9 Tips on Remote Learning for Parents

9 Tips on Remote Learning for Parents

Welcome to School Year 2020-21! Many schools are starting online or with an online/in-person hybrid. This was stressful for a lot of parents last Spring when schools closed very quickly due to Covid-19. This time, schools have had more time to plan for remote learning. And as a parent, you can do some planning as well that may help remote learning go more smoothly for you and your child.

Set yourself and your child up for success by doing some preparation beforehand.

  • Create a learning space. Having a space dedicated to school work will help your child to focus. Involving your child in creating their own, special work space can also go a long way to getting them excited about “going” to school. Kids love to feel important and grown up; many young children will pretend to do homework like their older siblings, or go to work at the office like their parent. Even if you are dreading remote learning, capitalize on this and let your child decorate and create their own workspace. It could be a space at the kitchen table that you change into a learning space for a few hours a day, a folding table, or a folding dinner tray. Your child could have a school supply box that they move to their learning space every day, or a tri-fold poster board that they decorate as the “walls” of their school room like this mom did. The point is to have a space that is clear of other distractions, and distinguishes the space for school and school related activities, which can help children switch into school mode.
    • Get supplies. Your child is going to need basic supplies, just like at school. Many schools have their supply lists online. One fun way to keep all of the school things together is to create a school supply box. If you need help with school supplies, check with your school. Many communities have programs that offer school supplies to kids who need them.
    • Set up a routine. Your child’s school will have at least a partial schedule of online learning tasks, and you can expand on this to include things like eating a good breakfast, working on assignments, and times for breaks and snacks. Including your child in planning the schedule can increase their ownership. This doesn’t mean they have free rein to do whatever they want, it could be as simple as giving them two choices to choose from. Even though you are ok with either choice, giving children a sense of control and choice makes them more likely to be on board with the plan. Sit down with your child before the first day of using the schedule to talk through the schedule and what will be happening during each part of the day.
      • Make it visual! In addition to helping your child by providing predictability, a visual schedule can also act as motivation to help your child get through their day. Think about how good it feels to check items off your to-do list. Similarly, make your child’s schedule something they can move through and feel accomplished after each task, while having parts of their day they look forward to, such as breaks, snacks, and playtime. Putting the schedule in a plastic sheet protector and using erasable markers (or stickers) to mark off each part of the day, or using a small object, clothespin, or toy figurine to move along the schedule like a gameboard.

Once your child has a learning space and a plan, have super school days by following these steps.

  • Have a defined start. It is harder to make a clear transition when kids are learning at home so it might help to have a transition activity for your child. If your child is very active and might have a harder time sitting through online classes, that activity could be something physical, like some yoga stretches, or a short walk outside, before they sit down for school. Or maybe your child has a favorite song they like to sing. There are all sorts of ways that you can mark the start of the school day.
  • Follow your routine. It is one thing to set up a plan and another thing to follow through. Things will come up but try to stick to your routine as much as possible. It is easier for children to stay on task when the routine is consistent and predictable. If kids aren’t sure what to expect or when they will have to do something, they are more likely to struggle to switch between tasks, and will spend more time wondering what is coming up next rather than focusing on the task at hand. And remember that it is supposed to help you so if there are things about it that don’t work, tweak it until it fits you and your family.
  • Minimize distractions. By giving your child a learning space that is free of clutter, turning off the tv or other media, and limiting the other activities going on around your child, you can help them to focus on their school work. Head phones that plug into a laptop or tablet that they are using for remote lessons could also help. Or if your child needs some background noise to concentrate, try something soothing that is pretty regular like a fan or even a “white noise” machine.
  • Decide how your child will get help if they need it. If you are also at home working, you may not always be available right away if your child has a question. Tell your child ahead of time when you can be interrupted and when you need to be left alone. This may mean making a sign for when you are in a meeting or can’t be disturbed. And talk about who the child could ask for help, like their teacher, if they are working online, or another adult in the home. If they can’t get help in the moment, talk to them about putting what they are working on aside until someone can help them.
  • Take some time for physical activity and brain breaks. Especially for young children, asking them to sit and learn for long periods of time (whether in school or at home) is asking a lot from them. For some kindergarteners, even 10 minutes can be a long time to sit still and attend to instruction. They need opportunities to get the wiggles out, and give their brains a break! Research also shows that everyone learns better when they get some exercise. That could mean going outside, including free-play times in their schedule, or even just taking a little time to stretch and move around inside. Check out these suggestions for 12 ways to get your body (and brain) moving.
  • Plan some ways to deal with frustration (and normalize difficulties and frustration!). Learning is sometimes hard, especially now, so it is likely that your child (and you) are going to feel frustrated, tired, bored, or angry sometimes. This is ok! Learning how to handle big feelings in a helpful way, and especially learning to persevere in the face of difficulties is a lifelong skill. There are lots of things that your child can do to handle these big feelings. Maybe they can go to another space in the house to sit and read a book, or listen to music, or take a break outdoors for a little while. Maybe they need something to hold or squeeze when they feel like they are going to explode, or something to fidget with to help them focus. Having a plan for when these big feelings come up will make it easier to handle them and calm down so that your child can go back to work. It is also really important that parents have some plans for how to handle their own big feelings. (Let’s face it, most of us haven’t done 1st or 3rd or 7th grade math for a while and it’s going to be difficult.) Check out some other suggestions for handling big feelings here.
  • Make sure you know how to get in touch with your child’s teacher(s). If you have questions, or your child needs more help with school work, or you just need to ask how things are going, it is important to connect with your child’s teacher(s) before problems arise. Your child’s teacher may also use apps like class dojo to keep in touch with parents and post updates. Find out if there is an app or site you can sign-up for to stay in the know. Remember that a lot of teachers will not only be trying to teach from home but also may have their own children doing their schoolwork at the kitchen table so it may take them a little longer to respond.
  • Find ways you can get your own support. Connecting with other parents and hearing their ideas and experiences can help you to feel supported and not alone. Many schools have PTA groups online (Facebook) you can join, or consider creating your own virtual (or socially distanced) parenting group to connect with the other parents in your child’s class.

This is a very different school year than usual and it is likely to take some getting used to. Remember to give your child and yourself time and patience to make the adjustments and find the routines and plans that best fit your family. And, as always, make sure to plan some fun time in there as well!

Text: © Kids In Transition to School 2020

Image: © Madhourse | Dreamstime.com

Katherine Pears
Dr. Katherine Pears is a senior scientist at Oregon Social Learning Center (OSLC). She earned her Ph.D in clinical psychology and has worked with OSLC since 1998. Katherine is the principal investigator and co-developer of the Kids In Transition to Schools (KITS) program. Currently, she oversees all the clinical and research activities for KITS. When she’s not in her office, you’ll find Katherine in the kitchen whipping up her latest creation or outdoors hiking a scenic trail.

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