Let me be upfront: I am not a teacher. I’m sure I’m not alone in assuming that I wouldn’t need a masters degree in education in order to raise a child. But here we are in 2020, wishing we had one (just as many teachers are wondering if they should have taken a less-hazardous career path). While surveys say most parents are nervous about sending our children back to school while the pandemic still rages, we’re also totally baffled about how our children are going to learn anything at all without doing so. And if they are or aren’t learning in our cobbled together virtual-hybrid-distance-homeschools, how will we know if they’ve learned the right things for their grade and age?
If your child is enrolled in a formal education, even one running remotely, it is still their teacher’s responsibility to determine whether they are up to their grade’s standards of learning in every subject. But when schools closed this spring, it was easy to feel like many of those standards where either completely unreasonable or irrelevant. When you’re locked inside and fearing a deadly virus, can you concentrate on number bonds? When you don’t have reliable internet access or a device, does anything matter?
We are hopeful that in the intervening months, many educators have done some work on how to construct a workable distance-learning plan. Local governments, corporations, and nonprofits are working on closing that digital divide (though much still remains to be done.) Kids and parents are just a little more accustomed to this strange, school-less way of life. I’m not saying we like it, but it feels more like an awful, dull ache than a raging emergency. My point is, we’re ready to watch our kids hit the books this fall. We also want to know if they’re succeeding. To do so, we don’t need that education degree, thankfully. We just need the links below. Of course, this should also be a conversation to have with your children’s teachers, but it’s always good to go into a conversation having done some learning of your own.
First Stop: Common Core Standards
If you live in one of the 41 states that have adopted the Common Core, you can easily look at this outline of what children in K-12 should be understanding in each grade. The standards are divided into English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics and then listed by grade, with science and social studies tucked into the English category. Once you drill down, you will find lists that say things like: “Key Ideas and Details: Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.” That’s a standard for literacy in third grade.
Sure these standards are written in Teacher Speak, but once you read a few of them, you will get the hang of it. We find that reading these helps us understand why our kids get the assignments they do. And we might even be able to frame our questions about their homework around these goals.
State Educational Standards
You also can visit your the state education department’s site for more information on what children should learn in each grade. Even states that use the Common Core also have their own requirements, so this is a helpful resource for everyone. We gathered them for you here:
District of Columbia
Educating your children entirely through homeschooling is a matter for other articles. But for those of us still remaining in the school system, the many blogs and curriculum sites homeschooling parents publish and share with each other are very informative. Many of them require expensive subscriptions, and some are religious, but you can start with a free secular site like DiscoveryK12, just to get a sense of one path parents can take.
And for Extra Credit
Scholastic has excellent guides for Kindergarten through eighth grades on its site. They do include links to Scholastic books you can buy, so it’s not entirely objective, but it gets there. Not all children learn the same way, so we also recommend taking a peek at the grade guidelines on Understood.org (a nonprofit for people with learning differences), which are written more inclusively, with suggestions on how parents can address any apparent delays with teachers.
You can also supplement your child’s online education with the help of the nonprofit Khan Academy. Students and parents can watch videos, get practice assignments, and take practice quizzes in every academic subject, for Kindergarten through high school. This is a fantastic resource for any parent who doesn’t feel quite up to the task of filling in for their child’s sixth grade science or math teachers (though maybe we should be watching along).
Before you click through to any of these sites, take some deep breaths. Remember that this isn’t going to last forever. There have been children who follow their parents around the world for a year, and children who suffered long illnesses that had to miss school, and in most cases, they managed to catch up with their peers, bringing with them a different set of new experiences gained from not being in school. So, whatever happens this fall, they will probably be OK in the long run. Let that calming thought hum in the background as you read about what children should learn when. And then maybe replace “should” with “can” in your vocabulary.