With most middle and high schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, families are navigating a massive experiment in remote learning. Many parents and caregivers are looking for ways to support children’s learning and well-being at home.
At Facing History, where many of us are parents, we’re facing this challenge too, and we’re adapting resources and strategies from our work with schools to use at home. On this page, you’ll find a growing collection of ideas including:
- Tips for “contracting” as a family to help you meet the challenges of this moment
- Activities and conversation-starters
- Videos and readings to share and discuss as a family
- Recommended articles for parents and caregivers
Table of Contents
May 8, 2020
At Facing History, we know that stories matter. Sharing stories shapes identity and creates a feeling of belonging - especially when those stories are shared across generations. This period of social distancing, when many of us are feeling hungry for connection, is a good time to initiate intergenerational interviews with family or friends. When young people interview elders, they have the opportunity to link their personal experiences with a larger history; practice active listening; experience a form of learning that doesn’t rely on a classroom, books, or screens; and share a moment of meaningful connection at a time when many are struggling with isolation.
StoryCorps has been helping people share and preserve their stories since 2003. (Facing History has partnered with StoryCorps for years on their Great Thanksgiving Listen project.) StoryCorps Connect is a brand-new platform to record interviews remotely using videoconferencing technology. Interviews recorded on the platform will be archived in the Library of Congress, becoming part of the larger history of this moment.
The StoryCorps Connect site has everything you need to set up, conduct and archive an interview. They suggest thoughtful questions to use in interviews, including many that relate to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some additional interview questions that connect to Facing History and Ourselves themes include:
Where did you grow up? How do you think that place shaped the person you became?
What is a place where you’ve felt most at home? What is a place where you’ve felt like an outsider?
Tell me about a time you faced a moral dilemma. What was it, and how did you decide what to do?
What big historical events have you lived through? Which one most impacted your life?
At Facing History, we say that “People make choices and choices make history.” What choices have you made that have helped to shape history?
Even if you don’t want to record a formal interview, these questions can be great sparks for more meaningful dinner table conversations or video chats with grandparents and friends.
April 20, 2020
If you’ve ever belonged to a book club, you know these groups can be a fun and meaningful form of social connection, a way to engage in conversations about reading and about life. As the weeks of social distancing continue, a remote book group can be a way to decrease isolation and help your child have a regular connection with friends built around a shared experience of reading.
Facing History and Ourselves recently published a remote student book club guide for teachers. Below, we offer some tips and resources from that guide, adapted for parents and caregivers who want to help children set up their own book clubs.
It’s about connection: While book clubs certainly have academic benefits - including encouraging daily reading and maintaining literacy skills - focusing on the social opportunity will be more appealing to most kids. Invite your child to think of 1-3 people to invite to join a book club. One benefit of remote book clubs is the possibility of reading with peers outside our schools: in addition to local friends, old friends who’ve moved away, far-flung cousins, or summer camp friends could all form the members of a book club.
Adults help with logistics: As the adult, your role is to help your child form a group and identify a way to connect - Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, Facetime, or even a simple phone call can all work. Once the group has chosen a book, you may need to help them access it unless all members already have copies. The Get Started section of our Remote Student Book Club Guide includes helpful logistical suggestions, including ways to access books digitally and cost-free while libraries are closed.
Young people take the lead: Book groups work best when young people have autonomy and choice. Let young people, with their groups, choose what to read: young adult lit, fantasy, graphic novels, humor - any high-interest titles that appeal to the group and their interests. The Get Started section of our guide includes links to help identify titles, or refer to lists of “readalikes” for popular authors and series on sites like Goodreads.
Once groups have chosen a book, they can set their own schedule for reading and discussion. These printable handouts, designed to be used directly by young people, can offer some guidance:
Book club members run their own discussions: As in adult book clubs, young people’s book discussions will be informal and far-ranging - from the book, to personal stories and questions, and back again. Your child’s group may not need or want any support with discussion, but if they do, these handouts can help them lead their own conversations and keep the discussion going if it stalls:
Reading every day, and talking about what we read with others, can meet some of the most pressing needs of this moment - engaging our minds and hearts, fostering connection, and introducing new worlds and experiences beyond the confines of our current circumscribed worlds as we socially distance. For more ideas about remote book clubs, browse our full guide.
April 03, 2020
In Facing History and Ourselves classrooms, teachers often create classroom contracts to collectively establish norms and values for their learning community. Families can use a similar approach to have an open and supportive dinner table conversation about navigating the coronavirus crisis, school closures, and social distancing as a family.
Start with a "compass points" diagram: ask everyone to draw a compass (adults too!), but instead of West, East, North, and South, use the prompts below to label the cardinal directions.
