised that parents can connect with a tutor to better understand how to help young students, as the curriculum has likely changed since they were in school.
Additionally, the library offers over 40 online resources, including providing access to 60 Minutes episodes and New York Times articles.
The library has partnered with the Sacramento County Office of Education to offer early learning workshops in English and Spanish to teach parents strategies for educating young children. They plan to do more of these workshops in the future.
The library’s website also offers resources to young children, including online read-along picture books and virtual storytellings.
With the phased-in curbside service, parents are now able to get books, STEM kits, learn-to-read kits, board games and librarian recommendations.
Foulk emphasized that while the library is not a substitute for classroom teachers, their resources and librarians can help to supplement education and support teachers during distance learning. With plans for educator workshops, librarians hope to hear from teachers themselves about what resources would help them.
For the first time ever, the library will offer a virtual fall reading program, similar to their annual summer program, to encourage reading for young learners.
The library’s programming has moved to a virtual setting, offering teen social spaces, book club meetings, storytimes, trivia and other events over platforms like Zoom and Facebook.
Foulk has also said that they plan to continue their mobile services, like the bookmobile, to bring books and resources to areas further from branches or without reliable internet access.
“We’re really making the effort to go find our families and our teens wherever they are. We know that different families have different connections, different resources, different tools. So we’re really interested in being here for everybody,” Foulk said.
The library even made sure to print out summer reading lists to get to those who couldn’t participate online, partnering with meal distribution centers to get the pages out.
One of the library’s upcoming summer programs is a reading ambassadors workshop in August. Older children will learn to improve reading confidence with a library book and read it to younger children in their homes, improving their literacy. While it was planned last fall, the program seems perfect for the moment.
“They feel so critically relevant now that our kids are spending more time as a mixed-age family unit during their learning time,” Foulk said.
Some private tutoring options rely on tutoring centers, like Mathnasium or Kumon. Mathnasium, a chain of tutoring centers exclusively focused on math, has a center in Arden that is currently open and serving students.
Students wear a mask into the center, wash hands and are spaced apart, interacting with masked individual tutors. The center also offers a virtual option for students to get help online.
Michael Diesenbach, a lead instructor at Mathnasium, has said that he believes more students will come to the center when distance learning begins in the fall.
“A lot of parents have looked to our program to supplement their math learning so that their student doesn’t fall behind,” Diesenbach said.
Students work one-on-one with tutors, making the program more expensive. The price of Mathnasium is determined by a consultation with the center.
Pandemic pods for group learning
Some families have begun to organize “pods” for distance learning, in which multiple households bring their children together to work with a parent, a private tutor or a teacher who visits students who are learning from home.
A Facebook group for parents interested in forming “pandemic pods,” created July 7, now has more than 14,000 members. But some parents and educators in the group have expressed concerns about the way that “pods” could leave out more vulnerable students.
Venezia said that parents should be careful that the development of these “pods” could happen within specific networks that include some families but exclude others.
“A really key issue in a lot of communities is equity and social justice in how we think about these supplemental activities for kids,” Venezia said. “Being really aware of who is excluded in the community, and who is included, and what kind of networks are being used to create pods is really important,” she said.
Public school districts are here to support their students, said Venezia. This is a moment to stay connected with your school and find out what support you can receive from teachers and administrators, she said.
“It’s okay to call the district, to email, to call teachers, to ask for support,” she said.