Grades 3-6: Tips for Supporting Learning at Home
How to help children get the most out of remote education
During the coronavirus crisis, parents have suddenly been thrust into the role of managing the education of their children. What exactly this looks like will depend on your child’s age as well as their individual learning profile. Still, there are a few guidelines and principles that can be helpful for any parent supporting a grade 3-6 learner at home.
How do grade 3-6 students learn?
Students in these grades are building on the academic foundations in reading, writing and mathematics that were laid in K-2. Grade 3-6 students begin exploring and thinking about the world in more abstract ways. They are thinking critically, “reading between the lines,” and applying their basic skills to solve more complex problems. Generally speaking, building more robust academic skills during these grades involves:
- Direct practice of new material
- Experiential learning
- Collaborative learning
- Broader exposure to literature, including chapter books and poetry
- Focused lessons that can lead to deeper understanding of concepts in core subjects
- Increased exposure to the sciences with opportunities for experimentation
- Direct and frequent feedback on work
- Labeled praise
A tremendous amount of cognitive growth occurs between the third and sixth grades. Teachers are focused not only on teaching facts but also on fostering higher-level skills and creativity. Students gradually move toward greater independence both in terms of their work habits and their ways of thinking about information and problem-solving. Their growing ability to understand different points of view and to think about abstract ideas allows them to begin using what they know to make interpretations and generate hypotheses.
Some children may show a preference to acquiring facts or may be overly literal as opposed to thinking flexibly and putting facts into the context they belong. It will be helpful to point out to those children how to form connections to other material and to reinforce their efforts to avoid overly rigid thinking.
Of course, all children are different. For instance, children with dyslexia, language disorders and attentional conditions may need a more specialized approach to learning. Some children also struggle to sit still while learning, and they learn better through kinesthetic activity —standing at the table or walking around the room while listening or talking through an idea. As your child experiments with remote learning, see what you notice about their own unique
learning preferences and the techniques that help them focus. Your child may also be able to tell you what techniques have worked for them in school.
How can parents best support grade 3-6 students?
For most grade 3-6 students, parents still have to be involved in their child’s daily learning, but possibly to a lesser degree as they approach the middle school years. As you decide what works best for you and your family, consider the following tips:
- Plan ahead. You don’t need to create rigid schedules, but it can be helpful to plan out the day’s activities in advance, even if it’s just making a few notes the night before. Having even a little information about what to expect during the school day will make life easier for both you and your child.
- Collaborate with teachers. Schools are providing very different levels of service right now, from virtual instruction to the delivery of worksheets. Keep in mind that most teachers have not done this before; they are genuinely trying to figure out how to help kids learn remotely as well. If you can, it’s a good idea to ask teachers for help when necessary and brainstorm ways to make remote learning work best for your child. Also, consider asking the teacher how much you should be checking and correcting your child’s work and clarifying what assignments should take priority. Do not forget to tell teachers about success stories so that those can be shared with the larger community.
- Use positive attention. Many parents will need to sit near their children for some – but not all – of the school day during this age range. Your focused attention will help them avoid distractions, persist through challenging tasks, and overcome frustration. In working with them, you will also be indirectly teaching them to monitor their own progress towards goals and become more aware of when they need a break, when to alternate appealing and less appealing tasks, and when a certain strategy is not working. Moreover, your positive attention is so rewarding!
- Set realistic expectations. Since so many parents are trying to balance competing roles, it is unrealistic to expect children to be engaged in the equivalent of a full day’s worth of traditional education. Remember that whatever you can manage will be helpful to prevent loss of skill, and that a big part of your goal is just to provide structure and some semblance of “normal” for them.
- Think beyond traditional schoolwork. Keep in mind that there are also plenty of opportunities for kids to learn and develop new skills outside of traditional schoolwork. Helping with chores and family responsibilities, such as making a grocery list, cleaning, or tending to a sibling provide great opportunities for the development of executive functions like planning, organization and problem solving. Cooking and helping with the grocery shopping (either online or when it can be done safely in stores) are ways to practice mathematical concepts, following directions, planning and organization, patience and frustration tolerance. Unstructured time is also important for helping children strengthen their creativity, imagination and self-regulation skills.