First, everyone responds to the following prompts on their own, in writing:
W: What worries or concerns you about this situation? (Kids might say, I won't be able to see my friends, or I'm missing my sports season. Adults might say, I'm worried about my family getting sick, or I don't know how I'll find the time to do work from home and help my kids with schoolwork.)
E: What might be exciting or positive about it? (Kids might say, sleeping in! Adults might say, not having to rush to so many activities.)
N: What do you, personally, need to feel good, learn well, do your best work, find peace or joy, or just get through each day in this situation? (Family members might say they need time to connect with friends, time alone, daily exercise, a relaxation of screen time rules. . .)
Ask everyone to share what they wrote for W, E, and N. Notice similarities and differences.
Then, together, complete the S compass point, which stands for "steps" or "suggestions." Reflect together: Given the needs, concerns, and opportunities that family members shared, what steps do we want to take? How can we support each other during this time? What values and attitudes do we want to embody? You might complete the sentence, “As a family, we will try our best to. . . .” (Steps or suggestions might be making a daily schedule that ensures focused learning and work time for everyone; agreeing on rules about what kind of contact with friends is ok; going outside everyday; being patient with each other; planning movie nights or other fun activities.)
These steps and suggestions—the family 'contract'—can be written down and posted somewhere visible, like the refrigerator. Keeping the document visible allows it to be a reminder and a touchpoint in challenging moments. As time passes, family members might want to revisit their worries, excitements and needs, and develop new steps and suggestions together.
For tips and guidance on how to use the Compass Points activity in a teaching environment, view our Compass Points Routine.
May 8, 2020
At a time of overwhelming global events, it’s important to remember that small choices matter. In the TED Talk Everyday Leadership, Drew Dudley tells a story about giving a lollipop to a fellow student to show how we all have the power to change other people’s lives through seemingly small acts of kindness. At Facing History, we use this video in middle school curricula to explore how we can “choose to participate” for the good of our communities.
Watch this 6-minute video as a family and have a conversation about it. You might want to watch while preparing dinner, then discuss the video while eating. Here are some questions to get you started:
What part of Dudley’s talk most stands out to you?
What does Dudley mean by a “lollipop moment”?
How does Dudley define leadership? Is his definition similar to or different from your ideas about leadership?
Have you ever had a lollipop moment? What was it?
What can you do to create lollipop moments for other people?
April 20, 2020
Facing History and Ourselves recently hosted an online community conversation with actor and activist George Takei. The Star Trek star and social media phenomenon discussed his family’s wrongful incarceration in Japanese American internment camps during World War II, the anti-Asian racism on the rise today, and his lifelong commitment to active citizenship and social justice.
Many families and students joined us for the live discussion, which is now available on-demand. Consider watching as a family (the interview with Takei begins around minute 9:30), and then have a conversation. The questions and prompts below may help:
- What was something in George Takei’s story that was surprising to you? What did you find most interesting? Was anything in his interview troubling, and why?
- How did George Takei describe the motivations for his own activism? What moments in our own life experiences have shaped the issues we feel most passionate about?
- Why do you think people so often respond to moments of crisis by demonizing those who are different? What does it mean to be an upstander in such moments?
- If you could ask George Takei an additional question, what would it be?
April 03, 2020
To read, watch or listen as a family: The poem “After the Winter”" by Claude McKay invites readers to take pleasure in the natural world and look to the future with hope. Read the poem together, take a walk to notice signs of changing seasons in your neighborhood, and share things you are looking forward to.
May 8, 2020
In Greater Good Magazine’s How to Reduce the Stress of Homeschooling on Everyone, school psychologist Rebecca Branstetter offers parents helpful tips for navigating the emotional ups and downs of learning from home.
Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center on Emotional Intelligence, offers a range of simple tools for managing the powerful emotions of this moment on his blog, “The Emotion Scientist”. A recent entry, Being Our Best Self During Challenging Times, describes how we can use “meta-moments” to return to our best selves - a great social-emotional learning strategy for adults and children alike.
April 20, 2020
The Harvard Graduate School of Education is collecting resources on Learning and Thriving at Home. In two short videos, psychologist Rick Weissbourd offers ideas for how parents and caregivers can talk with anxious children and maintain their own well-being:
- Supporting One Another in a Time of Crisis
- Helping Children Cope With Coronavirus and Uncertainty
- In How to Help Teens Shelter in Place, Christine Carter of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center addresses the challenge of helping teens manage social isolation.
April 03, 2020
- Supporting children’s social-emotional needs: The New York Times addressed 5 Ways to Help Teens Manage Anxiety About the Coronavirus, with helpful suggestions from psychologist Lisa Damour.
- Encouraging learning at home: The EdWeek article Remember, Online Learning Isn't the Only Way to Learn Remotely reminds teachers—and parents—of ways young people can direct their own learning away from screens, with accessible challenges like “practice a skill that is important to you” or “create something you are proud of.”