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Tips for parents navigating a new role: Teacher!

(Thurmont, Maryland) – Like many parents today, Amie McDaniels finds herself with a broad list of responsibilities: full-time job, night classes, household duties, and a new one – homeschooling mom.

As a former middle school teacher, she’s familiar with the education process. Now she’s got a whole new role to play, not only teaching at home but also sharing that knowledge at work. As Communications Director for the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation (MAEF), she is the online instructor for students and parents seeking engaging and enriching activities and lesson plans to fill their minds and their hours in these days of distance learning.

“We as parents have been given an awesome responsibility in taking a lead role in educating our children,” McDaniels says. “We’ve also been given an awesome opportunity to connect with our kids, encourage them to explore their passions, and experience the joy of learning without the rigorous schedule, early mornings, stressful tests, social drama and other pressures our kids experience at school.”

As schools, teachers, parents and students are all adjusting to new roles and responsibilities, MAEF is here to help. Here are McDaniels’ tips for parents assuming a new role as teacher:

The most important thing you as a parent can achieve in your new role as teacher?

Control what you’re able to and let the rest go. In an informal learning environment like your home or backyard, you have the ability to control a number of things: choosing the learning location, setting the tone, pushing your kids in some subjects or letting them take breaks when it’s just not working. What you cannot control – technical difficulties, limited materials, or time constraints – give yourself permission to let it go. We are trying to thrive under unplanned circumstances and when things go haywire, it is okay to drop things and revisit them another time. Teachers are also operating under these same constraints. They will understand.

Set schedules that are realistic to your child’s age/ability. Students may be in school all day, but they don’t spend all day hunched over books or computers. Typically, the attention span of a child is 2-3 minutes per year of their age, so a 7-year-old would have an average attention span of 14-21 minutes. While this is a broad rule that does not account for individual needs, teachers do plan their lessons with this in mind. You should feel comfortable doing the same.

Anyone who has attended a 5-year-old’s birthday party knows that children do well with some structure. Post a daily schedule on the wall and stick to it as best you can. And if things go off track, that’s okay. Start again tomorrow. Build in breaks for rest, play, reading and snacks and turn some “breaks” into educational activities. To give yourself time to check email, for example, you could send the kids outdoors to measure the dandelions in the backyard on a daily basis and journal their discoveries. Voila! Scientific measuring and writing – while they learn about the life cycle of a dandelion and get some sunshine.

Step out of the curriculum. Help children develop the ability to think critically and explore their knowledge by asking them questions. And waiting for the answer. Allowing wait time is an often-overlooked skill, but so important to children who are trying to gather their ideas before answering. What’s on your lunch plate? How was it made? Do we raise these ingredients in Maryland? Why or why not? If you were a farmer, what would you grow? Then check out a farmer video here on My Maryland Farmers and see what is going on in the neighborhood. Quick tip from a former educator: “how” and “why” questions will get them thinking deeper than “who”, “what”, or “when” questions.

Extend whatever they’re studying into your non-school family time. Doing a unit on the history of Italy? Make or order Italian food for dinner! Have the kids dress in the colors of the Italian flag! Learning about writing opinion pieces? Check out the virtual tours from the American Dairy Association North East and make ice cream in a bag! Taste it and have your child write or speak about their favorite frozen treat with supporting reasons. Maybe they can share it the next time they talk with family, friends, or classmates.

Remember that “failure” is an opportunity to learn. Did you bake a cake together that didn’t rise? Go through the ingredient list, figure out what role each ingredient plays, and have the kids deduce the cause. Did your seeds germinate and then die? Give them a magnifying glass and have them create a list of observations while you respond to that email.

Trying something new, like making ice cream in a bag or planting some beans in a windowsill, is an adventure you’ll share with your kids that you’ll remember for years to come. You might even want to schedule your fun and employ a “Fun Friday” or “Mystery Monday” where you try new small projects! You’ll learn and grow as individuals and grow together as a family.

And finally? Cut yourself some slack. “Teachers went to college for this,” McDaniels says. “You may be just getting started and may be teleworking and balancing family needs. We get it. You can do this. We can help.”

Remember that distance learning is new to both you and your child and adjusting to new things causes some stress. Assessing your emotions before sitting down to help your child is important. If you’re feeling stressed out, have a lot on your plate at work, or are overwhelmed at the situation, remember that learning doesn’t have to happen at that exact moment. It’s better to take some time to relax and come back when you are in a better place emotionally. Let the kids build a reading nook with the living room couch cushions and some sheets, set a half-hour timer, and go take some quiet time.

We’re here to help. MAEF’s activities and lesson plans meet Maryland education standards and provide engaging, hands-on activities used by teachers in hundreds of classrooms across Maryland. Even more e-learn lessons and virtual field trips are available from the National Ag In The Classroom organization to go along with resources from your schools. Look for MAEF on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and follow the hashtag #AgBytes for ideas.

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