Top 10 Distance Learning Tips for Parents
Although I’m not a parent myself, as a teacher, private tutor, and children’s book author, I’m with children 7 days a week. In fact, many times, I’m the person that is called into action, like a suburban superhero with a backpack instead of a cape, when parents have reached the depths of their outer limits with Distance Learning.
Here’s the exact scenario I flew into a few months back when Distance Learning had blanketed itself over our South Bay Mommies & Daddies like a thick fog.
A new client called, completely at her wits end. Zander, her 8-year-old son, is crying. As I enter their home, Zander is sitting on the sofa, nose and toes curled into a pillow. He’s refusing to do his online work. His mother’s hair is frazzled and her face is reddened. Desperately, she’s trying her best to inhale her “10- cleansing breaths”, although actual dragon steam has replaced her human exhale. In a nutshell… it’s not working!
Immediately, I assess the situation. How can I help? The first thing I notice is that the vacuum is out (must’ve been running), the TV is turned up to a supersonic level, and Zander’s school laptop is on a table that is scattered with odds and ends.
Ah Ha… Zander is distracted!
I give Zander an “air-five” and tell him I’ll be right back. Briefly, I go outside to console his mother. She needs her moment and I’m going to give it to her. It’s healthy and it’s okay.
Anyhow, I notice a small buffet table and chair off to the right. It’s dirty and looks like it’s not been used in a while. Perfect! I’ve just found a school desk for Zander. After getting the green light to use the “desk”, I call Zander out to help me take it inside of his bedroom.
We clear a space and I play it up real big, “Zander, this is your new school desk. How should we fix it up?” I give him choices on how he wishes to decorate his desk. He begins perking up. Now, he has a school center that is just for him. He gets out a mason jar and begins filling it up with his pencils, pens, and highlighters. As a fun task, he even makes a name placard for himself that we tape to the right edge of his desk.
Zander has a school space!
After some more organization and after watching a virtual field trip on marine dolphins, we call it a day. We’ve done plenty. Zander is emotionally exhausted and needs some time to process his new school environment.
After having been in so many homes, classrooms, virtual classrooms, and running into many home situations as was just described, I thought of 10 Distance Learning Tips for Parents that may help your family transition into this new digital learning environment.
Distance Learning is hard work, guys… I get it. It’s new for all of us, but it can and will get better. Hang in there, you got this!
Create a Schedule
Depending on their grade, most children have some sort of a school planner that they are responsible for writing in daily. In it, they write down their homework assignments, upcoming test or quiz dates, special announcements, and so forth. I would suggest keeping this up. If you don’t have a daily planner, you can purchase one at the 99¢ Store. This keeps children accountable.
In the planner, for younger children included, you and your child can write down what is required of them daily. They can check off completed items as they go. This is also gives children a sense of accomplishment. Who doesn’t like seeing a bunch of completed check marks? They feel good.
Also, just as with school, there is a schedule to keep. The children wake up at a certain time, eat their breakfast, and then off they go. Try to mimic the same type of schedule. Don’t get them out of this habit. Waking up at 9am and waffling around in their pajamas until 11am is a no, no no! Get dressed and get after it. It’s a school day and there is work to be completed.
Set some hours. They may choose what they want to work on first (math, reading, writing, etc.), but time must be set.
Designated School Space
Similar to Zander’s case, you can’t expect your child to do their best learning if they are distracted. Designate a place in your home as their personal school space. Bedrooms work well for this. Set it up with them. Get excited. Allow them to decorate their desk and recreate the creature comforts that they were used to at school, such as creating their own name placard. To motivate them even further, you can take them to the 99¢ Store to buy some fun pencils, erasers, and notebooks.
Also, just as with school, their desk is to be kept neat and tidy. Remember, this is not an area for playing video games, etc. This is strictly their learning zone. No exceptions!
You’re Not their Teacher
It is great to assist your child if questions arise, but remember that you are not the teacher. They are being instructed by their teacher who undoubtedly has their curriculum well planned and rolled out to fit specific learning levels, goals, and benchmarks. Trying to teach your child will, in most cases, lead to frustration for both of you. Your role is to support their understanding, but not to teach.
