In the “before pandemic times,” parents and children would have wrapped up their back-to-school shopping and been in a normal routine. The parents would have had plans in the works for the holidays — and children would have been anticipating the Thanksgiving break. But, that’s not exactly what’s occurring right now. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus, the school year — and everything else — will look drastically different this year, and maybe next year, too.
For example, in California and Massachusetts, the largest districts will begin the school year remotely. At the same time, other states like New Jersey and Texas provide students the option to enroll in virtual learning. Some states may be taking a hybrid approach. Even in states where in-person instruction has already occurred, districts may have to shut down due to outbreaks in Georgia.
Long story short, it’s unlikely that children will be returning to a normal school schedule anytime soon. As a result, this academic calendar year will include a fair amount of online learning from home — again. While not ideal, this is what we’re working with for the foreseeable future.
While in-person instruction is preferable and beneficial, it’s not all doom and gloom. If you’re a WFH champion — there are actually lessons that you can share with children who are struggling with remote learning. In fact, the following ten tips can help them succeed during this unprecedented school year, and beyond.
1. Set realistic goals.
Just like you at work, children need to establish goals that they can actually achieve. If not, they’re going to “crash and burn early.”
“Unlike a snow day, where it’s just a couple of days, and you can make it work, this is going to go on for who knows how long,” said Gail Lovette, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and Human Development. “I would say use Alexa if you have one to take music and listening breaks and build in activity breaks for everyone,” adds the mother of three. “I’m used to putting my head down and writing for eight hours or working on a research project or teaching my class, but that’s just not going to be feasible anymore.”
“Scheduling activity breaks for yourself and your kids so that you set realistic goals is so important,” says Lovette. “For a 4-year-old, you probably need to work in 20-minute increments. My second-grader, I can probably push for 45 minutes to an hour.”
Even in traditional settings, “kids aren’t sitting for a very long amount of time. They’re getting up, walking around, transitioning – so it’s not realistic to expect them to sit at your dining room table for two hours,” she states.
“I’ve seen schedules floating around right now that are like hourlong blocks. That’s maybe realistic for fifth- or sixth-graders, but probably not for most younger kids.”
If your children are having difficulty with this, Lovette suggests using a visual schedule and incentives. Besides eliminating unpredictability, it also gives them a sense of control. For example, if they read from 10 to 10:15 a.m., they can follow that work with whatever activity they want for ten minutes.
2. Create a home-work friendly area.
As you’re well aware, you need a dedicated space to work. In a perfect world, that would be a chic home office where you could close the door when needed. Even if that’s not possible, it has to somewhere that’s free of distractions and clutter at the minimum.
Moreover, this location should have enough room for your child to spread out and do their work. Most importantly, they should be able to easily access any tools or resources required for instruction. That means if they need to be online, they should be close to a router.
Amanda Morin, at Understood, has some pointers about how to make a portable workstation if space is limited:
- Let them choose where to work, whether that’s the kitchen table or their bedroom.
- Make a supply caddy, such as a shoebox, so that they can easily transport supplies.
- Block out distractions by using a folding screen or piece of furniture. You may also want to use parental controls about watching TV or use of their phones at specific times.
3. Establish a flexible routine.
In my opinion, the secret to successfully working remotely is using a flexible schedule to your advantage. For instance, if you aren’t a morning person, why force yourself to wake up early? Instead, schedule your work when you’re most productive.
Another perk of a flexible schedule is that it helps you maintain a healthy work-life balance. Let’s say that you have to homeschool your children from 9 am to 11 am. You know that during that block, you can not schedule anything important. That means from 1 pm to 3 pm; you would have a meeting or focus on your priorities while the kids are outside playing.
In short, a flexible schedule allows you to keep a routine while also allowing plasticity in your calendar. For kids, that could mean overlapping their schedule with their teachers or siblings. Besides fighting for bandwidth in your home, they could get an answer from their instructor in real-time.
4. Help them make a plan.
Productivity doesn’t just magically happen. In my opinion, that’s one of the most important lessons that you can pass on to younger generations. As such, right now is the perfect time to teach them the basics of planning.
Perhaps on a Sunday night, you could sit down with them and map out each other’s week. During this time, you could help them determine and identify their priorities to know where to spend their time. You could also do things like meal planning for the upcoming week.
Planning can also come in handy daily. “On heavy homework nights or when there’s an especially hefty assignment to tackle, encourage your child to break up the work into manageable chunks,” recommends Nemours KidsHealth. “Create a work schedule for the night if necessary — and take time for a 15-minute break every hour, if possible.”
5. Make the most of your resources.
Even though there’s an insurmountable amount of information at your fingertips, sometimes it’s best to get directly to the source. For example, what if they have a question regarding homework? They should reach out directly to their teacher instead of asking classmates who may give them differing answers.
