The reopening of school continues to be a hot topic of conversation across the country. Most school districts are offering multiple options for families in the fall. The three primary models are all in, hybrid, or remote learning. The all-in model is essentially school, as usual, with some additional safety precautions in place. The hybrid option can take many forms, but the core is that a portion of the students are in classrooms while the other students connect to school from a remote location. The remote learning model provides students with synchronous (live) and asynchronous (recorded) instruction via various technologies. Families are being asked to choose a learning environment that best suits their needs.
For those choosing remote learning, let’s look at the best ways to make the experience better for the students in your household. These suggestions are designed with younger students in mind (K-6), but they can be applied to students of any age.
Set High Expectations
The overwhelming response from parents was that remote learning in the spring was acceptable. It was not great, but because schools had to move to remote without much warning, the experience was tolerable. Expectations for virtual learning in the fall are much higher. Many school districts will have a set schedule for students to be online for each of their classes. Attendance will be taken, and there will be consequences for missing class. Students will be held accountable for missing or sub-par work. Remote learning will not be the virtual learning environment that schools provided in the spring.
The expectations you set for remote learning in your home are critical to its success. Explain to your children that you expect them to treat remote learning the same way as in-person classes.
Set a Routine
Research as shown that children crave structure. Kids had a daily routine they followed when school was in session pre-COVID: wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, arrive at school and start learning. The routine for remote learning should be similar. Children should expect to wake up at a designated time, get dressed, eat their breakfast, and prepare to do their school work.
If your school does not have a set time for remote learning to begin, I strongly encourage you to establish one for your children. I believe having students get dressed for the day increases the importance of learning at home. You’ve set the expectation that kids will treat remote learning like it was in-person learning. Doing school work in your pajamas devalues the work and flies directly in the face of that expectation.
Setting up the best place for your child to do their school work can be challenging. The kitchen table or somewhere similar can be noisy and filled with distractions depending on who else is working from home. It is convenient, especially when they need help, but it does not lend itself to concentration. I suggest setting each student up in a quiet location, like a spare bedroom. Shut the door, and they’ll have a distraction-free environment where they can focus on the task at hand.
Be aware that your child is working alone in the same, quiet location for long periods. Encourage them to be self-sufficient, but make sure to set a schedule to check on them. Also, make sure to build in small breaks. Teachers refer to these as “brain breaks.” Brain breaks are short, five to 10 minutes, where kids get up and move around. They work to get oxygen flowing to the brain, release stress and re-energize kids. Search YouTube for “brain breaks” and ask your kids to choose one or two each break. Turn the volume up and let them wiggle.
Make an effort to check students’ daily work to see if there are any materials they need for their assignments before starting their day. I’ve spoken with several educators who intend to include a daily materials list for parents at the start of each day. Gathering those supplies and having them ready should make it easier for you and your learners.
Once the school year begins, sit with your student to identify the barriers to their learning. It will be essential to determine their struggles quickly so that they do not become overwhelming. Some students will need social-emotional help, such as an extra hug or pat on the back for a job well done. Others may need additional structures in place to keep them on task. Regardless of the issue, it will be on you to help them overcome it.
One of the best ways to address these barriers is to search online for advice. When I think about my own kids, what works for one seldom works for the others. There isn’t a magic bullet that will solve all your problems, but I bet there is someone who has had a similar situation at home and has shared what worked for them online. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Find different ways to motivate, refocus or support your child and try them out.
Students may need help communicating with their instructors if they do not understand the content. Remember that these students receive much fewer contact hours with their teachers than they did while in the school building. In the past, getting help was as simple as asking a question in the moment, in the hall, or at the end of class.
Be prepared to guide them on receiving support from their instructors in a remote learning environment. Help them seek out the answers. Are there opportunities for one on one instruction? Does the teacher offer office hours? Are there other support systems in place at the school? Older students should advocate for themselves without much intervention, but this can be difficult for younger kids. Some may disagree, but I think there are times when it makes sense for parents to step in and do this for their child. This is one of those times. Be a champion for your child.
These are unprecedented times. Education is going to look different for the foreseeable future. Parents will have tough choices to make. Whatever learning model you choose for your children is your choice. Respect others’ decisions and encourage them to respect yours.
Mike Daugherty is a husband, father of three young children, author, speaker, Google Innovator, and possible Starbucks addict. He is a certified educational technology leader who has served in a variety of roles through his 18-year career in public education. Currently, Mike is the director of technology for the Chagrin Falls Exempted Village School district in Northeast Ohio. His blog, More Than A Tech, offers advice and ideas for parenting in a digital world.