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Virtual Learning: Remind, Reassure, Reset

The struggle is real for kids right now, regardless of how academically inclined they have felt in past school years. Learning is hard. Full stop. However, virtual learning has its own learning curve in addition to the actual learning going on right now! Is your head spinning yet? Yeah, theirs are, too. Social media is helping to shed light on the issues that virtual learning is causing in homes across the country, with numerous videos demonstrating just how emotionally taxing this “new normal” has become.

However, kids need to know that this isn’t normal. Elementary-aged kids sitting in front of computer screens all day isn’t normal. Missing “school” due to connectivity issues isn’t normal. Clicking a button to virtually raise your hand icon isn’t normal. Having to rejoin class 10+ times each day because of platform glitches isn’t normal. Most importantly, NONE of this is their fault. Yet, utterly frustrated sobbing children are becoming more and more defeated every day. What’s a parent to do? Remind, reassure, and reset.

  • Remind your child that many, many aspects of virtual learning will be inherently beyond their control. These little beings are not tech wizards, and they shouldn’t be made to feel incompetent because of this.
  • Remind your child that error messages, blank downloads, broken links, etc., are not their responsibility as young learners.
  • Remind your child that every other student is also struggling. Their peers may be more comfortable with certain aspects of virtual learning; it may come more naturally to others. However, no one is innately equipped to thrive in this virtual world—it takes time.
  • Remind your child that the teachers are new to this, too. Their teachers would love to be back in the classroom interacting and exploring with them. They, too, are frustrated with the technology and expectations put on them.
  • Reassure your child that it will not always be like this—learning will return to normal. They will rejoin the brick and mortar classrooms and have a greater appreciation for in-person schooling like never before!
  • Reassure them that their teachers are on their side—that they are always rooting for student success and trying to shoulder the technology burdens whenever possible.
  • Reassure children that all of these challenges, while insanely frustrating, are helping them to become resilient. That with each unique difficulty, they’re learning patience, problem solving skills, grit/determination, creativity, and responsibility.
  • Reset the vibe in the room when things get emotional. IT IS OKAY (and necessary) to take a break and step away from the screen! Help your child reset when emotions run high:
    • Close the computer
    • Eat a snack
    • Run around the block
    • Jump on the trampoline (even a mini trampoline inside)
    • Juggle the soccer ball
    • Color in a coloring book
    • Snuggle with the family pet
    • Stretch on the floor
    • Blast some music for an out-of-control dance party—whatever you need to do to encourage a “mindset reset” when the tears start flowing.
  • Reset the negative self-talk. If you hear your child verbally beating herself up over her perceived shortcomings with virtual learning—don’t let it go unnoticed. Help her reset by reminding her of all of her strengths and talents. Tell her explicitly that any new difficulty or misstep does not negate these strengths and prior successes.

Breakout Room Benefits for Teachers Pt. I

This new normal that we are all trying our best to become acquainted with has us dodging curveballs left and right. Teachers are especially frazzled right now. Think about it—seasoned educators have been tasked with completely modifying every known skill set on a dime, with little to no training, all while under the community’s microscope. For a field that tends to attract Type A personalities, all of these hurdles have undoubtedly been overwhelming for professionals who pride themselves on being proactive and prepared.

 

While the move to full-time virtual learning involves a plethora of suggested technology for educators, the sheer amount of platforms and resources can be daunting. One saving grace I’ve found while “Zooming” through the first two weeks of the 2020-2021 school year is the breakout room function during Zoom classes. What is essentially an automatic “small groupinator” at the click of the mouse actually proves to be a life saver for many different reasons. Read on for strategies and methods for utilizing breakout rooms in Zoom.