6. Create and live by a calendar.
They don’t necessarily have to create an extensive zero-based calendar that accounts for every minute of their day. But, your kids should learn how to create and manage a calendar so that they can stay on top of deadlines. A traditional calendar is useful as a visual reminder, but online options like Google Calendar will send reminders and can be color-coded.
I’d even go as far as to suggest that you make a shared family calendar as a family. It’s a simple and effective way to keep the entire family on the same page. It can keep track of your family member’s schedules and keep everyone accountable for household chores. It can even be used to block out the “quiet” room in the office for classes or meetings.
7. Keep screen time to a minimum.
Perhaps one of the biggest drawbacks of remote work and education is the increase in screen time. When not put in check, this can impact everything from your sleep to physical and mental health. That’s why everyone in your home needs to limit screen time.
That may seem impossible. But, you could set an example by not looking at your phone whenever you’re eating. Establishing “tech-free” zones, like the dining room, can help achieve this. Other ideas would be spending breaks outside and avoiding blue light at least an hour before bed.
In addition to these healthy routines, Corinn Cross, MD FAAP recommends keeping “media use positive and helpful” by:
- Ask their teachers what educational activities they can do online and offline.
- Only use social media to check-in with neighbors and loved ones.
- Rely on quality content, such as Common Sense Media.
- Spend time using media together, like watching a movie during family night.
- “Use this time as a chance to show your kids a part of your world,” writes Dr. Cross. “Encouraging imaginative ‘work’ play may be a way to apply ‘take your child to work day’ without ever leaving home!”
- Limits are still important. “As always, technology use should not push out time needed for needed sleep, physical activity, reading, or family connection,” adds Dr. Cross. “Make a plan about how much time kids can play video games online with friends, and where their devices will charge at night.”
8. Schedule video calls with friends.
The dark side of working from home? Loneliness. Even if your family is all around you — there can be loneliness.
“If you’ve been working with people for a while and had that connectivity and face-to-face meetings and were used to that work environment, and now suddenly working at a distance with little connectivity, it really creates a huge problem,” said Ben Fanning, author of “The Quit Alternative: The Blueprint for Creating the Job You Love Without Quitting.” “It’s like being on a remote island.”
If you can relate to this, then just put yourself in your child’s shoes. Socialization isn’t just good for their health and well-being. It’s also a key element of learning as it develops communication, cooperation, curiosity, and confidence.
“Kids are very social learners, so one recommendation I would have is to keep them connected with their friends through FaceTime,” said Lovette. “FaceTime or video calling is an amazing thing we have at our disposal now. Your kids can FaceTime with a friend or a couple of friends and read books with them. Or if they’re younger, just do a group chat so that they’re still getting that socialization and talking about what they’re learning and doing each day.”
For in-person interactions, consider forming a social bubble. “As a parent myself, I think that getting together with a household of kids of similar age is a good idea for sanity as well as child social development,” said Tara Kirk Sell, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“It’s best if everyone has a similar approach to protective measures,” added Sell. Examples would be “mask-wearing, a comparable number of contacts and the same risk tolerance, so things don’t get awkward when someone wants to go on vacation for the weekend.”
9. Grant them autonomy.
You’ve never liked it when you’ve been micromanaged. And, neither do your children. As opposed to constantly looking over their shoulders, be a motivator and mentor.
“They won’t learn if they don’t think for themselves and make their own mistakes,” noted Nemours. “Parents can make suggestions and help with directions.” Overall though, “it’s a kid’s job to do the learning.”
Your role? “Ask about assignments, quizzes, and tests,” added Nemours. “Give encouragement, check completed homework, and make yourself available for questions and concerns.”
10. Get out of the house.
Obviously, the safety of your family is paramount. Moreover, you should do your research so that you don’t fall for sketchy alternatives. Simultaneously, just like when working from home, sometimes you need to get out of the house.
Besides preventing cabin fever, learning from somewhere else can be inspiring and uplifting. Some options that you may want to consider are:
- Make the most out of your backyard. Whether it’s a folding table, converting a shed, or using a tiny house, getting outside can do wonders for your health and well-being. It also creates boundaries between home and school.
- Try a “pod” with other students. Generally, this is where the same small group of students gets together for instruction, tutoring, or homework sessions.
- Use a tutor. If you have the funds, you may want to hire a tutor to provide a mix of in-center instruction and at-home activities.
- Switch to private school. Again, if you have the funds and aren’t concerned about the virus, you could enroll them in a private school.
- Daycare. If you have younger children, this is probably a no-brainer. However, some daycare centers are permitting older children to enroll, as well.
- Local YMCA or JCC. YMCAs and Jewish Community Centers are now offering full-day instruction.