Frustrated Ontario Parents Drop Out Of Formal Distance Education Program In The Middle Of COVID-19

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Even before the coronavirus pandemic, Monica Belyea knew that paying attention and concentrating in school was difficult for her eight-year-old son.

But since the schools closed and after weeks of juggling homework to help her children with their schoolwork, Belyea joined an increasingly vocal group of parents, saying that the official framework for Ontario distance education does not work for them.

“It was like pulling my teeth out trying to force him to do even small parts of the assigned work, and I was just frustrated beyond belief,” said Toronto yoga teacher Belyea.

Belyea said the province’s education ministry said an hour was the right amount of time to spend with its age group.

“And that hour seemed like a complete waste of time,” she said, describing her son Ben sprawled in his chair, zoned or fiddling with things, without even looking at the tablet with his schoolwork.

“I would be completely exhausted afterwards … It just undermined me,” said Belyea, who shared her experiences in an online opinion piece for Today’s Parent magazine.

“Not only did it seem like a waste of time, but I ran out of energy to spend the rest of my day. “

Belyea, seen teaching a yoga class by videoconference from her home in the Toronto area, said trying to keep her son doing schoolwork left her “completely exhausted afterward”. (Submitted by Monica Belyea)

Although she has struggled with the decision to retire and continues to be concerned about the loss of her son in the school curriculum, Belyea ultimately calls the move “saving mental health” for her household.

“The simple fact that it was not going to be another day of fighting, fighting and dread that part of the home school for the day was a huge relief. “

Home “a much more difficult environment”

Writer and editor Russell Smith faced a similar challenge in inspiring his 10-year-old son – usually a strong student with no problems paying attention in class – to continue his school homework for the past month at home .

“We have had tantrums,” he said. “We had collapses. We slammed doors and sulked in the room. And that never happens in school. Family is just a much more difficult environment. Also, let’s face it, I’m not a qualified Grade 5 teacher, so I don’t really know how to deal with it like a grade 5 teacher does, “said Smith.

Writer and editor Russell Smith has posted on social media his difficulties in getting his son to finish school assignments sent by teachers. (CBC)

While Smith says that his son was otherwise very happy during this time, “having the attention of one parent or the other 24 hours a day,” finishing work at home has become a hot spot.

“There is something to be away from class, away from friends and something about the pressure from parents, I think, that makes it a lot more stressful,” he said.

“Extremely frustrated”

Smith posted the challenges he encountered on Facebook and received a wave of comments with similar stories.

“I know that many parents… are extremely frustrated and many just give up. “

Messages from teachers, principals and school boards about slack expectations during the pandemic are intended to relieve pressure from parents and students, said Smith.

But he believes that this leeway removes “any kind of leverage we have to get our students to do the work … Without any possibility of failure, there is very little incentive to do anything.”

What he found in the interim – with the blessing of his son’s teacher – is to create assignments more aligned with the youngster’s interests: research and write a report on alien abductions, for example, or create a board game inspired by a pandemic in their Toronto neighborhood.

“He likes it because it is a game and because it is something he is proud of,” said Smith, adding that he complements these self-assigned projects with “a page of math problems a day.”

“Get together as a family to understand this”

According to Tina Rapke, associate professor at York University’s Faculty of Education, this approach – based on a child’s interests and ideas – is perfect for engaging students during this unprecedented period.

For example, she said that her son’s current obsession with the Titanic had seen him research and report on the unfortunate ship and build a Lego model, all with just a little incentive from Rapke, who worked from home with her. seven and nine years old.

“The most important thing is to think about balancing what parents have to do for work and how they can support their children – and really think about how we can be most effective in supporting our children.”

Education at York University Professor Tina Rapke works at home with her two children. (CBC)

The lessons can be found in everyday life, outside of the school context, and some require only a few minutes at a time, as in the case of learning mental math, she said.

“We cook hash browns for breakfast… well, if everyone gets four hash browns, how much should we put on the sheet?” Rapke, who specializes in teaching math strategies, gave an example.

“If we look at the studies that have been done, mental math occurs gradually over time, which means that we do a little bit every day or every other day … I speak like five, seven, 10 minutes at most . “

Rapke also believes it is important for parents to slow down and be honest with their children when they do not know the answers themselves.

“Admit your children‘ I’m not sure. I don’t know if it works, but what else can we do? ’And admit that you are not the expert. Do they have any suggestions so that you can really all get together as a family to understand this? Because these are unusual circumstances [we’re in]. ”

“We are all in the same boat”

The notion of slowing down and letting your kids run has been the guiding principle for Lesley Huffman, a mother of two who worked at home even before the pandemic for the past six weeks.

Knowing that her children are hands-on learners and that they view mobile devices and laptops as tools for fun, not schoolwork, she became concerned early on about what learning would involve. distance.

Lesley Huffman’s eight-year-old son, left, and his four-year-old daughter paint a picture on the windows of their home in Stayner, Ontario, during the coronavirus pandemic. (Submitted by Lesley Huffman)

After discussions with his children’s teachers and after teaching his eight-year-old son at home last year, Huffman and her husband were confident of setting their own course. They go ahead with a mix of a few home schooling techniques, occasional suggested activity or a school worksheet, and learning through daily activities, such as cooking or washing up.

The decision “just took a lot of the stress out,” she said.

“We are not trying to make the kids sit down and force them to do an hour or two hours of schoolwork a day … I don’t want to fight them. “

Although she thinks parents may need to get a little more creative in the way they help inspire their children during school closings, Huffman believes any positive attempt is beneficial.

“We are all in the same boat: no one is really going to be late or everyone is going to be late – it depends on how you look at it. No one is really learning what it should be right now, “she said.

“Teaching as you can, in any way, without stress, fits your lifestyle, it will benefit your children no matter what. “

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