 

  • Attendance Check: Taking attendance, a seemingly routine daily task, is not so simple anymore. Between the constant Zoom doorbell, the screen sharing, and switching back and forth between countless open tabs, attendance is often the last task a teacher is focused on during class. However, the use of breakout rooms during Zoom meetings makes attendance much more manageable. While groups are meeting, discussing, collaborating, etc., teachers are able to scroll through each group’s participants and check off for attendance on a physical roster. This has been such a time saver, especially since Zoom participants are alphabetized by first name, while our grade books are alphabetized by last name.
  • Student Discourse: Breakout rooms are also beneficial for spurring student discourse. My first week of virtual instruction was beyond painful due to the lack of participation. Virtual learning is awkward for many reasons—it’s new and unfamiliar, students are videotaped, technology glitches occur regularly, it involves a look inside everyone’s personal living spaces…the list goes on and on. However, once I put my students into breakout rooms for discussions, the small group aspect allowed students to share willingly without the pressure of 30+ people staring.
  • Time to Think: The small group aspect also allows students to have some wait time before speaking; they are able to process and gather thoughts without feeling rushed or pressured.
  • Collaboration: Virtual small groups also encourage collaborative efforts. Before entering breakout rooms, I review participant expectations and guidelines so that everyone is on the same page. Group members are responsible for contributing, listening, summarizing, and sharing. Group members are also presented with accountable talk sentence stems to help spur productive discussions.
  • Participation: Sometimes, students are tasked with summarizing their group’s discussion individually as an assignment for participation. This way, teachers can ensure that even the more quiet or reluctant students were able to get something out of their classmates’ discussion groups.
  • Random Grouping: The breakout room feature allows teachers to group randomly or strategically. This means that students have opportunities to work with different peers each time. It also means that teachers can thoughtfully group students based on academic or personal needs.
  • Special Needs: With a special educator or para educator on the Zoom call, teachers can purposefully pair students who might require extra guidance or support with an additional adult in the breakout group.

At-Home with Learning Essentials

With so many unknowns about the upcoming school year, the collective unease is palpable among educators, parents, and students. Will classrooms be safe? Will adequate support services be available with staggered schedules? Will online lessons be effective for all learners?  

For students with specific learning needs, whether it be an IEP or 504 Plan, the decision about schooling in the fall can be even more fraught for parents. What is the right balance between safety and support? How can that balance be attained? What help is out there?   

Learning Essentials has a plan. As families await the decisions of state and local officials regarding the 2020-2021 school year, Learning Essentials is taking a proactive approach to supporting students in the metro DC area. It is called At-Home with Learning Essentials, and it is a new homeschooling program custom designed to teach K-12 students and support their families.  

When the pandemic hit last spring, schools rolled out distance learning plans that did not serve all students equitably. Students with special needs and learning differences were especially affected, which has led many families to consider homeschooling. With this option, however, families face the daunting challenge of selecting an appropriate academic curriculum and designating who will provide instruction, supports, and evaluation from home.   

This is where Learning Essentials comes in!

At-Home with Learning Essentials is a new service in which our certified educators serve as the teachers of record. All of our team members have extensive backgrounds in special education. We can take the guesswork out of homeschooling by providing families with a customized curriculum, live tutoring sessions, special education resources, and guidance with in-home accommodations. 

We are here to guide students and their families through the transition to homeschooling—from withdrawing from their current school to delivering an academic program that meets their needs to reporting their progress to the county. 

With At-Home with Learning Essentials, our certified educators will: 

  •    Develop an individualized homeschool plan for each child  
  •    Maintain and grow current IEP goals  
  •    Customize each child’s curriculum  
  •    Fulfill state learning requirements  
  •    Track and report each child’s progress and milestones  
  •    Support transition back to school on family’s preferred timeline 

With At-Home with Learning Essentials, families are not only securing the service of a dedicated educator to help them implement and track day-to-day learning, but also the collective expertise of a team that specializes in learning differences and is uniquely positioned to offer customized solutions in the home learning environment.  

Learning Essentials does the work so that children may learn, grow and achieve in a safe, secure learning environment—their own homes. Ready to explore an educational program that is tailored to children’s strengths and special needs? Take the first step today by calling Learning Essentials to schedule a learner profile consultation. 

