Marlon Davis during homeschooling with her sons Max, 3, and Xavier, 5, in mid March. (Submitted)

Yukon parents, educators tackling learning at home amid a world pandemic

Yukon teachers will be assessing how to deliver education over the coming months

The scene: a parent at home on a work call, perhaps an online meeting. In the background, the shouting begins. Kids fighting over a beloved toy, their screaming growing louder as they approach their parent in search of justice; the parent/employee quickly trying to calm the situation at home while also attempting to deal with work. It’s a scene playing out for many during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students in the Yukon won’t be returning to the classroom until at least April 15, and while daycares have been permitted to stay open, health officials are advising parents to keep their children home if possible. March break day camps have also closed throughout the territory over the last two weeks.

If the questions coming into the Yukon Home Education Society and local store purchases are any indication, many parents are now wondering how they can help their children learn at home as they wait to find out whether students will return to the classroom this school year.

Angelina’s Toy Boutique owner (also Grey Mountain Primary School principal) Betty Burns is seeing increased interest in games, art kits, science activities, building materials and puzzles.

“Children (and arguably adults too) develop skills by doing and we know children learn best through play,” Burns said in an email. “Play is serious learning for children.”

Meanwhile, Yukon Home Education Society president Marlon Davis said in a March 24 interview that the society has been receiving numerous questions from parents now home with their children all the time, looking for ways to add in some learning and structure through the day.

“We have a vibrant homeschool community in the Yukon,” Davis said, adding home education activities are also being impacted by the pandemic — the usual get-togethers with other homeschooling families and outings to community facilities, for example.

Given the increased interest, Davis has invited local parents to join the Yukon Home Education Society’s Facebook page where she has been posting links to websites and activities families and children can do at home. Davis is clear that what she is posting is aimed at those looking for more structure and routine in the day.

“The reality is home life is an education,” she said, adding that home education also looks different for everybody.

In her approach, Davis follows the philosophy of Charlotte Mason, a British educator in the early 1900s, who looked at education as “an atmosphere, a discipline and a life.”

Davis takes the approach of working to provide an “educational feast” that allows children to explore their interests with a balance of materials.

In her home, there’s about an hour-and-a-half to two hours of more traditional “school work” for her five- and seven-year-olds each day. Outside of that, there’s a lot of time spent in nature and exploring what’s on the feast more in-depth.

For those suddenly thrust into helping their children learn at home, there are a few things families can do to help with learning, she said. A family can come up with a basic motto or idea — similar to Mason’s concept of education as an atmosphere, discipline and life — to serve a general guide for their days.

A “morning time” basket of ideas is something a number of homeschool families use regularly, where children can pull an idea from the basket for a quick learning activity using what they have in the house. It might include 10 minutes of poetry reading, 20-minute crafts, 20 minutes of reading aloud, and so on.

Nature walks, scavenger hunts outside and the like can appeal to a plethora of ages with children each taking something different from the experience, Davis said. Many activities provide opportunities for school-aged children to learn on their own, giving parents a bit of time to catch up on work or things that need to get done around the house.

A number of websites offer free access right now to stories and books read aloud. Other sites provide physical activities, math games and more.

Angelina’s Toy Boutique has also been posting ideas and resources for families.

“These are resources, activities and experiences that parents can access and provide for children without spending any money,” Burns said, adding kids can help with cooking family meals, playing a game of matching the socks when doing laundry and more.

Reading, making up songs and poems, and rediscovering old toys are also on the list to help children continue learning and simply enjoying their time at home along with the all-important outside play.

“Children also require outside playtime everyday and daily physical activity; get kids playing outdoors in their backyard and on the land,” Burns said.

Along with the long list of activities, Angelina’s has been putting together “boredom buster” activity bags for order that have proven popular through what is now an online store, providing children with some new activities for home.

When children might return to the territory’s public schools isn’t completely certain yet.

School staff will return to work as scheduled on March 30, the end of March break, to begin the work of providing “essential learning” for the rest of the year, Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said in a March 26 interview.

Deputy minister Nicole Morgan said teachers will be identifying where students are in their educations and looking at ways to deliver learning for the remainder of the year. That preparation will take into account possibilities of a longer school cancellation, or students returning to the classroom on April 15. The territory’s department of Education is working with the B.C. Ministry of Education on that.

The territory is well-positioned to deliver lessons and materials online should in-school classes not resume April 15, Morgan said, but noted teachers will also consider options for students who may not have access to online materials.

“Online learning may not be suitable in all cases,” she said.

Those in specialty roles — guidance counsellors for example — will also look at how to continue working with students.

As of March 26, McPhee said graduation ceremonies have not been cancelled, but if the protocols around gatherings continue — there’s currently a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people — decisions will be made closer to the ceremony dates.

“We’re working through this one day at a time,” she said.

If the ceremonies cannot go ahead the department will be looking for ideas on how to recognize such an important achievement for students and their families.

Updates on the school situation will continue to be provided on the department’s website at yukon.ca/en/your-government/find-out-what-government-doing/information-public-school-staff .

In the meantime, as students and their families wait to find out what the remainder of the school year will look like, both McPhee and Morgan echoed the words of Brendan Hanley, the territory’s chief medical officer of health, in recommending physical activity, staying connected with family and friends while also maintaining social distancing, and taking the time to try new things that can be beneficial to the brain — reading, creating stories and so on — while maintaining a routine where possible.

“Routine is important for all children,” Morgan said.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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