From Classroom to Zoom Room: 7 Simple Ways to Support Your Child’s Online Learning
Online learning is the worst. We teachers miss the daily interaction with students and loathe staring at a screen all day. Kids struggle to stay focused while also missing their friends. Adults are exhausted from balancing full-time jobs with nonstop parenting, and Zoom calls interrupted by a hungry child stopped being cute three months ago. Plus, you can’t walk around the house in your underwear anymore for fear of being seen by a bunch of kids and one horrified teacher. No one is a fan of remote teaching. There are, however, ways you as a parent can make life easier for yourself and your child.
Embrace the Office Lifestyle
You may be loving the work-from-home life, but chances are your child is still struggling. One way to ease the transition back into the school year is to designate a room that she knows is her own workspace. It can be a bedroom, dining room, attic or even the panic room. Just remember the best option depends on your child and your home, so be sure to include her in the brainstorming process.
Choosing a room with little noise and few distractions will set your child up for success. Of course, some families don’t have the luxury of devoting an entire room to one child, so you may be forced to improvise. Luckily, you can establish a similar environment with a few minor tweaks. For example, you can create a quieter setting for your child with headphones and some instrumental music or white noise. If your child gets distracted, try moving her to a different location that changes her sightline. It’s easier for her to focus if she looks up from her assignment and sees a wall instead of her little brother eating crayons.
Another aspect of working in an office is the convenience of desks. Remember those? They were basically private boats that housed all your needs, including pens, post-its, a stapler and forgotten pieces of Halloween candy. Having easy access to these items makes people more productive, including kids, so be sure your child’s workspace has extra pencils and erasers within reach. Scrap paper, a writer’s notebook and full water bottle should also be handy so as not to interrupt her flow. Keep the candy for yourself, unless you’re a masochist.
Timers Keep Kids on Task
Way back when kids got dressed and went to school each day, and only wore a mask on Halloween, timers were one of the most effective (and cheapest) tools in my classroom. Certain students really struggle with time management, so giving them a digital timer helps them stay on task. You can use this strategy for distance learning, too.
First, choose an amount of time you think your child can work independently without being distracted. Often older kids are able to work for longer stretches, so keep that in mind as you try this strategy. As a 4th-grade teacher, I often start a child with 10 minutes on the timer. When the timer begins, she knows she should continue working for the entire time. After, she takes a short “body break” in the hallway to do jumping jacks or some other movement that helps release pent-up physical energy before settling in for another round. Most students respond positively to this plan, and soon advance to longer stretches of time between breaks. They also enjoy operating the timer themselves because, you know, kids and electronics. If your child hasn’t yet mastered reading a digital clock, you can use a sand timer or the Time Timer, which has a steadily shrinking red background to signal how much time has passed. It’s a simple yet creative product from a company with the least creative name ever.
If your child has ADD/ADHD, you’re probably already familiar with this technique, as it can make a dramatic difference in output. I once had a student who would take 30 minutes to write two sentences. Once he began using the timer, though, he was able to see just how much time he was spending and realize the need for greater time management. Working in these intervals also boosted his confidence, and I’ll never forget how proud he was when he eventually wrote for 20 straight minutes after starting out with five-minute work periods two months earlier. You can also use this method to keep yourself on task, which should increase your own productivity while limiting your likes on Instagram.
Yes, the pandemic is a drag, especially when you factor in additional buzzkills like smoky air and the cancelation of Comedy Central’s Drunk History. Hopefully you’re at least getting to enjoy some of the perks that come with working from home. You’re probably doing less laundry, finding more time for exercise or a favorite hobby, or just sleeping in every day instead of enduring the soul-suck of daily commuting. Make sure your child is enjoying the benefits of our current situation, too.
Kids are in a fragile state right now as they miss out on the social-emotional growth that comes with spending every day in a classroom with peers, not to mention the joys of recess. It’s really tough to play Four Square in your back yard when you’re an only child. Academics are certainly important, but keep in mind your kid’s world has been turned upside down. Gone are the high-fives and hugs from teachers, as well as the stimulation of working in groups and forging new friendships. Furthermore, many teachers are still struggling to pinpoint an appropriate workload for students learning from home. While it’s always important to check in with your child every day to see how school is going, the reduced teacher presence now makes it vital. Remind him that he’s not the only one struggling to adapt to a COVID world, and everyone is doing their best in a difficult situation.
Be Kind, Unwind
You can help your child manage the stress of remote learning by encouraging him to take breaks throughout the learning day, with an emphasis on physical activity and fresh air. The effects of exercise are vast. Studies indicate it reduces stress hormones, and increases brain size and neuron connections by pumping more oxygen to your cranium, all of which are especially beneficial for kids adjusting to disruptions in their daily routine. Similarly, researchers have discovered simply being outdoors also improves health. Making time for exercise and outdoor activities are both proven to lower stress and elevate mood, so prioritize those each day. I have a list of calisthenics posted in my classroom and let kids choose one or two during each body break, a strategy you can replicate at home. Having your child run a few laps around the yard or carry groceries in from the car are also options if calisthenics trigger traumatic memories from your days in middle school.
You can’t always get kids outdoors during the day, though. You may live in an area where kids need a chaperone to leave the home, or the air is unhealthy due to wildfire smoke. When that’s the case, I strongly recommend GoNoodle for quick bursts of exercise presented in a fun format. You may even be motivated to join in, especially when your kid chooses a song from NTV that brings you back to the days of Hypercolor shirts and acid-washed button-fly jeans.