We’ve got you covered 

Whether families decide to take the homeschooling route or continue with their school district’s virtual learning or hybrid plan, Learning Essentials is eager to assist families seeking additional learning support. This fall, Learning Essentials will be offering several different services, with each plan tailored to families’ individual needs.   

Accountability Partner (1-5 hours per week) 

  • Need some consistent support with larger educational goals and at-home supports as children navigate their own homeschool, hybrid or distance learning program? 
  • Whether homeschooling or distance learning, Learning Essentials will offer accountability partnerships to help children manage coursework, plan and organize assignments and meetings, help students connect with their teachers while providing self-advocacy skills, and overall learning management via daily or weekly check-ins. 

Educational Therapist & Academic Coach (1-5 hours per week) 

  • Seeking at-home methodologies and materials to address learning differences and disabilities and build academic competency? Need intervention to help students develop their visual and auditory processing, attention span and memory skills? 
  • Academic coaches work with students to focus on any number of the following skills: time management, memorization strategies, project management using executive functioning skills, test-taking, independent study skills, and strategies for motivation, confidence, and independence. 
  • Educational therapists work with students on intensive interventions designed to resolve learning problems due to dyslexia, non-verbal learning disorder, reading and writing difficulties (dysgraphia), math disabilities (dyscalculia), and ADD/ADHD. 

Special Education Homeschool Provider (20 hours direct/indirect instruction per week) 

  • Ready to embark on a homeschooling, but need comprehensive help with daily lessons, academic supports, progress evaluation, and state reporting?
  • 10 hours per week direct 1:1 instruction with a certified special educator.  
  • Daily, independent activities based on direct instruction. All materials provided. 
  • For students with special needs, we provide comprehensive guidance to parents regarding teaching and learning strategies, IEP/504 accommodations, and instructional best practices for in-home schooling. 
  • If an official IEP does not exist for your child, we will create a specific learning plan to include learning goals and necessary academic supports. 
  • For families who decide to transition back into public or private school, we will help with the transition process and provide input for the IEP goals.  

Whatever children may need in order to reach their full potential as a learner, Learning Essentials is here to provide guidance and support for learners of all ages and ability levels. Our goal is to empower each child to attain success!  

Diversity and Summer Learning

Research finds that diverse environments are greatly beneficial to students for many reasons. Experiencing diversity allows us to expand our worldview by seeing, hearing, and working alongside people from different backgrounds. Everyone we meet has a different story. Therefore, the more people, cultures, lifestyles and differences we encounter, the more enriched our own lives become. Diversity encourages creativity and innovative thinking as well. Because a diverse learning environment promotes others’ perspectives, students become better thinkers and problem solvers simply by collaborating with people from various backgrounds.

 

With schools currently out of session, young learners may not be confronted with diverse experiences. However, there are activities and resources for parents to utilize that encourage children to explore the world outside of themselves. Here are a few ideas of how to incorporate diversity into your summer learning activities.

 

“Read Across America”

Originally created by the National Education Association to encourage literacy while celebrating  the legacy of renowned storyteller Dr. Seuss, Read Across America has morphed into a year-long celebration of enriching young peoples’ lives through literature. The initiative encourages readers to dive into books that introduce characters from all over the country, which enables children to explore American culture in its many forms.

 

There are countless lists of recommended books for any reading level available online, but parents may want to curate their own list to ensure that children are discovering unfamiliar cultures, underrepresented communities, and unsung heroes across the United States.

 

Online Exhibits

Covid-19 has certainly thrown a wrench into many summer plans and activities. Museums, however, have done a wonderful job of creating digital exhibits and online experiences for learners of all ages. One great way to learn about other cultures is by exploring their origins.

 

  • Teens can explore the vast history of WWII and Jewish culture by “touring” the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  • The National Museum of Natural History allows explorers to tour every exhibit, room by room.
  • The National Women’s History Museum provides online exhibitions, as well as oral histories of notable women throughout history.
  • The National Museum of African American History and Culture provides interactive guides and resources for visitors to digitally explore the countless artifacts, historical moments, personal histories, and much, much more.
  • The National Museum of the American Indian also allows visitors to take a look at the true story of Pocohontas, view tribal wear and hundreds of artifacts, listen to firsthand accounts of the Native American experience, and explore plenty of other historical moments before the United States was established.