Also, due to frustration, some parents want to automatically go straight to methods that they learned as a child. Although this may be helpful in some cases, it may be detrimental in others. Math comes to mind. Math is taught in a completely different way than how we learned it, guys. Our goal as teachers now is to build “number sense” in children. We teach something called CGI, which stands for Cognitively Guided Instruction. Anyhow, our math goal now is to have children learn, build, and understand relationships with and between numbers. No up and down columns (algorithms) for adding and subtracting anymore… at least not for lower elementary school students. And, if you’re not sure… ask the teacher.
Check for Completed Work
Don’t let their school space turn into a quicksand pit that is sinking with unfinished work. Check in on their process, at your discretion… but check in. At the end of each afternoon, perhaps, take a look at their completed school work. Have your child highlight or note certain sections or areas where extra support is needed. You may go over those unclear spots with them. If you are unable to help, contact the teacher.
Also, make sure they are turning in their best effort. Incomplete sentences, sloppy work, and effort that is not their best is simply not acceptable. It’s not acceptable in the classroom, so therefore should not be acceptable while your child is Distance Learning. As a Distance Learning educator, alongside a remarkable teacher, we would simply send the work back to the student if we knew it wasn’t their “best effort”. Good work habits should start now!
Snacks, Stretches, Recess Time!
At school, we have snack time, lunchtime, and recess time! I would encourage you to do the exact same thing. But, again, keep the schedule. Schedule a set and end time for these activities. If your child is responsible for packing their snack/lunch in the morning, have them do the same thing. Keep it in the fridge for safekeeping. Playing and taking a break is healthy, necessary, and fun.
Open Lines of Communication
Every day, check for messages from teachers. Reply to those messages. Keep in contact with them. This is so helpful. You and the teacher are a united front. Your cohesive goal is to educate and care for your child. If you have questions, they have answers. It’s our job. We are here to help you. We cannot jump in to offer support for your child if information is kept from us. Everyone must be kept in a freely flowing loop.
Also, if you have enlisted the help of a tutor, get them in contact with the teacher, as well. The teacher can offer the tutor valuable information that can help them target instruction for your child. Knowledge really is power!
Use School Resources
Schools are filled with multiple resources and personnel that are specifically trained for a multitude of learning needs. When in doubt, contact your local school or district for support. Also, if your child gets supplemental support, such as speech or reading invention, please make sure that these services continue. They are necessary. If this is the case, stay in contact with these teachers, as well. These services are invaluable for your child and for your family. This is especially crucial if your child has an IEP or 504 plan and requires additional support/services/interventions.
Reach Out to Other Mommies & Daddies for Support
We’re all in this together. You are not alone. Reach out. Connect. Bond. Vent. Be human. It’s okay. This is why communities such What’s Happening in the South Bay, South Bay Mommies & Daddies, @SouthBayMommies, and @SouthBayMommies are so critical. We need each other. If you have a question, I bet you there are hundreds of others wondering the exact same thing. Take a stand. Be bold. Ask. Get the help, advice, and support that you deserve.
Consider Hiring a Private Tutor
If your work demands and/or child’s need are more than you can handle, consider hiring a private tutor. Make sure that they are vetted and safe. Since the onset of Distance Learning, many parent/child relationships are experiencing some strain. If this is the case and you are able, hiring a private tutor may help keep the peace in your household, while offering your child that crucial one-on-one instruction. Bottom line, you don’t want your child to fall behind or lose their enthusiasm for learning. Hiring a private tutor may offer the salvation you are seeking.
Happy Hour for Parents!
Every Friday, our teachers would come together, via Zoom, for a virtual Happy Hour! We’d talk about everything BUT school. It was a place for us to connect, be silly, vent if needed, get support, and continue building our bonds of friendship. Do this. It’s fun! If you’re not already a member of a friendly community of parents, join one… or create one. This is not the time to introvert, but is instead the time to reach out and connect.