As a young child growing up in New Jersey, I recall spending countless summers in the sandy woods of Wall Township with my maternal grandmother, Carolyn Holland.
On her screened-in porch, we spent hours playing such card games as Pitty Pat, War and Casino. This card shark, with less than an eighth-grade education, showed me no mercy, winning game after game! Through these card games, she fortuitously taught me how to quickly identify numbered groups (subitizing*) and strategy (critical thinking).
My paternal grandfather, Robert E. West of Neptune, instructed me in the art of applying the correct tip for great service at the local Perkins Pancake House. Maternal aunt Doris Sergeant of Asbury Park cultivated my love of reading and storytelling through her reading aloud. Her fluctuating animated voice magically fit each and every character of the stories she read.
As I reminisce about these special moments as a wide-eyed, inquisitive youngster, I now appreciate them as authentic learning experiences. I truly cannot recall specific reading or math lessons or feeling that these moments were “school,” but as an educator, I recognize that the benefits of simple card games and stories read to me set me on the path toward academic success.
Although I assist teachers in applying curriculum and best-teaching practices to classrooms, the simple games, conversations and nightly read-alouds with Carolyn, Robert and Doris were invaluable.
COVID-19 and virtual teaching/learning
According to the New Jersey Department of Education, there are approximately 2,734,950 students in New Jersey’s public and charter schools who are now participating in some form of virtual or remote learning due to the COVID-19 crisis. Many New Jersey schools pivoted from photocopied worksheets and packets to working exclusively online with students in virtual classrooms.
In a matter of a few weeks, New Jersey school districts found themselves quickly gathering their troops of learning experts, teachers and educational technology departments to provide quality learning opportunities for all of their students. Families also found themselves banding together to navigate through digital learning platforms like Zoom, Google Classroom, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams, Class Dojo, Canvas and Blackboard.
Older Americans are teaching/learning, too
Older Americans also fearlessly accepted the call to join the ranks of the virtual homeschooling faculty. Because many parents continue to work as essential workers, older adult family members have been designated as the at-home schoolteacher. These older family members are ensuring that children are logging on, participating and completing school assignments.
One example is a 68-year-old grandmother in Mercer County’s Hamilton Township, Mrs. Jones. She joined the ranks of homeschoolers this March. Mrs. Jones is not only caring for her ill husband, but by working in online learning platforms to assist her kindergarten-aged grandson, has expanded her technological skill set.
Through perseverance and a little bit of coaching, Mrs. Jones is now more comfortable helping her grandson with the daily requirements of cyber-learning such as logging on to online class meetings; monitoring reading, writing, and math assignments in Google Classroom; accessing books online; following up with emails, and communicating with teachers via the Class Dojo app.
Familiarizing oneself with multiple learning platforms can be overwhelming even for the most tech-savvy person. But older Americans, like Mrs. Jones, are courageously balancing the duties of being a caregiver for an ailing spouse, running a household and homeschooling an active kindergartener.
I admire Mrs. Jones for her tenacity and grit during this challenging time. She admits that working with technology is frustrating, and she felt like giving up, but I encouraged her to take care of herself and to do her best. Her best is amazing!
Other ways older adults can share knowledge/expertise
I encourage all older adults who are caring for and/or homeschooling young family members to share their knowledge and expertise by:
- Having conversations
- Counting and grouping the number of tiles on the floor
- Finding a pattern in the carpet
- *I mentioned subitizing before. Subitizing is a hot topic in math education circles. It means “instantly seeing how many.” Math educators have discovered that the ability to see numbers in patterns is the foundation of strong number sense. Visit https://mylearningspringboard.com/subitizing/
- Following a recipe using measuring spoons and cups
- Writing a song together and recording Tik-Tok videos of you singing
- Coloring in coloring books
- Listening to books on tape or online together
- This website features videos of actors reading children’s books, alongside creatively produced illustrations. Activity guides are available for each book. https://www.storylineonline.net/
- Teaching them how to play a card game
- This site has card games supporting math skills https://dreme.stanford.edu/news/10-family-card-games-support-early-math-skills
Other resources to use
- Read Alouds https://www.readingrockets.org/article/great-read-alouds-kids-babies-grade-3
- Homeschooling during COVID-19 https://schoolchoiceweek.com/parent-resources-during-coronavirus/
- This link leads to resources for teachers in any subject and grade. There are also worksheets and lesson resources for all areas of reading and language arts skills. https://www.jumpstart.com/jumpstartparents/
- Visit this Guide to Google Hangouts Meet for Students and Parents 2020 https://youtu.be/QiLkyQcftXw
- Check out Joining a Zoom Call for the First Time; Fun and Easy Online Connection https://youtu.be/9isp3qPeQ0E
Older adults have much to give and young people, much to receive! I would dare to guess that there are many Mrs. Joneses here in New Jersey. Are you one? You deserve our gratitude, respect and support.
As a New Jersey educator, I would like to thank all of the caring and brave older Americans in our state who are committed to sharing their knowledge, wisdom, love and expertise to help our students continue to grow and learn!
Dr. Smith is the featured guest on Episode 106 of Aging Insights, with host Melissa Chalker — watch “Learning Together” now!
Dr. Charisse Smith of Trenton earned a Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in Professional Studies. She serves on the boards of New Jersey Foundation for Aging and Notre Dame High School, is an Instructional Coach with the Hamilton Township Public Schools, President of ETE-Excellence Through Education of Hamilton Township and is the owner of Sankofa Educational Consulting, LLC. Dr. Smith proudly notes that she has been married for 23 years and has two beautiful children!