 

Celebrate the Arts

Exploring and celebrating diverse cultures means experiencing other communities on many different levels—from art, music, dance, to food and more! An easy way to introduce children to other parts of the world is by bringing their traditions into your home. Consider using one night per week to “taste your way” through an unfamiliar part of the world.

 

As a family, you can research traditional ingredients and methods of cooking, learn about the type of clothing children typically wear to school or at home, read up on the various utensils and table settings, and listen to traditional or popular music. Another idea is to have children select a country on a world map and have them be the experts of that country. The best way to test your knowledge of something is by teaching someone else! Help them with the initial exploration by providing guiding questions such as:

 

  • What do children from this area or community do for school lunch?
  • What is a typical “birthday treat” in this city or community?
  • What type of music is played at a family celebration?
  • What produce is native to this area? How do they prepare it?
  • What similarities/differences do you notice between your favorite American foods and their customary cuisine?

 

During this time when physical travel is limited, make it a point to experience the world with your children through reading, research, and new recipes!

 

Keeping it Campy at Home

A recent realization is coming down hard on many families right now as we move into the summer months—cancelled summer camps and other beloved outdoor activities. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many organizations have been forced to postpone or cancel their summer programs and events. Besides deposits, schedule changes, and other logistical obstacles, families are now left to improvise for children who have been left disappointed by these cancelled programs. Despite the fact that camps, at least in the traditional sense, won’t be happening this summer, families do not have to forego all of the activities and traditions. Below are ideas for bringing camp activities and traditions back with an at-home spin!

 

Ask for ideas

Before setting out to plan for summer camp at home, ask your kids about their favorite parts of camp. Which activities do they prefer? How do they typically spend the day? How much adult involvement do they expect? What props, supplies, or materials will they need for their activities? By asking these questions, parents can plan for activities that will truly engage children in a meaningful way. Answers to these questions will also help parents to get an idea of the vibe or type of camp that is most relevant. For instance, a soccer camp is going to be much different from a wilderness-style camp.

 

Provide a schedule

Creating structure will make the at-home camp experience feel more authentic. Since all camps, from sleepaway camps to sports-focused day camps, provide a level of structure and consistency, an outline of activities for the day or week will elevate the in-home camp experience. Parents can sketch out the week’s activities or a daily schedule on a white board or take it to the next step by printing a camp “brochure” for each camper.  Below is a sample idea for a daily camp schedule–with typical camp protocols included:

 

Time  Activity Dress
8:00-8:30

 

*Change into active wear after bfast & apply sunscreen

Breakfast in mess hall (kitchen) *Bunk must be made prior to meal Pajamas
9:00-10:30 Neighborhood scavenger hunt Sneakers; athletic clothes
10:30-11:30 Indoor/Outdoor game time

*Choice of frisbee, cornhole, boardgame, hopscotch/jump rope challenge

Sneakers; athletic clothes
11:30-12:30 Lunch in mess hall (kitchen)

*Must wash hands prior to meal; clean up dishes after meal

12:30-2:30

 

*Reapply sunscreen after quiet time

Quiet time activities

*Choice of craft, baking, screen time, reading, coloring, puzzle, movie

Comfy clothes
2:30-3:30 Water time

*Choice of water balloon toss, sprinkler time, slip n’ slide, pool or water table, squirt gun fight

Swimsuit; towel
3:30-4:00 Snack time Dry clothes
4:00-5:30 Backyard obstacle course Sneakers; athletic clothes
6:00-7:00 Family dinner in mess hall (kitchen) *Must wash hands prior to meal; rotating schedule of campers setting the table Apron for kitchen helper
7:00-7:30

*Apply bug spray

Stack firewood/gather kindling for campfire
7:30-9:00 Campfire s’mores; spooky stories; star gazing Sweatshirts (possibly)

 

Of course, activities and times will vary depending on camper preferences and family schedules, but this sample provides a simple outline for parents to structure their at-home camp. This will require a bit of preparation and planning, but once the plan is in place and materials are gathered, older children (7+ years) could ideally run the activities themselves.

