At the start of every school year, teachers spend weeks introducing, teaching, modeling, implementing, and reinforcing their classroom routines. From lunchroom etiquette and homework procedures to assigning line leaders and naming class helpers, teachers transform their new class of novice students into a well-oiled machine, all within a matter of weeks.
While it may be painful to recall, think back to last spring. Anyone with school-aged children remembers the specific day when that well-oiled machine came to screeching halt, and students were sent home with a pat on the head, no return date, and a remote learning plan.
Not only were families dealing with the health implications of a pandemic, but with an economic shutdown that resulted in financial and employment uncertainty for many parents. Assuming teachers’ role with little or no training and preparation only added to an already stressful spring. A flickering glimmer of hope lay in the prospect of schools reopening in the fall.
Fast-forward to this fall, and the reality of beginning the new school year with remote learning has dampened that glimmer of hope for many families. As a mom, I feel the stress that comes with having my children engage in distance learning. As a teacher, however, I have a toolbox of helpful tips for how parents can manage their kids as they engage in remote learning this fall.
1. Acknowledge Attitudes
Recognize that remote learning is not the same as in-person learning and that there will be challenges ranging from connectivity issues to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Validate that it’s okay for your children to feel frustrated, nervous/anxious, short-changed, or disconnected. Ignoring their feelings and telling them to “let it go” or “get over it,” will only intensify their feelings of isolation and disconnectedness.
2. Develop an Acceptable Use Policy for technology
Children will be learning online, and this means they will have all the trappings and distractions of the internet at their fingertips. Establish do’s and don’ts for online engagement, which will look different for children of various ages. You may also want to consider adopting a firewall or software program that blocks inappropriate content from your children’s devices.
3. Be a Routine Rockstar
Establish a consistent daily routine that includes your children’s input. For example, “Do you want to complete homework before or after your snack?” Giving children a sense of control will motivate them to be more positive and to participate more fully in their remote learning plan.
4. Become a Superstar Scheduler
Create and maintain a schedule for technology use that accounts for your children’s ages and school schedules, including when they will be expected to complete assignments, assessments, and projects. This is especially important for families that share technology or have limited internet access.
5. Create a Success Station
Designate individual places for your children to complete work. Make sure these areas are stocked with essential school supplies and are in locations that are as distraction-free as possible. Your children will be more likely to remain focused and engaged if they have the tools they need to complete their work.
6. Divide and Conquer
Don’t be afraid to chunk together subject areas. Tackle science one day and social studies the next. If assignments are due on a daily basis, have children work on the same or similar subjects at the same time. This will promote a “learning lab” approach to the content, allowing children to focus on their attention and avoid becoming distracted.
7. Cultivate a Learning Lab
Children often relate to each other better than adults, and they are often very good peer tutors and teachers. If you have children of different ages learning at the same time, they can provide each other with peer support. Older students can assist younger students with challenging content, and younger children can “teach” a concept to an older sibling. This cross transfer is important, as being able to teach a concept to someone else confirms mastery of the concept.
8. Beat Boredom
Learning can be fun. Purchase Jenga and put math problems (addition, subtraction, multiplication, fractions, decimals, etc.) on the pieces. Even if they are of different ages, children will enjoy pulling out the pieces while solving each math problem. Card games like Uno! teach counting skills, while Bananagrams and Scrabble are fantastic ways for children to practice their spelling skills.
9. Build-in Brain Breaks
Online learning is stressful and requires significant mental energy. Children need periodic breaks where they can step away from technology and exercise, play outside, read a paper book, create art/drawing, or simply stare at the clouds. Unstructured play and quiet time are beneficial to your children’s healthy brain development and overall mental health.
10. Snack Smart
Keep fruit, veggies, nuts, protein bars, and other healthy snacks within reach. A combination of protein, carbs, and fat is what will help your children focus and stay on task.
11. Celebrate Self Advocacy
Children of all ages crave independence. Encourage your children to communicate with their teachers and take responsibility for their actions. Even young children can develop executive function skills by making choices about and reflecting on what they learn from their successes and failures.
Let’s face it. Parenting is challenging, even when the stars align, and we’re at our best. Parenting during a pandemic is beyond challenging; it’s frustrating, anxiety-producing, and forces the majority of parents way outside their comfort zone. Remember to give yourself a break and cut yourself some slack. Embrace imperfection, forgive yourself and pay attention to your own health. Your children love you, even if you barely passed algebra and know nothing about the solar system!