Tips for teaching kids at home during COVID-19

Homeschool parent creates Facebook site to help with the transition

Two young boys peel the flesh from inside a coconut while sitting at a kitchen table.
There is nothing like cracking a coconut to learn about science,
geography and food that tastes great for La Vella brothers, Cruz, 9,
sitting left with Avery, 11.

By Joanne McDonald
For NewsNow

Monica La Vella would definitely be on every child’s favourite teacher list.

A Beamsville entrepreneur, La Vella has a class of two – homeschooling her own two boys, Avery, 11, and Cruz, 9, who share her joy of life and love of learning.

She has some good advice for parents staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic and has created a Facebook page, Facebook.com/groups/homeschoolhowto, to help them transition to bring learning into the place they live.

“We’re at a unique time in history. We want our kids to look back and remember it as being peaceful in our homes not filled with stress or expectations or panic.”

It’s times like these when everyday heroes come to the front, and says La Vella, “every parent is their child’s hero.”

An entire population is trying to self-isolate and for parents it can be a time to rethink their values – the time they spend teaching their children.

“I think parents are putting too many expectations on themselves right now to be teachers but all they have to be doing is loving their kids. Doing the things we normally do is teaching.”

“One of the big myths people have about homeschooling is that it has to look like a school in the home, but it doesn’t.”
Learning in the La Vella household is a constant and never ends.

Dad Louie and the boys are making paper airplanes. It looks like and is fun, but there are many aerodynamic lessons on board this flight – aircraft design considerations, how engineers must iterate their designs to achieve success, basic parts of an airplane, their functions, and how small-scale models can test ideas and improve early designs.

Take baking cookies. It’s a hands-on way that children learn and offers a myriad of teachable moments covering math to measure the ingredients, science of how the liquid batter turns into a solid, geography to pull up a map to see where the ingredients are from, or history if you use a family recipe.

Since the announcement of school being closed, La Vella has received so many questions from families about what to do and where to find educational resources.

“I think parents get nervous or overwhelmed. They think they have to do school at home but it doesn’t have to be that way.”

For example, La Vella points to the value of video games during this time of staying at home.

“I see so much value than can come from the interaction of using video games during this pandemic. My kids at their age will not call a friend and talk, but playing video games they talk and play together as a team.”

“I listen to them talking to one another, introducing new friends and devising plans and strategies for the game, cheering each other on, showing leadership and being collaborative. There are so many things to be valued.”

And there is a much bigger picture.

“If my kid can get a university scholarship for being an awesome gamer rather than a hockey player then I support that. I support their passion. That is our job as parents.”

“We are here to be mentors to our kids, to guide them and provide resources for them when they want to follow a passion, be it gaming, art, music or the periodic table.”

“They are all unique and so when they follow their passion, a parent can be there to support and cheer them on.”

It’s just a mindset shift for parents to view education in a bit of a different way.

What La Vella really hopes is that parents, already feeling the pressures of responsibilities and uncertainty, will enjoy the time with their kids.

La Vella and her husband Louie both have their own businesses and work from home. They too, are feeling the huge fallout from the coronavirus.

It can bring a lot of anxiety to families and La Vella says it’s important to share emotions and not hide information.

She has been fully open sharing her emotions at having to cancel the 8th annual Veggie Fest Hamilton, a vegan food festival that she coordinates every year. “It’s an important part of home school, understanding each other’s emotions, knowing it’s okay and modelling behaviour for them.”

The family travels for about a quarter of the year. Louie is in the entertainment industry, marketing large music festivals. This time of year he is usually speaking at conferences in Las Vegas and Miami so the coronavirus has brought a radical change for both of the family businesses.

It was in fact Louie and the music industry that inspired La Vella to create the Facebook page. She watched as her favourite DJs rose to the coronavirus challenge, live streaming music from home studios with the intent to bring a bit of life to the situation. “That is their strength.”
And that strength is being passed to her own children.

La Vella studied to be a teacher and worked in the system. But she had a different vision of education and now her own little prodigies never stop learning, asking and thinking.

A home school day begins around 9 a.m. after breakfast. The boys do a lot of self-directed or project-based learning “which means that what they are most interested in is where we follow.”

The youngest, Cruz, is obsessed with coding and already on call providing the IT tech back up for his parents’ businesses.

“Avery is an entrepreneur and he will find a way. If left on his own he will invent things, grab a box and make a vending machine with gears that push out granola bars.” Avery will always find a way to make money.

The page is a place to support and cheer each other while it is chaotic in the world.

And that will look different for every family.

“Some want structure and a schedule while others want more of a rhythm to let their children lead in their learning.”

And most important, “is just continuing to spread the love for your spouse, your partner, your kids, giving each other space when needed, making this a peaceful experience within the home, keeping that space sacred and choosing the joy over the expectations of learning.”

“I believe if we all do a little bit to help each other by sharing the things we’re good at, we will all come out of this with higher spirits.”

As the school closures continue, the province’s at-home distance learning program was launched April 13. The online portal, available at Ontario.ca/learnathome offers resources for students at every grade level to continue learning. The program is led by teachers, but students will need to learn independently and receive direction and support from parents.

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