Another option is to share the schedule with other families in the neighborhood so that each house can get in on the fun. This also allows parents to divvy up the work, kind of like a progressive dinner, but with camp activities. An important consideration if hosting for the neighborhood—TRIPLE CHECK with parents about any allergies, food restrictions, medications needed (epi-pen), or health concerns that might impact a camper’s participation in outdoor/physical activities.

Zoom Fatigue Part II

Thanks to quarantining and social distancing, we now have a new term to describe the effects of continuous online interaction. Zoom fatigue, as we discussed in part I of this series, is a very real condition, despite its silly name. With nearly 100% of teaching and learning now occurring primarily on online platforms, such as Zoom, the fatigue associated with these digital conferencing tools has become an important consideration for children, parents, and educators alike.

 

How to combat Zoom fatigue

  • If possible, limit Zoom meetings to 1-2 per day. If parents are finding that their children are attending Zoom meetings consistently throughout the day, it’s time to step in. As a guideline, teachers have been instructed to provide 1-2 hours of “live instruction,” aka Zoom meetings consisting of instructional content, per week. This means that I personally am “live teaching” for two, 30-minute sessions per week. If teachers follow this expectation, students will be spending more time with hands-on, experiential learning as suggested, and less time honed in on a screen or video chat.
  • Parents who notice that Zoom meetings are occurring back-to-back or for prolonged periods of time should reach out directly to teachers and copy administration if necessary.
  • Parents can also suggest that their child only spend as much time as necessary in the Zoom meeting to gain clarity, ask questions, and receive feedback.
  • Similarly, teachers should set the expectation that Zoom participation, while strongly encouraged, is not required for the entire session. This means that students should feel comfortable signing in and logging out as they please.
  • A good suggestion for teachers to make every so often during a Zoom meeting is to remind students that, if they don’t have any questions about the assignment or content being discussed, they shouldn’t feel as though they have to stay in the Zoom meeting. Keeping things fluid allows students to advocate for their needs, while ensuring that time on digital platforms is minimized when possible.
  • To spur engagement during Zoom instruction, teachers should suggest that students take free-flowing, unstructured notes while the teacher is reviewing material or answering questions. These notes, in the form of free writing, have several benefits:
    • Note-taking ensures that students are actively listening and grasping important concepts.
    • Note-taking also helps solidify important information into memory.
    • Students are able to hold themselves accountable with their notes; if the page is bare, they know that they weren’t paying attention.
    • Jotting down rough thoughts or questions during an instructional session allows students to keep track of questions that they want to ask or concepts that require more clarity.

Teachers and tutors can also encourage engagement by enlisting an old classroom technique—random calling. Just as we would in the classroom, teachers can reach out for student comments and responses throughout the session to keep students on their toes and to check for understanding. Teachers should be sure to provide wait time for student answers and then open the question up to the group if a student falls silent. The point of random calling is to get and hold students’ attention, not to embarrass anyone or put them on the spot with a tricky question.

Zoom Fatigue

Distance learning is now the norm, at least for the remainder of this school year and for summer school. Now that many students, teachers, and communities have somewhat adapted to this “new normal,” we find ourselves engaging with screens and virtual platforms much more than we would have ever anticipated. Cue the new symptom or side effect of our post-pandemic circumstances—Zoom fatigue.

 

How is this real?

While it may sound melodramatic, this new form of lethargy can be scientifically explained. Zoom fatigue, as experts are calling it, happens when our day-to-day communications, whether they be for work, learning, or leisure, exist primarily in front of a screen and/or camera. These extended conversations and engagements on screen may seem like a passive form of communication. However, video chats, no matter what the purpose, involve much more than simply sitting in front of the screen.

 

What causes the fatigue?

