Back-to-school in many cases won’t be back-to-school in the traditional sense this school year as learning may take place at home instead of a formal classroom in many areas. To stay safe and protect students and teachers, other school workers, and parents from the spread of the coronavirus, many school districts are mandating remote learning – at least temporarily. How does that affect students and their parents?
If your student will be learning virtually, what will it look like? How can you best make the switch from education in the schoolroom to education from home? How do you set up a successful virtual learning environment? How can a student’s days be structured for learning and schoolwork while setting aside time for fun, socializing, and exercise during off-school hours? How does remote learning affect not only students but their parents’ work and home lives? Families have some planning and preparation to do.
No matter where students get their education, setting up a routine is important. Everyone needs to feel that things are normal, that our days have structure, and that life goes on – pandemic or no pandemic. Setting up routines is a good way to achieve that feeling of normal when life is not so normal.
Structure can begin by getting ready for school. Get up at the same time each school day, get dressed, and be at your desk at a designated time. This way, you are getting yourself mentally prepared and organized.
Making time for learning and living is essential. But there should be clear lines between the two. Know that there is time to work and time to play. See your home as both a schoolroom and a place to live … where you learn for part of the day and the other part of the day have fun, interact with family and friends, and pursue enriching life experiences.
The Home Schoolroom
Distractions. Create a learning space free of distractions. If possible, dedicate a room or at minimum, a space exclusively for learning. Remove clutter and items not associated with school. It’s hard to concentrate and keep on task with a messy desk and when play- or other non-school items are within reach.
Sound. The same goes for quiet. Loud voices and noises or cell phone notifications can make it difficult to focus. The classroom doesn’t have to be devoid of sound. Soft background music can be stimulating and add a welcome dimension to learning. Turn off the sound on cell phones or turn them off until after school unless they’re required for lessons. Most devices have built-in parental controls. Set them up to block non-school-related communications with your young kids.
Privacy. Make sure other members of the family respect the student’s privacy. If siblings or friends want to communicate, do it during breaks and when school is over for the day.
Workstation. A kitchen table can temporarily serve as a desk, but at some point, that table is needed for cooking and dinnertime and you’re off looking for another place to complete your lesson. Students need a dedicated desk, a comfortable, ergonomically-friendly chair, and good lighting, for starters.
Equipment, accessories. You’ll need a computer with a strong internet connection. Don’t forget to bookmark and backup lessons and homework. Headphones have multiple functions. They can help cancel out extraneous sound, allow you to focus on online lessons, and to enjoy background music to enhance the learning experience.
Have an agenda. Plan the school day with time slots for each academic subject, reading lessons, lectures, questions, etc. Homeschoolers may already have a preset curriculum to follow.
Recess. Class time and breaks will be determined by the school but having a plan for how to use those breaks is important. The temptation to surf the internet between classes may be overwhelming for some kids. Make break a time to stretch, take a walk, toss around a ball, play a game, or connect with classmates socially.
Routines are for students and parents alike. Parents may need to restructure their workday too, depending on the level of involvement they have in their child’s schooling and whether they must juggle their work schedule with that of their child’s. Parents find the right schedule and balance so that you can perform your job effectively and your child’s educational and parenting needs are met. It might take a little time for the pieces to come together so that everything runs smoothly.
Parents have several roles to play in a remote learning environment: parent, teacher, and employee. That’s especially challenging for working parents who are not working from home. Parents of young school children won’t have the usual place to drop off their kids for the day while they’re at work. One parent will be assuming the role of teacher during the day. Is their job flexible enough to pull it off? Will their employer or the requirements of their job allow for reorganizing work hours? Can creating a small work group or pod help? Even those parents fortunate enough to plan their own work schedule or are self-employed can be physically and mentally taxed with extended parenting when acting as both parent and teacher.
When learning from the isolation and less structured home environment, it’s important to coach your children about self-discipline. Putting a routine in place is a good start. Teaching problem-solving skills is another important lesson that is both empowering for children and liberating for their parents. Rewarding problem-solving and expected behaviors goes a long way to instill a sense of agency and self-discipline in kids.
Instead of having a trained teacher to instruct children, parents are juggling roles as mother or father, spouse, teacher, and individual. On the bright side, there are more opportunities for parents to be “in the loop” concerning their children’s’ education. They will be able to see directly how the schooling process is coming along, direct it, evaluate it, and adjust accordingly. And they’ll be spending more time with their kids during and outside of school.
Staying Fit and Healthy
There’s an opportunity for nourishing and healthy meals when learning from home. Students aren’t as tempted with unhealthy vending machine snacks, sugary drinks, candy, or access to fast-food meals. Prepare a lunchbox or bag in the morning as if they are going to school so you don’t have to scramble to figure out lunch and snacks in the middle of the day. Fix a sandwich, warm up last night’s leftovers. Grab a healthy snack. Have a refreshing bottle of Tejava tea. And keep hydrated throughout the day.
With no gym class, organized sports, or moving from classroom to classroom, get that blood flowing with a bike ride, jumping jacks, jump rope or yoga.
Kids learning from home miss hanging out with their classmates. Emails, texts, social media, and phone calls can help. Thanks to technology, they can have virtual playdates with their friends using video conferencing apps like Zoom or Facetime and play games virtually with one another, share photos, and other visuals.
Having strong social connections in person is just as important. Plan socially distant get-togethers and outings for after school, evenings, and weekends. To avoid the “same-old, same-old,” look around for special events and excursions so socializing isn’t boring. And always wear a mask and try to maintain 6-foot distance
Encourage your kids to spend time away from the computer after school hours. Schooling in place involves some pretty heavy computer use.
This school year will be different. It doesn’t have to be stressful. Parents and students are adjusting to a new rhythm of school and home. Reassure yourself that in time, the changes will become routine.