Did you meet any unicorn parents last spring who said distant learning went well for their kids when schools closed? I didn’t, but I like to think they exist. In our house, we did our best given the circumstances and knew it was important to flatten the curve. For many parents last spring, it probably felt like the end of the school year was the finish line and memories of the one-time schools shut down would simply become part of our kids’ childhood time capsule.
As this school year begins, we’re reluctantly still adding more memories to the COVID capsule. Many parents are homeschooling, helping their kids learn from home via remote learning plans, or in a hybrid of online and in-person instruction either by choice or by their school district’s requirement.
To help parents with their kids learning at home, we went to the experts: teachers. Amy Penna, a public school elementary teacher from Chicago, and mom of two school-age kids, is going to be teaching and helping her own kids with virtual learning come September. She shared what worked for her family in the spring and some tips her team of teachers put together to help their students and families.
Read on for some teacher-approved remote-learning tips.
Let Kids Help Create Their Own Workstation
Amy recommended having a dedicated school spot and getting your kids involved in the process. Just like back-to-school shopping, setting up their homeschool space can feel fun for kids.
“Talk with them about where the best place to have their desk would be. Let them pick out supplies like folders, pencils, a pencil sharpener, a small dry erase board and markers,” she said. “Be sure all their supplies are easily accessible and in a bin that is easy for them to keep organized.”
She shared that her oldest daughter liked working at a table last spring, but her 5-year-old preferred working on the floor. If you are able, lean into their learning preferences to set them up for success.
Know It’s OK to Switch It Up Sometimes
Sometimes the dedicated workspace doesn’t cut it all day. Be flexible if your kids need to move around. Can they do some work with the music of their choosing? Can they do some schoolwork standing up? Can they curl up in a comfy chair for reading? Amy shared an idea for “Fort Fridays” where your kids could build a fort and do schoolwork from inside for a day each week. Get creative and see if you can choose your own special theme together.
Set Up Virtual Study or Lunch Groups
Watching my 7-year-old’s all-class Zoom meetings was a little tough this spring. Each child would only get to participate for a few seconds and my daughter often lost interest before the call was over. On the other hand, the small group calls and one-on-one Zooms with her teacher or friends were great. She talked a lot and one day even carted my phone around the house to play virtual pretend with stuffed animals and even attempted riding a scooter while FaceTiming (don’t recommend).
Amy suggested having students virtual chat with friends and complete assignments together or set up virtual lunch dates with friends. “This can be a great incentive or reward for doing their work,” she said.
Have a Stockpile of Teaching Strategies Ready-to-Go
Amy mentioned her 8-year-old had a daily checklist that she checked off as she worked, but was surprised her 5-year-old did not like her visual schedule. However, her youngest did like using a visual timer for her tasks.
For those of us without years of schooling in elementary education, remember each child is going to learn differently. “When things get tough try one of these strategies,” Amy said. “When that stops working, pick another one!”
- Make your own sticker chart: have kids put on a sticker every time they complete a task.
- Set your own schedule: work for 15-20 minutes, then take a 5-minute break, repeat.
- Divide bigger tasks up into smaller tasks.
- Make a “To Do” list at the beginning of each day.
- Play a thinking game like a crossword puzzle, UNO, or do a maze.
- Create a rewards system. Set 2-3 clear goals. Give points for meeting these goals.
- Use reverse psychology, for example, “Pick one of these activities, but don’t do both because that would surprise me.” (Hint, they want to surprise you.)
Find a Community of Other Remote-Learning Parents
The teachers recommended being patient with your students and yourself during this uncertain time. Finding a group of parents going through the same thing is one way to share resources, learn new tips, and commiserate about the challenges.
I’ve already seen parents in my community banding together in private Facebook groups to support each other, form small tutoring pods, and more. Like so much of parenting, finding a village of support can help so much.
Read More: I Was a Teacher for 10 Years—These Are My Best Tips for Parents Now Trying to Teach Their Kids