Believe it or not, the “face time” can become exhausting. Consider this: In normal social settings and conversations, we do not maintain 100% front-facing, continuous eye contact. As social beings, even when attending a lecture or work conference, we have a tendency to glance around, examine the surroundings, check in and out of the speaker’s presence, whisper to our neighbor for clarification, take notes, etc. We are actively engaged and listening attentively, even when our gaze is elsewhere.

 

However, with Zoom and other video conferencing platforms, the camera holds our gaze captive. Participants, with a desire to appear 100% engaged, overcompensate while on camera. Am I sitting up straight? Was that a joke? Should I be laughing? Can people see my half-eaten lunch? Are my kids screaming in the background? 

 

Furthermore, since we are able to see ourselves during these calls, we become acutely aware of where we are looking, how we are looking, and how others are seeing us. It becomes a very inorganic way of communicating that consumes us with this idea that we are broadcasting ourselves in some sense. It is no different for students, either.

 

In addition to the overwhelming sense of engagement that kids might feel compelled to present, Zoom fatigue is also caused by the multi-tasking nature that the platform affords. While semi-focusing on the teacher’s explanation or instructions, students are likely scrolling through email, responding to texts, chatting in the Zoom chat, eating a snack, and/or listening to the television in the background. This level of stimuli makes it nearly impossible for kids to be active listeners. They may be sitting in the camera frame, but their minds are elsewhere. This is especially the case when Zoom meetings run long or when students sit through multiple Zoom calls throughout the day.

Because of the tendency for students and teachers to experience Zoom fatigue while attempting instruction and learning, its use requires a bit of strategizing in order to ensure full engagement. So what are we to do? Check out part II, where we will discuss strategies for warding off Zoom fatigue. We will also provide instructors and tutors with tips for checking for and maintaining engagement throughout classes and tutoring sessions.

Self-care for Children

There has been a great deal of talk about the importance of self-care. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a great deal of stress, worry, and unease for all of us. What we don’t hear enough about, however, is how crucial self-care can be for children’s well-being. During this time that adults need to preserve their own mental health and well-being, they must also tend to their children who require the same, if not more, self-care. Like general hygiene routines, children must be instructed on how to take care of themselves—this includes emotional care, too!

 

Youngsters may initially find it difficult to actually place their feelings into a category. This is especially true in the heat of the moment. Instead of clearly articulating their feelings, kids may just lash out, cry, or shut down. When this happens, parents typically scurry to diffuse the situation quickly—rightfully so—rather than attempting an in-depth conversation about recognizing feelings before they erupt. Yet there are proactive measures that can be taken. To ease future emotional moments, try the following:

 

  • Parents can help little ones recognize and verbalize their feelings by explaining the difference between a situation that might make one angry versus scared or upset.
  • Use scenarios that relate to your child’s age and interests and speak about these experiences hypothetically. Use the word “pretend” as your term to signify each scenario as strictly practice for identifying future feelings/emotions.
  • For children that have specific social needs, visuals are helpful when teaching and discussing abstract concepts such as frustration, loneliness, etc. Consider using cartoons or emojis to help children visualize and conceptualize scenarios with particular emotions and facial expressions.
  • Parents can also encourage kids to clarify the level of emotion that they are experiencing with a rating scale of some sort. For instance, a “1” would indicate a mild level of joy, anger, sorrow, etc., while a “5” would signify an extreme level of feelings.
  • As kids get older, parents can encourage more advanced forms of expression, such as journaling, drawing, painting, photography, meditating, etc.
  • For many kids, expressing and expelling pent up emotions comes with physical activities. When children are struggling with stress, frustration, anger, etc., parents can prompt activities such as jogging, roller blading, juggling a soccer ball, kickboxing, dancing, golf, and any other sport or physical activity to release energy, center one’s focus, and mediate aggression.

 

In addition to recognizing emotional triggers, part of self-care involves removal from situations that could be emotionally toxic. Like all social-emotional skills, this comes with practice. For children, it can be especially difficult to speak up and advocate for themselves when they need a break or a breather, but this can be greatly beneficial for mental health and well-being.

