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Tips from Three Local Moms for Surviving the School Year

Whether your child’s education is seated, virtual, a hybrid, or somewhere in between, get organized and prepared using these words of wisdom.

By Jenna deJong

Aug 31 2020 at 8 a.m.

Michelle Houghton's home learning environment.
Photo courtesy of Michelle HoughtonMichelle Houghton created a designated learning environment in her home in preparing for the 2020-2021 school year.

We're beginning a second full week of school, and right about now you’re probably looking forward to a healthy glass of wine come Friday. Regardless of what your child’s education looks like right now, parents across southwest Missouri are braced for change as the school year forges ahead. To make life easier, for both you and your kiddo, use these tips from three local moms for making a set schedule, turning some space in your home into a learning environment, and creating a pod with other families. 

Set Expectations Early 

One week before Arlo wrapped up daycare at Missouri State University’s Child Development Center, Springfield Public Schools announced their plans for the upcoming school year, sending Jessica Kennon Spencer scurrying to plan for her five-year-old’s first academic year. Both she and her husband work remotely full-time, meaning a routine was crucial for keeping everyone on track. After the first week of school, Spencer says that dedicating a specific area to write out the day’s schedule and spending a few moments chatting with Arlo and his two classmates about rules and expectations has been a game-changer. Those few moments help transition the kids into a school day—spent in the Spencers’ basement—and it also helps the children’s tutors know what’s expected.

Rethink the Spaces in Your Home

Jessica and Jonathan Blodgett sent their two girls to summer school to help make their decision about their daughters’ education come the academic year. Within one week, the in-person format went virtual and the Blodgetts made the decision to homeschool their girls. In preparing for the switch, Jessica decided to turn their large empty room upstairs into a designated learning space. She used Pinterest for inspiration and blogs for resources, and visited Ikea to turn her ideas into a reality.

Since beginning summer school in early August, Jessica said her family has thrived in the new space. The environment is set in a comfortable room with carpeted floors and a couch so they can spread out as needed to complete their work. Plus, there’s enough room for Jessica to supervise and sense any tension or frustration, which she wouldn’t be able to do if the girls were working from their rooms. Jessica said the girls are also excited about the space, since they get to work next to one another, and even helped design the area.
 
For others looking to do something similar, Jessica said to take the pressure off of being perfect. “Keep it fun and light rather than stressful,” she says. “Instead of having that feeling of ‘we need to get this done,’ it’s more about enjoying where they area and celebrating all the little wins along the way.” 

Lean on Other Families 

Jeff and Michelle Houghton have two young kids: Elias is seven years old and beginning second grade, while two-year-old Rew needs constant supervision. Both parents work—Jeff as the host of The Mystery Hour and Michelle as an artist and as District Support Manager at Care to Learn—so their family needed to come up with a plan of action when they decided to go fully virtual. That meant creating a learning pod with two other families.

This pod allows Elias and two other second graders to meet three times a week with a hired tutor, giving the kids both social interaction and instruction with their schoolwork. This instruction switches between the families’ homes, and on some of the days Elias is away, Michelle’s parents take Rew, giving her at least a couple of days of uninterrupted work time. Michelle said this model worked because the Houghtons and the two other families created a “quarantine bubble” months ago, lessening their risk of exposure to COVID-19 while giving everyone a time to be social. 

Since the Houghtons already had a relationship and trust established with these families, this pod was a natural segue into the school year. For other families looking for a similar model, Michelle recommended a Facebook group called “Springfield MO Learning Pods” for families to connect and create their own learning groups. 

Jessica Blodgett's home learning environment.
Photos courtesy of Jessica Blodgett, Michelle Houghton and Jessica Kennon SpencerJessica Blodgett turned a large upstairs room into a designated learning area for her two daughters.
Michelle Houghton's son playing.
Photos courtesy of Jessica Blodgett, Michelle Houghton and Jessica Kennon SpencerTo get organized, Michelle Hougton uses many baskets to store art supplies, toys and school materials that allow for easy access throughout the day.
Jessica Kennon Spencer's home learning environment.
Photos courtesy of Jessica Blodgett, Michelle Houghton and Jessica Kennon SpencerJessica Kennon Spencer decided to add swings in to the learning environment housed in her basement.
Jessica Kennon Spencer's home learning environment.
Photos courtesy of Jessica Blodgett, Michelle Houghton and Jessica Kennon SpencerJessica Kennon Spencer said creating a space to go over rules and expectations for the day has proved useful as her family begins utilizing a virtual learning environment.