How to teach older students at home: A high school teacher's advice

Parents of older kids have a unique challenge. Here's how to get it right.

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By Kerry Breen

As schools shut down across the country in an effort to control the coronavirus crisis, there's an increasing burden on parents of middle and high schoolers to make sure their kids are keeping up with their curricula.

In addition to worries about academic slide, parents may have concerns about the tweens' and teens' anxiety and fear.

"We have to consider the emotional toll this will have on our children," high school teacher Nicholas Ferroni told NBC News correspondent Vicky Nguyen on TODAY Wednesday. "There could be lasting psychological impact. I called 100-plus parents and they are trying to keep normalcy. It's all about keeping them active and optimistic and utilizing social skills and educational skills so it's an easier transition back to school."

One of the best things parents can do for their kids right now, Ferroni said, is to maintain a schedule that mirrors a school routine.

"I would say you don't have to have your seventh grader wake up at the same time, but still plan on a schedule," he explained. "It's school in general — like a college format. You can still keep them structured."

He also said that it can help to make sure there are breaks in the schedule that allow for mindfulness and physical movement.

"We do meditation and yoga," he said. "Let them have their recess. A lot of schools are implementing quiet time. This generation is more reactive and impulsive. Meditation helps them control their emotions and the physicality of their bodies."

When it comes to the actual educational material, Ferroni said that parents shouldn't be afraid to reach out to teachers.

"Keep in contact with your child's teachers," Ferroni said. "Reach out to them, ask them for help if needed and let them know if there are any circumstances that are affecting their child's ability to learn. Teachers and parents are in this together."

He even answered one question about teaching kids with special needs, explaining that "schools are still responsible and ... setting up plans to connect" for parents who might need extra assistance.

He also assured that parents shouldn't worry about screen time at the moment.

"Obviously, (screens) are supplementing their learning," he said. "Teachers should be assigning other activities, but yes, we are trying to utilize tech as a tool. Have them complete their assignments on Google Classroom or whatever you are using, but at the same time provide them with other activities ... Things that require social skills, interactivity, and conversation."

Ferroni also pointed out the number of virtual tours and educational tools that are currently available.

"There are so many activities that are fun, engaging, and educational, as well as teach social skills and build self-esteem," he said.

Some popular options include Khan Academy, Fiveable (a free social learning platform), and TEDEd.

For parents who might be worrying about older students and college deadlines, he offered some reassurance — there's no need to panic about SATs or financial aid deadlines yet.

"There's a wait and see (approach) to see how the testing institutions and college applications handle it," he said. "That's up in the air."