For many parents and kids, the 2020-2021 school year is looking unlike anything we have ever experienced. With some schools only allowing for fully distance learning and others implementing hybrid plans and extensive safety measures, the school year will be different for all of us. Many parents will be supporting distance learning instead of sending their child off to school all day. While you may not be able to control what happens with school this year, there are things you CAN control. As a former teacher, there are tons of tips for parents during distance learning that can make a world of difference in distance learning outcomes. Or, they only make a smidge of a difference, but a smidge is better than nothing, right? As a teacher and a mother, I know that many parents are feeling overwhelmed with all the things distance learning entails.
Scared that their kid will fall behind.
Lacking confidence in their own patience or their ability to support their child with their learning.
Disappointed in the decisions of the school district.
Frustrated with the current environment.
Upset with how distance learning is going so far this year, and upset with how their relationship is with their kiddo as a result.
I know these things are happening in households all over, and many parents feel alone. Despite feeling alone, you are actually surrounded by teachers, parents, and community members all feeling the same thing. Try out these tips for parents during distance learning and take steps to have a successful school year.
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Tips For Parents for Supporting The Work During Distance Learning
Talk With The Teacher Directly
The absolute first thing you should do as a parent during distance learning is to speak directly with EACH teacher. As a former teacher with a large teacher network, I know that the majority of teachers are pouring their hearts into distance learning and doing what is best for their students. This is not an easy task for them and most of them actually miss in person learning just like your child! Many teachers might struggle with the technology aspect of distance learning or feel uncomfortable connecting with families in a remote capacity.
Before reaching your breaking point with virtual learning, connect with the teacher. Discuss your concerns and ask all your questions. Request flexibility or accommodations if you feel that would help your child. You will not get anywhere by not asking the question. A lot of teachers care most about the child accessing the material and completing the work so a flexible arrangement is something you may be able to work out with them. You could also connect with the school administrators or school board to request changes to virtual learning or address your concerns. If you are a working parent like I am, flexibility around your work blocks during the day may also be necessary for mutual success. Most teachers are willing to work with you as much as they are able to in order to find a situation that works for you and your family. As a parent during distance learning, you have to partner with the teacher more than you may have in the past for mutual success for your kiddo.
If you feel your child is disengaged from the zoom lessons or sitting in front of the screen for too long, build in your own brain breaks during the day. Squeeze them in before each session or build in a break schedule during your child’s most needed times. A brain break should involve movement. It could be as simple as completing a short exercise circuit to get their body moving before sitting. It could involve getting a few minutes of fresh air which will stimulate their focus. Whatever type of movement works best for your child will do.
My favorite resource for brain breaks for elementary aged students is Go Noodle. I used this site with my students everyday as a teacher, and it was fantastic for getting them engaged in an effective and fun brain break several times a day. It is free to signup and your kids will become obsessed. Sorry in advance for any annoyingly catchy tunes!
Setting Up An Environment For Success
Just like parents that work from home, having a designated and organized virtual learning space will help your child get into a school mindset as much as possible. This will look different for every child! It may take some trial and error to find the setup that works best. Some students need quiet and non cluttered space to focus, like a desk in their bedroom or an office setup. Some students prefer background noise or music. Your child could also benefit from a flexible sitting arrangement if sitting in a chair in front of the screen is not conducive to their best learning. Let them sit on an exercise ball in front of the screen, or spread out on the floor during independent work time.
No one cares what your learning environment looks like if it works for your child. If you have multiple children in multiple grades, you may need several classroom setups to benefit them individually.
Schedule The Day
Do not underestimate the power of a schedule! Even if you do not feel the schedule put forth by the school is ideal, you want to include a daily schedule for you and your child that works for you. From the time they get up to the end of the learning day, build a visible schedule that your child can follow. Anticipating what the day will look like is best for engagement, focus and motivation. You can build in free or unstructured time during the day if you know your child needs that, but make it part of the schedule. Once you get into a groove with the schedule, encourage them to follow it independently and start pulling away from your hands on support with their distance learning or homeschool routine. The more you can foster their independence, the more intrinsic motivation they will build.