Similar to exercise and fresh air, nutritious snacks provide a pick-me-up while pressing pause on academics. Practicing mindfulness also benefits kids of all ages, which is quite the endorsement coming from someone who’s never been to Burning Man and thinks kombucha is disgusting. Using simple techniques with my students over the past eight years, I’m always amazed at how much calmer and more focused they are after a 5-minute breathing exercise. They really enjoy when I lead them in Savasana right after recess, which is fairly simple and requires zero prep. You can also find a number of mindfulness apps on the interwebs if that’s more your style. Unfortunately, those involve more screen time, which is the last thing online learners need during their breaks.
There are plenty of other ways kids can space out their workday. Puzzles and board games are great outlets for some, while others prefer relaxing in more imaginative ways. Drawing, painting, creative writing and LEGO building are all excellent options. Of course, playing with toys or reading for pleasure are also wonderful ways to unwind.
Kids Need Consistency
As tempting as it may be to bond with your child while watching Marvel movies after dinner every night, it’s important to keep him on a regular sleep cycle just like in a typical school year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree, recommending daily routines and a flexible schedule. They also recommend wearing a mask, but you (hopefully) already know that. Any teacher can attest to the difficulties of motivating a child to learn when he hasn’t gotten enough sleep, and trust me when I say you don’t want to deal with that at home while trying to do your own job. Be sure he wakes up early enough to eat a nutritious breakfast and brush his teeth before online classes begin. Before you roll your eyes, you should know I’ve had to explain to several parents why these habits are vital for their kids. And even though Champion sweatshirts and high-waisted jeans are back in style doesn’t mean you should let your kid have sugary cereal for breakfast. Leave the Cocoa Puffs and the entire Food Pyramid in the early ’90s where they belong.
Kids (and this writer) also benefit from schedules when it comes to working at home. Using this template will help maintain a level of consistency for your child until in-person learning is again deemed safe. You can copy it onto a white board, print and laminate it for repeated use, or simply share it electronically if he has a Google Drive account. Be sure to include body breaks and meal times when filling out the schedule, as well as a firm start and end time to mirror a typical school day.
As a 4th-grade teacher, I encourage my students to make their own choices when laying out their days. Some kids prefer starting with their favorite subject or knocking out the easiest assignment, while others save shorter tasks for the afternoon. If you feel your child is old enough, tasking him with building his own schedule will empower him while also enhancing productivity.
You Don’t Have to Be a Teacher to Be Helpful
Should you or shouldn’t you? That’s the timeless question when it comes to helping your child with homework. Since remote learning has transformed all assignments into homework, the debate has never been more important. While I don’t have any kids of my own (yet), I do have more than a decade of teaching experience, and every educator I know recommends letting students figure it out on their own (with a few exceptions).
First and foremost, allowing your child to struggle with assignments develops a growth mindset, a philosophy that states the brain is a muscle that can be strengthened through hard work and learning from mistakes. How to persevere when faced with a challenge is one of the most important lessons she can learn, so let her problem solve on her own to build resilience — that mettle will benefit her long after she graduates. Encouraging your child to navigate tricky assignments also helps her develop greater independence, which you’ll certainly appreciate when she heads off to college while you try to enjoy retirement. Do you really want her bringing home her laundry every month?
Another reason to refrain from helping your child with schoolwork is to ensure teachers can gauge what she knows and what needs to be revisited in a future lesson. It’s great that you still remember long division, but not super helpful when your child’s assignment is 100 percent correct and she still doesn’t understand the concept. Instead, email her teacher or leave a note on the paper noting what she struggled with, and how long she worked on it.
When she’s truly stumped, encourage her to skip it and move on to another assignment. This helps kids maintain a sense of productivity without getting stressed out about what they don’t know. If your daily schedule has some flexibility, encourage her to write down her questions and place them in a “parking lot,” a term you’re probably familiar with if you’ve ever suffered through an all-day training. You can then preview the questions during your free blocks and prepare a strategy for support before checking in. It’s also important to take time each day to ask how her day was, what went well and what’s been challenging, and to look over her work to make sure she’s putting forth her maximum effort. I’ve found that simply asking if this represents their best work receives an honest response from students. Furthermore, these daily chats are great bonding time that she’ll truly appreciate when reflecting back on her childhood.
Keep Things in Perspective
No matter what, remember that everyone is navigating uncharted waters. Kids are programmed to equate school with a building they spend their weeks in, having their intellectual and social-emotional needs fulfilled through relationships with their teachers and classmates. When the pandemic started, teachers had to build the airplane in mid-air, and are getting better at flying it each day despite spending most of their day talking to kids through a computer screen. Yes, I switched from maritime to aeronautical analogies, and I’m fine with that.
Finally, the overwhelming majority of parents are not teachers by trade, meaning you’re trying to balance supporting your child’s education while also getting your own work done in a profession that has most likely changed dramatically in 2020. Go easy on yourself, and know that all we can do is our best each day. Besides, kids are sponges when it comes to mimicking adult behaviors, so if you’re acting stressed, he will, too. Instead, try to savor this extra time together — before you know it, it’ll be 2023 and life will begin returning to some form of normalcy.