I'm not sure what to say about living through history at this moment in time. I live in California where virtually all schools are doing remote learning. I know my podcast reaches outside of California so hopefully not everyone has to deal with all the issues I’m going to talk about. We never expected to be having distanced learning due to a worldwide pandemic. We certainly have to get through to the other side and we will get through it. This article is meant to give you some food for thought in setting up your family for success with remote learning.
You all know I love practical parenting so I’m going to start with the physical setup ideas of how to get things running smoothly then move on to things like setting up routines, family rules and how to keep things fun and flexible.
Let’s dive in!
Lots of you have already started your distanced learning this school year so just listen for some ideas to make adjustments if you’ve got some bumpy areas going.
1 - Physical LEARNING AREA
- Organize - I’m sure your school has already recommended you set up a quiet and organized area for your student with a desk and chair, not a bed. Having bins or shelves with supplies can really help keep things organized so your child doesn’t get frustrated trying to find different items. If at all possible, you want to make sure the table height and chair height are appropriate for the size of your child. Kids sitting in adult-sized chairs for long periods of time can be really uncomfortable and distract from learning. If you’re on a limited budget, ask your school if you can borrow a desk for the duration of online learning.
- Get rid of distractions – One of the biggest helps for learning at home is to get rid of distractions, meaning toys and stuff, from the work area.
One family I work with has the option of having their kids in their bedrooms with a desk and supplies. To prepare, they spent the week before school clearing out any visible toys from around the study area. Their son loves Legos so that meant not only Legos off the floor but also off the shelves and out of the room.
Another family with a 1st grade daughter found that even though she was blessed to have her own room that it wasn’t going to work for them. It was too hard to pack up all her toys and too far away from mom watching over her. They got creative and set up a workspace on the dining table using one of those tri-fold poster boards to create her own little cubby area. They even had her decorate it. She had all of her supplies nearby but also a buffer from things like anyone else in the house walking by. If your child is in a public space, you might want to try to build a cardboard barrier like that.
- Provide quiet and focus – Next we’re going to talk about how to get a quiet environment. Lots of families are using headphones to block out noises from the home while helping to keep kids focus. I love the idea. If you have the flexibility, have your child select the headphones. If they aren’t comfortable, you might try different types or figure out another location in your house that they can be alone and not have to have headphones on.
I talked to a mom who felt it odd that she can’t hear what’s going on in her daughter’s classroom since the headphones block out what the teacher is teaching and what other students are saying. She’d really like to listen in, but she had to remind herself that if this was a real classroom, she wouldn’t be able to do that. We do need to trust our teachers and let our kids know we are here to assist, not to attend school with them.
If you have an older student, you might run into this other issue with headphones. One student objected to their very functional headphones because they didn’t look cool enough, so she didn’t want to use them, but it disrupted the whole family when she didn’t since her sister and parents were also all working from home. What do you do with that? We should show empathy for that child and allow them to use their own money to purchase any other headphones they deem more appropriate. You provide the basics is what I’d recommend and allow them the flexibility to use their own money to upgrade if they want to.
- Moving around – Now some families are finding that their kids need to have different locations through the day or week to keep things fresh. It’s really hard for kids to sit in one place for a long time so they are getting out of their chairs and wandering when things get boring or hard. Maybe they do online in one location but do their required reading on their bed or a comfortable chair.
- If you have multiple kids who need some variety in location, set up a schedule of who goes where and when. Maybe one location is the kitchen table and another is more private. If both kids want the same location feel free to ask them how they’d like to rotate – daily, weekly or maybe even throughout the day. Let them have input if at all possible. You know I love Family Meetings and this could be a topic for your family.
- If you have other areas of your home, feel free to use them as long as they are set up ahead of time. One family is working to figure out how to rotate to the backyard picnic table while the weather is still nice out for a few hours a day. It might take some trial and error to figure out how long and what time of day, but it’s worth a try. You allowing for flexibility in keeping kids engaged in fresh ways to learn is really helpful.
- Charge devices - Keeping devices charged and ready to go is also super important. When devices fail families get crazy stressed out with anxiety about missing out on work or being embarrassed that they aren’t online when everyone else is. Many families are finding that chargers with extension cords or power strips that remain plugged in all day and night works best. The rule should be: If your kid is online, they should be plugged in.