At Home Learning Resources
Whether you are a parent supporting distance learning provided by the school district or handling homeschooling on your own, resources can always help. There are tons of websites, facebook groups, and networks for homeschooling families. Connect with local resources to supplement your distance learning program or connect with other parents in the same situation. These are some of my favorite online resources:
If you have pre-school aged or early Kindergarten children, Busy Toddler is the best play based curriculum out there! The lessons are detailed, play based, and easily molded into blocks that young children can engage in. This is the curriculum I currently use with my pre-schoolers and I love that our lessons do not even feel like “school.” They love each lesson and I love how thorough each lesson with very little prep from me.
Related: Working From Home With Toddlers
This website is jam packed with practice activities for nearly every traditional academic skill. After each lesson, if you feel like your child needs reinforcement or a challenge, this website offers tons of additional practice on skills including math, reading, science, and foreign languages. I have used this one frequently as a teacher and now as a parent.
This has always been a go-to resource specifically for reading comprehension support. This site offers tons of high quality reading passages and questioning strategies when you need something beyond just reading with your child. Reading comprehension can be one of the biggest challenge areas for younger readers, so this is a great place to look for supplemental practice.
Google offers a comprehensive suite of tools and resources to make distance learning engaging. Have your child setup their own Google Drive and have them create Google slide shows to teach you what they are learning. Dig into the real world projects offered by Google Earth for science learning and get them excited about all the things Google has to offer.
Audible is an online library of audiobooks for virtually any book. If you find reading or language arts is a challenging area for your student, audible could be a great supplemental tool to engage them with the content.
I follow a ton of homeschool blogs and there are still hundreds more out there. These are some fantastic blogs to start with of real parents documenting their homeschool journey with resources, printables, lessons, and guidance.
Tips For Parents for Supporting The Whole Child During Distance Learning
Care, Connect, Celebrate
Something I used to do with my students was instill the three C’s in my classroom: Care, Connect, and Celebrate. Even with a distance learning plan, there is an opportunity as a parent to instill some of these ideals into your home as you support distance learning. Avoid power struggles with your child when something is not going well. Ultimately, you care about them as a person and you care about their success. Talk to your child during times where your words will be most well received and express your care for them. Come up with a plan to engage in distance learning together in a way that is positive.
Connect with how they are feeling. We know children are struggling with distance learning just as adults are struggling with the pandemic we are facing. Be open with your child about how you are also struggling and connect with them on their fears or failures. It will allow you to shape your perspective around them as an individual.
Celebrate everyday. Despite any challenges, there is always a success that can be celebrated. Take time in the morning before the day starts and at the end of the day to celebrate the wins. Celebrate small wins during the day with immediate and direct praise. This will affect how your student views their success and support your relationship with them in this context.
Re-frame Your Concept Of Academic Achievement
We all want our kids to succeed in school. Virtual learning may or may not be the ideal setup for your student to achieve academic success. With that concept in mind, you need to re frame what success looks like for the whole child during virtual learning. Success may not look like full completion of every assignment or structured sitting for every minute of zoom learning. Success will look differently for each child and should adhere to the basics. Are they gaining new skills or enhancing current skills? Did they takeaway any actions or thoughts from the lesson? Are they applying the teaching concepts in ways outside of school? Are they connecting with their classmates and teacher on a semi-regular basis?
At the heart of distance learning, it is not about scores or technology. It is about reaching the student to the best of our ability and educating the whole child. If that is happening the majority of the time, we need to let go of some of our traditional expectations,
It is also important to keep in mind that everyone is facing similar challenges. While some schools have more in person learning than others, nothing is like it was before. We are all facing a new way of teaching and learning. Your child is not the only student not where you thought they might be academically. I know it is hard to feel like your child is struggling or falling behind, but in this case there is nothing to fall behind in. This is new, and the outcomes are something everyone will face together.
Put On Your Game Face
Your child sees, hears, and feels your emotions. One of the best tips for making distance learning successful as a parent is to exude a positive perspective about the experience in front of your child. If you need time to yourself to grieve the school year, or join a board meeting to advocate for a change, do that- but not in front of your kiddos. Remember this is temporary. Whether it lasts only a few weeks or the entire school year, the goal for every school is still resuming in person learning in a safe manner. Work with the situation as best you can and work a day at a time. Tweak things as you go, stay flexible, and all will work out the best that it can. Your attitude has a powerful effect on your child’s overall success, especially in this type of situation.
There will be stressors and there will be successes. Implementing some of these tips as a parent during distance learning will allow you to have more successes than stressors. Cheers to a great school year!
All the best,