- Maintain social bonds. In the classroom, children in these grades typically spend a good amount of time working collaboratively with peers. The discussions and interactions that take place in small peer group activities provide rich opportunities for learning. Consider setting up opportunities for your child to work with one or two classmates online or over the phone. Another option is to have students share, edit, review and/or present their work to one another online. In addition, it is important to recognize that students have come to depend on some of their peers and teachers for social-emotional support during the school day. Maintaining those relationships during this time of social distancing is important.
What’s the best schedule for grade 3-6 students?
There’s no right answer here — it’s important to be realistic about what you and your family can manage. That said, third through sixth graders will benefit from a having a daily schedule that is developed collaboratively with their parents. This schedule can be roughly similar to the structure provided in the classroom. Children at this age tend to know their usual school schedule quite well and will likely enjoy telling their parents about their typical school routines. Their new home schedule may include periods of time when parents are not readily accessible; this can help the child practice waiting, build confidence, and develop independent problem-solving skills.
It’s important to have a structure for the day at home, even if it is simply a list of activities that the child can select from each day. Some teachers may provide or suggest a specific schedule for their students. If not, or if there is time left in the day, there are many academic and physical activities that you can develop on your own or with your child. Ideally, each activity should last about 15-25 minutes for third and fourth graders, and closer to 20-30 minutes for fifth and sixth graders. Adjust time frames if they don’t work for your child, and be creative! A combination of seated academic work and physical activities can make learning fun.
Roughly four activity periods each day are ideal, including one each for reading, writing, mathematics and electives/specials (such as a second language or science). Some time for other activities — such as exercise, music and using technology — can make it easier to complete the academic activities.
For parents who are highly involved, a simulated school day at home — including a period each for reading, writing, mathematics and electives/specials — might look something like this:
- Review the schedule for the day, gather materials, neaten workspace
- Seated academic activity
- Brief transition
- More academic work, either as a seated activity or a more physical activity
- Break time and snacks
- Academic activity
- Lunch break with a recess period
- Academic activity
- End of the day
We have found that 9:30am – 2pm is about as long as many students can manage, but this may be too much for some children.
Breaks should include opportunities for movement, healthy snacks, playing with siblings or pets, listening to music and singing, coloring or drawing, taking family walks and helping you around the house. Breaks can also include opportunities to engage in breaktime activities that your child may have used during school, such as watching a GoNoodle or Mystery Doug video. These should be brief and not too distracting.
There are numerous academically enriching activities available to help fill in some of your child’s day. For instance, there are pre-planned museum and national park tours, as well as online learning materials (for example, this list of resources from We Are Teachers). The Child Mind Institute’s family resource guide provides a lot of specific sites where you can find both academic and extracurricular material for kids, broken down by age group.
Remember, social development is also an important portion of your child’s day, so scheduling a virtual lunchtime with friends is a great way to help your child feel connected.
How can parents handle pushback from grade 3-6 students?
If your kids are complaining about doing schoolwork at home, they’re not alone! Right now, complaining or resisting work does not necessarily signal disobedience or defiance. During this destabilizing time, we may need to be more tolerant and show more compassion when children say, “This is hard!” or, “I don’t want to do this now!” They may be right about the work being hard for them — some of what children are expected to do in these grades may be unfamiliar, such as engaging in critical thinking and higher-level reasoning. Or it might be too challenging, because it is quite hard to achieve the right level of difficulty for each student. Also, students, like all of us, may be working through a lot of intense and unfamiliar emotions related to the global crisis and the changes that have been thrust upon them. To help them process their feelings and get back on track, you can:
- Avoid dismissing their feelings. Instead, try to acknowledge them, show them empathy, and let your child know you can talk about them more later. By letting your child know that you care about what they’re saying, you can avoid getting into a debate in the moment.
- Hear them out. Once work time is over, ask your child to explain what they’re upset about, and do your best to listen carefully to their answers. They may have valuable ideas about how to make the school day work better!
- Focus on the positive. Even if your child is complaining, you can still focus your attention on what they’re doing well. Pointing out their engaged efforts and how much you appreciate them can help your child refocus on the work at hand.