As a father of three elementary school-aged children in Greater Tokyo, I know the struggle that most parents have been enduring ever since schools were told to close back in mid-March. At the same time, my wife and I were told to work from home and the whole nation went into a soft-lockdown state of emergency 2 weeks later. The end of the school year and the beginning of the next came and went. As of this writing, there are no plans for my children’s elementary school to reopen before the end of summertime, meaning other than the weekly lesson plans and homework packs they receive every Monday, mom, and dad must make sure they are sticking to the task; all while we both are writing curricula and articles, having Zoom meetings, and editing news package video in our small southwestern Tokyo apartment.
We decided that some measure of homeschooling was needed in the mix if the kids (and us grown folk) were to keep some semblance of a structure during Pandemic 2020. So after a few days of Googling, Tweeting, and Redditing back and forth, we came up with a plan to keep the kiddos on track. Feel free to take as much from this as you need; it is NOT one-size-fits-all and we tend to vary from day-to-day ourselves as the need arises.
Speaking as both an educator and a parent here, I can say without a doubt that the ability to keep some sense of a regular structured schedule is key to making everyone feel less stressed and able to adapt to the other changes. I asked my little ones about their daily school schedules to get an idea of what time they have recess, how long quiet time is, how many times a week they allow for each subject and the like. I then tried as best as possible to make a similar schedule for their daily study time while being at home. I think the most important time on our chart is “go outside and play in the backyard” and “walk the dog” times. They normally would be outside playing, taking P.E., walking to and from school after all, so it’s still very important for them to have some fresh air.
There was an almost one month gap between schools shutting down and some sort of plan to keep educating the children from my kid’s school district in our part of Tokyo. Meanwhile I was seeing how school districts back home in America either already had been teaching their students online partially or were able to rapidly get them online within weeks. Since we already use Apple devices, I bought some used iPad Mini tablets while making sure they could be used with Apple’s suite of parental and classroom controls.
We chose iPads over other solutions because they are already used to our old out-of-service iPhones to play games and I then loaded them up with various software they can use to study and maintain their skills at school. Using the Screen Time functions, I can lock out all other apps except educational ones during their study time. Using the Classroom App, I can monitor their screens while I am working to make sure they are sticking to tasks and jump in and help if they need something. Of course they also use them for gaming and such, so making sure they have something that plays Fortnite and Minecraft was also a top priority too.
School is not only the place for academic learning but acquiring important social skills as well. I was lucky since my little one’s ballet, karate, and Japanese cultural performance troupe leaders all jumped onto the video calling bandwagon early on. Many of their schoolmates and neighborhood buddies are there so they can still visit virtually with them. It’s also important to make sure they can call back overseas and talk to relatives there too. Making sure both sets of grandparents knew how to FaceTime has probably saved me lots of sleepless nights.
Of course life even under pandemic conditions shouldn’t be totally indoors and glued to a screen. In this time, I’ve been able to have lots of game and movie nights, pretend fashion shows, ranger battles, and LEGO competitions that I wouldn’t otherwise have had with my family.
Maybe the most important thing that can be done right now, to be frank, and open with your young ones. They will have questions and you gotta let them know you don’t have all the answers and that’s OK; being together in the moment is the most important thing of all.