- Check video and audio connections – You also need to make sure video, audio and connectivity is working. Someone should test all of these out probably 30 minutes before class starts in the morning. If you have a child in 3rd grade or higher, they should be the one testing everything out. If there are problems, work with them to train them on what was done to fix the problem. Some schools have special hotlines set up for students and parents to call for technical assistance. If you’re fortunate to have that support, have that number or web address printed out on a paper and posted somewhere really obvious so you can call or email without a struggle if you need outside help. With school starting up the this issue is probably the most stressful for just about every family I talked to. Prepare for problems and know what you’ll do if they happen.
- Keep online safety in mind – Now I want to talk about online safety. If you’ve listened to my podcasts on Screen Time Issues, episodes 11 and 12, you know how highly I press home the point to keep all electronics in public places. Well, for some of you with multiple kids learning at home in addition to adults working from home, you might have to compromise and let kids work in their bedrooms, sometimes even with the door closed. In this difficult time we need to be flexible, I think it’s fine to revise some of those screen time rules but not to throw them out the window.
During the times of the day that online learning is happening, room time screen time is fine. Once online learning is done, all devices come out of the rooms or get powered down. If that doesn’t happen and you find your kid on YouTube or Fortnite, make sure you have consequences defined just like you have in the Digital Contract for your home that was talked about in the Screen Time podcasts.
I would also recommend letting everyone know that once we return to in-person learning that the family screen time rules will go back to being what they were with no screens in bedrooms. Mention that every so once in a while so that it’s not a big shock when the rules are imposed again later on.
Just to let you know how serious this is, I already heard from one school that they had to deal with a 5th grade boy logging on to porn during class time. Just imagine what can happen if you left the device in the bedroom day and night with no supervision.
2 - ESTABLISH CLEAR ROUTINES
Now I want to move on to how to keep things running smoothly in your home through all of this by establishing clear routines so everyone knows what to expect, it’s not a jumble every day.
- DAILY SCHEDULE -Have a daily schedule not only for academics that most schools are already providing, but also for family routines. When does everyone wake up? Eat breakfast? Make it be as much like “real school” as possible. You won’t have to get “out the door” but being “in your seat” and having guidelines for getting there is really helpful to everyone. Do the same for after school and bedtime routines so that things feel “normal”.
- POST INFO - You might want to post their routines on a bulletin board or on the kitchen fridge so that they can, or you can, refer to them.
- WEEKLY SCHEDULE - In addition, have a weekly schedule to show assignments and assessments plus other fun activities both with school, family and friends. Have your child make the schedule if at all possible.
- I found a fun resource on Pinterest that I’ll include in the show notes that has blank daily and weekly schedules and even some useful signs to print out so your kids can let others know if they’re online or taking a test or on away from their computer.
- Next, set up regular CHECK-IN times with your child especially if they are in elementary school.
- Morning – it could just over breakfast
- What subjects are today?
- Any tests/assessments coming up?
- What resources do you need?
- What can mom/dad do to help?
- End of Day – maybe right after online learning ends but could be at dinner or before bedtime
- How far did you get in your tasks?
- What did you discover?
- What did you do great? (“Glow”)
- What was hard? (“Grow” opportunities)
- What could we do to make tomorrow better?
- Most reports I have from high school students and their parents is that the students are tracking their own schedules, but parents should still lovingly check in to see how things are going.
- Morning – it could just over breakfast
- YOU NEED TO HELP WITH TIME – Another area to assist with time. Time is a tricky thing. If you’re too young to tell time, it can be stressful to know if you’re on time, if you’re older you can get distracted and not even look at a clock. Using timers and alarms can be a godsend. Figuring out if you need an alarm for a specific time like 8:30am to get online vs. setting a countdown timer that shows how much of a 90-minute session is left can be really helpful.
One family told me their son was so anxious about getting back online after lunch that he was short-changing himself time allocated to lunch. Setting an alarm really helped him but a countdown timer that starts at noon and counts down for 60 minutes can work too. Ask your child and experiment with what works for them. You can get timers from Target or Amazon or download timer and alarm apps from the internet.