 

Therefore, in addition to recognizing one’s feelings, parents will want to encourage children to speak up when they are reaching the emotional threshold. Strategies could include:

 

  • Asking teachers or other adults for a “brain break” when frustration hits. This could be as simple as taking a short walk in the hallway or getting a sip of water to cool down.
  • Creating a hand signal or code word for children who are hesitant to voice their feelings. When kids say this word or give the specific signal, parents know then that he/she needs a moment to himself.
  • Explaining to children that everyone, no matter how social or friendly they are, needs a break from the crowd sometimes. Make them feel comfortable taking that time for themselves to calm down, collect their thoughts, or just be alone for a moment.
  • Similarly, in times of stress, children can find comfort in positive self-talk. But again, this is a learned practice—parents will want to model positive self-talk to demonstrate how it works. If a child is feeling anxious about a competition or test, practice soothing self-talk strategies to boost confidence and lower anxiety. Silent mantras such as, “You will do your best!” “You worked really hard for this!” “Everyone is already proud of your accomplishments!” go a long way when pepping children up.

Distance Learning with Multiple Children at Home

Distance learning is tedious enough. Between the emails, Zoom meetings, various portals teachers utilize, and workloads from each class, juggling at-home learning during this new “virtual school day” can be a tall order. Even more difficult, though, is this juggling act when there is more than one school-aged child in the home. How can parents possibly manage distance learning for two or more kids? Obviously, this is new territory for everyone. To ease the stress and confusion, we’ve compiled suggestions and strategies to assist families who are learning at home with multiple school-aged children.

 

Designated work areas

One major hurdle when it comes to remote teaching and learning is organization. It should come as no shock that organizing a learning space is paramount to ensuring continuity of learning now that the usual classroom routines and structures have been thrown out the window. Students need to have a designated quiet place to focus, read, correspond, and create. While this seems obvious, many families are struggling to get children to focus on their remote classwork simply because the environment is not conducive for concentration. While the kitchen counter or a child’s bedroom may have previously been the homework area of choice, times have certainly changed—we’re no longer talking about rushed homework tasks in between soccer practice and dinner time.

 

If teachers and parents expect children to sit and focus for an extended amount of time, they need to provide a comfortable space, free of distractions. When siblings are working in close proximity, distractions are bound to emerge. Therefore, it is important that each child has his or her own private work space, equipped with comfortable seating, a laptop or other device, necessary school materials, and some form of desk or surface on which to work. If space is an issue, parents should consider lap desks as an alternative to bulky furniture desks.

 

Headphones 

Headphones are a true lifesaver when it comes to remote learning. Since many teachers are utilizing Zoom calls and other video tools to conduct teaching and learning, students would benefit from noise-cancelling headphones that allow them to focus solely on the instruction. Headphones also spare other house members the headache of trying to block out the instructional videos and video chats.

 

Individual check-in times

Many parents are finding that, on top of their own jobs working from home, they have now suddenly become homeschool teachers of multiple grades levels and content areas—as if everyone doesn’t have enough to deal with right now! To avoid being stretched too thin, parents should consider designating certain time(s) of the day for each child to check-in, seek help, review work, etc. Limit this form of “parental assistance” to a half hour per child if possible. If parents find that a child needs more support, they should communicate with the school and specific teachers about classes and assignments that are becoming unmanageable. To stick to the 30-minute check-in period, children should be encouraged to jot down their necessary questions ahead of time and be prepared to articulate where and how they need assistance. Set a timer so that children know that they are “on the clock” for only a specific amount of time. Whatever questions or issues that they are still having after check-in time has expired should be directed to their teacher.

 

Coordinate brain breaks and snack times

With multiple kids in the house, coordination is key to productive distance learning. Depending on each child’s age and learning needs, siblings may need more or less time for movement, screen-free learning, “brain breaks,” etc. As much as possible, try to establish universal times throughout the day when children break from learning to keep motivation, focus, and energy levels up and running.

