In the COVID world we find ourselves in, parents are having to make tough decisions about school for their child this fall. This is not a one-size-fits-all situation, so whether you are considering in-person school, home-schooling, distance learning, or another alternative for your students, we know it is a tough decision to make and we support you! Many parents that are considering or have chosen to have their child participate in distance learning are at a loss as to the best way to support their student this way.
These 5 tips will help all parents, regardless of the age of your student, to help your child get the best out of their distance learning this fall!
1. Create Structure for your student
Most school environments are highly structured, which helps facilitate learning and positive behaviors in students. Home environments tend to be more casual and have loose routines. To best help your child learn from distance education, set a structured schedule for the “school” portion of the day, and have it resemble the typical “in person” school day structure as closely as possible. Having consistent daily school routines will not only help your child learn while at home, but will also prepare them for when they return to in-person schooling.
As most classrooms have their daily schedule posted in the classroom, create a daily plan with your student. For younger students, this may just be simple words with pictures on a whiteboard that you review with them each morning. For older students, the daily plan can be something that you teach them to create on their own in a planner after reviewing their daily work assignments and project due dates.
Designate a specific place for learning in your home. The ideal space would be a table or desk area with limited distractions, with an adult close by to monitor your student’s activities and answer questions. Discourage your child working on a device in a bedroom or behind closed doors, this makes it easier for your child to engage in unsafe internet activities and for bad habits to form. With many parents also working from home, distraction free areas may be limited, so consider purchasing noise cancelling headphones or white noise machines to help minimize distractions.
Children were not created to sit still and quietly for long periods of time! Many children can actually learn better while also engaging in movement. Try to incorporate as many movement breaks as possible throughout the school day, as part of the regular routine. Having your child do jumping jacks, go on a neighborhood scavenger hunt, play tag with siblings, or engage with programs like GoNoodle! In between subjects will actually help them retain information better than if they are sitting all day. Some children can actually learn better while they are moving, so your child may benefit from working on their device while standing up instead of sitting down, by sitting on a yoga ball, by doodling while listening, or playing with a fidget toy. Experiment to see what works best for your child to help them focus and understand new information!
2. Reinforce appropriate learning behaviors
One of the biggest challenges parents had in the spring with distance learning was getting their student to pay attention and complete the assignments without a teacher physically present with them! Many parents are juggling working from home while also being their child’s teacher, which is extremely challenging! If we can identify and reinforce better learning behaviors, our children will not only be able to learn their school lessons, but will also learn how to learn, which will help them in their future education as well!
Your attention is a very powerful motivator for your child! Start by setting up very clear rules and expectations learning behaviors for your child. Create 3-5 rules with your child and post them in their work area. Throughout the day, intentionally notice when your child is following these rules and praise them for it! Make sure your child gets more attention for engaging in positive learning behaviors than they do for being off-task, complaining, etc. so that the positive learning behaviors will increase!
You can also use sticker charts or checklists to help motivate your child. Each day, set up a simple system where they earn a sticker or checkmark for completing a task, staying focused, or for other positive learning behaviors you identify. When they earn a preset number of stickers or checkmarks, they can earn a reward of their choice (a break, a preferred activity, time with you, etc.) Be sure to also praise your child when they complete their checklist and earn their reward!
3. Encourage your child to be independent
One of the biggest challenges parents face in helping their children complete their schoolwork is letting their children actually complete the work! It can be a very fine line between helping a student with their work and doing it for them. When you add the stress parents are facing with balancing working from home while being responsible for multiple children’s education, it is very tempting for parents to over-help their students due to lack of time or knowledge of how to teach and help their child understand it on their own.
Instead of focusing on your child completing all their assignments, emphasize them understanding the concepts. When your child asks you questions about their school work, try to answer it with a question that will help them solve the problem on their own instead of giving an answer. If your child is stuck, encourage them to use other resources to learn the material, such as contacting their teacher or performing a google search. In the long run, your child will learn more from understanding the concepts of one assignment, than having you over-help them with five assignments.
The amount of support and help your child will need will vary depending on their age, developmentally appropriate expectations, the teacher’s style of teaching, and your student’s learning style. The needs of two children the same age can be very different. When in doubt, take a step back! This will either let your child surprise you with what they can accomplish on their own, or teach you more about the level and type of support they will need next time.
4. Be realistic
The world is a crazy place right now. If they are still employed, parents are struggling with working from home while supervising their children. Tension is high, people are stressed and scared, and the future is unknown. Many parents already feel like they are drowning, and now someone is handing them a crucial role in distance learning.
As a parent today, the most important thing you can possibly do is to focus on your own well being! We are all experiencing a LOT of turbulence on the plane of life right now, so as parents we must put our own oxygen mask first to ensure that we are around to take care of our children! For most families, it is unrealistic to expect both parents to work full time while ensuring that their children are 100% engaged in schoolwork and completing every assignment on time. The key to joy during this time is to accept that it’s not possible to do it all. Feelings of guilt, shame, and inferiority during this time are completely normal, but make sure they keep moving and don’t stay to haunt you.
Research shows that getting social support is one of the best ways to take care of yourself during this time. Reach out to other parents and be vulnerable with what you are experiencing. It’s normal to get stuck and need someone else to give you a hand up, especially these days. Be kind to yourself, you are doing the best you can, and that’s all you can do!
5. When Things Go Wrong
It is not easy. There are going to be hard days, frustrating days, and moments where you’ll want to hide under the kitchen table and cry. You are not the only one! On days where you are struggling, here are a few things to consider.
If you are pulling your hair out to help your child stay engaged and complete their work, take a deep breath and consider why this might be happening. Some kids avoid work and are off task because they don’t have the skills they need. They may not yet know how to sit still for long enough, how to ask for help when they need it, they may be unclear of what they are expected to be doing, or they may genuinely not understand the lesson. Other kids do have the skills they need to learn and complete assignments, but they don’t want to. Determining if the problem is a lack of skills or lack of motivation is critical to give your child the appropriate support they need.
If your child can not independently perform the skills that they need to learn, focus on teaching your child these skills. This may look like gradually increasing how long they can remain seated, or having them reach out to their teacher for extra instruction on a concept they are struggling with. Disciplinary tactics do not work for this type of issue, instead focus on teaching and reinforcing the new skills your child needs to learn in order to be successful.
If your child is not motivated to participate in specific activities or distance learning in general, then they need a different approach. Distance learning removes a lot of the social reinforcements and positive peer pressures that may have motivated your child to learn in a school environment, so don’t be surprised if your child is less motivated during this time. Instead, look for ways to increase motivation and reinforcement for appropriate behaviors. Allow your child to earn fun breaks and to work for access to activities they enjoy, so there is a clear connection between completing school assignments and getting things they want. Make sure to praise your child for their appropriate behaviors, as your attention can also be motivating.
If you are still struggling, reach out to your child’s teacher and school. They are the experts in the curriculum and the resources that are available for your student. You are not on your own; you have a team of educators behind you who really want your student to be successful.
Although distance learning is not what most parents planned for their child, there are some positive benefits! Many students report that there are less distractions at home than in the classroom. Pre-COVID, many families didn’t realize how overextended their lives had become with extracurricular activities, and a slower life and more down time has lead to better school performance. Research shows that kids are getting more sleep each night, which equals more brain capacity for a child to learn and participate in their education. There are also benefits in a more individualized schedule for each child’s school day that has lead to improved learning.
This too shall pass! Parents everywhere are in this together, and our best is enough. You got this!