- There are a few things you can do to help to do that:
- Let the teacher teach! Don’t assume you have to do the teaching. Yes, you might answer a question or two, but you don’t need to learn how to teach algebra, that’s what the teacher is for.
- Let your child own their work. The more you can let your child own their education, the better off everyone will be. Training your child to take charge of their schedule, devices and school work is where we need to head. Let them make mistakes and you be around to help problem solve. From what I’ve heard kids who are 4th grade and older are doing pretty well understanding that their school is their school and they don’t need a parent hovering very much at all.
- Train them to ask their teacher. Let them ask the teacher for help, don’t step in and ask the teacher for them. Show them how to ask for help, model it for them. Model anything and everything they need to be successful. Don’t do things for them, if at all possible. If you feel that you need to talk to the teacher make sure your child is around to participate.
- When school isn’t in session, try to look for creative opportunities to include learning in the rest of the day:
- Cooking - Math/science/reading– measure things, fractions, weigh things, read recipes – make cookies, make dinner, make sourdough bread, just make anything and include your kids
- Laundry – Math – count socks, matching, sorting like things
- Gardening – science
- Vacuuming or sweeping – PE!
- Just have fun!
- BOREDOM BUSTERS – It would also be helpful to have ideas ready in the event that things are going sideways with either learning or the environment. If they can’t connect, make sure they know there are options of other things they can do. Keep a list of those nearby so they are easy for them to find. If they can’t read yet, make picture posters of ideas but the point is that you are prepared with things to do. I’ll put a link to my Pinterest pages with activity ideas.
5 – LEAD YOUR TEAM THROUGH CHALLENGING TIMES
The last point I want to go over is tying in what some of you heard in Episode 17. I encouraged families to come together as a team to solve challenges, so burdens are shared and solutions celebrated. We need to do this with distanced learning issues. When problems arise, you need to lead your family team to solutions! Here are some topics I’ve run across in my discussions with parents lately are probably affecting quite a few of you:
- Quiet times – when are they? When can people run the dishwasher or play music?
- When can you interrupt mom/dad when they’re working? Is it any time or a set time of day?
- How are the interruptions done? Is there a signal? One family has their kids slide a note under the office door to let dad know they need help. Another family can see mom through a glass door into her office and stand quietly outside till mom can give them a hint about how long it will be till she can see them.
- How are emotions handled? If there are problems that are serious, how can everyone keep their wits about them? What can we put in place if the work gets hard for our kids to let off some steam? Or if they’re bored?
- Time with friends- is there a schedule? A time limit? Can they meet their friends online or do they form a pod with a few other families so they can see each other in person? What are the rules for meeting in person, how can it be safe?
- Special time with parents per kid – when can each kid have some special time with mom or with dad? What schedule can work for your family to make sure you have time to connect?
The two of us brainstormed for a bit so that she’d have some ideas for the meeting. We talked about if there were other locations rather than just the kitchen table that her son could be at where mom was also trying to work and couldn’t get anything done with her son roaming around. They are in an apartment so there aren’t many options, but no one was using one of the bedrooms and there was also a balcony available. Could they work something out so that he rotated to different areas throughout the day? He also has a really great teacher and we talked about how they could enlist her help in either coming up with more challenging work or different ways to engage her son so that he doesn’t get so bored. Also, maybe there are some quiet toys he can keep nearby that will keep him in his seat or how about a “no snacks till recess” rule? It’ll be trial and error for a bit but at least they can be a team to tackle the boredom problem so that mom can get back to work and so can he.
BE FLEXIBLE AND STAY IN TOUCH
The final and most important thing I want to go over is to do what you know is right for your child. Some kids will be emotional roller coasters with anxiety. Please be gentle and be flexible in this challenging time that none of us have ever been through before. Nobody expects parents to replace classroom teachers. And no one expects children to perfectly mimic a classroom situation at home. Positive intentions, love, consistency, and grace will go a long way towards helping all of us survive this period of isolation and emerge as better people on the other side. Hang in there!
I hope this was helpful. If you’d like to spend some time brainstorming your challenges with me, I’m happy to assist. You can either email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or join my Facebook Group called Parenting Decoded and post your issues there for others to learn from. It’s a “private” group and if you have any trouble joining it, just email me.