 

It is important to move, converse, socialize, play, and create throughout the day to interrupt the monotony of virtual learning; however, if one child is playing outside while the other is concentrating on school work, parents may want to rethink the learning schedule. Allowing simultaneous break times ensures that kids aren’t being distracted by siblings during work sessions. There is no jealousy or “unfairness” factor if siblings are getting a break at the same time. Be consistent with breaks as much as possible; use a timer if necessary to set limits for learning versus playing.

The Juggling Act: Executive Functioning Help

One of the more common stressors that parents and students are experiencing with the new distance learning initiatives involves organization. Since students are no longer getting daily, face-to-face instruction, and academic and behavioral supports are likely inconsistent, many executive functioning skills that students would typically acquire and practice in school have been left by the wayside. To add insult to injury, at-home learning, as we’ve begun to realize, requires a great deal of time management, organization, flexibility, task initiation, prioritizing, and self-monitoring on behalf of the student. It is as though we have suddenly removed the training wheels and encouraged students to try mountain biking!

With rotating schedules, office hours, Zoom meetings, email check-ins, daily assignments, and weekly tasks for each subject area, not to mention that these are posted to various online platforms, it is no wonder that parents and students are feeling the stress of juggling so many components. There are strategies, however, that parents and children can begin to employ to help ease the stress and flex their executive functioning muscles!

 

  • Write out a clear, color-coded weekly schedule and post it where all members of the household can view it. Below is a sample for what an elementary or middle school weekly schedule might look like:

 

Monday/Wed AM
  • Review all course announcements, posts, updates (15 mins)
  • Write due dates for each subject area in agenda book (10 mins)
  • Daily reading assignment (20 mins)
PM
  • Zoom/office hours for English & Math (50 mins)
  • Independent work time (60 mins)
  • Review HW and email questions to yourself to ask during next office hours (30 mins)
Tuesday/Thurs AM
  • Check email (10 mins)
  • Daily reading assignment (20 mins)
  • Independent work time (60 mins; use agenda to prioritize)
PM
  • Zoom/office hours for Science & History (50 mins)
  • Check agenda for upcoming HW/tasks (10 mins)
  • Independent work time (30 mins)
  • Art, music, language, leisure activity (30 mins)

 

Friday AM
  • Review completed work; submit anything due (15 mins)
  • Daily reading assignment (20 mins)
  • Check email (10 mins)
PM
  • Zoom with study buddy (30 mins)
  • Independent work time (60 mins)
  • Organize materials for next week (20 mins)

 

  • To help with the initial creation of the schedule, parents should reach out to teachers about the approximate time that their child should be working on the course content per day. Of course, this will vary from time to time; however, the key to building a routine is to set the expectations and stick to them. This includes expected timelines for working during the day.
  • If parents believe that their child is spending too much time in front of a screen or is struggling to complete work in a reasonable amount of time, they should reach out to the content teacher.
  • Another important detail that parents and students will find helpful is to jot down where each course will be posting their updates and materials. Since some teachers are using Canvas or MyMCPS, while others are using Google Classroom or Padlet, simply finding the work can become a task in itself. To stay sane, keep a running post-it note inside the child’s agenda book or on the back of the weekly schedule. On the post-it should be each teacher’s name, course, preferred platform for instruction, and email address.
  • In addition to the post-it cheat sheet for finding materials, parents can help ease transition times between activities by bookmarking crucial websites with their kids.
  • To help with time management and prioritizing work, at the start of each week parents should encourage children to consider which tasks will be most difficult and/or time consuming. This allows students to begin to see how prior planning can help alleviate unnecessary stress from procrastination or task-avoidance.
  • By writing tasks and due dates in an agenda book, students are enacting executive functioning skills on several different levels. First, the act of writing out each assignment helps to solidify the information into one’s working memory. Secondly, the visual schedule of due dates helps students anticipate priorities and plan appropriately. Finally, when finished with a task, students should check off or cross out the completed assignment. This becomes a satisfying method for self-monitoring one’s progress throughout the week.