Here Are 11 Important Ideas For Parents Of Distance Learners

Having been through the experience of working from home this past spring while my children were also home, learning remotely, I can tell you that they are hoping against hope that they’ll be able to return to their friends and escape the same four walls of our house as the official start date of school approaches later this August.  A number of local public school districts have already declared the fall semester a time for more remote learning.  Other districts and many private schools have not yet decided for schooling at a distance, but that outcome seems more likely with each passing day.

At my home, we are fortunate that our kids have shown to do a pretty solid job of staying on top of their learning, and our school has been prepared and active in providing content and support to the students.  I know that not all homes find themselves in the same situation, and we count our blessings.  Even still, there have been plenty of moments of frustration as our kids struggle to grasp a new concept, procrastinate on their homework, or drop the infuriating-when-heard-for-the-21st-time “I’m bored.”  We can certainly identify with the legion memes and YouTube videos depicting parents about ready to tear their hair out.  And now we appear headed for more.  Possibly much more – like the whole fall term.  Or longer.  After an entire summer of cancelled activities and sheltering in place.  On top of last spring’s ten weeks of distance learning.  Ruh-oh.

One of the skills I most admire in others is the ability to take a difficult situation and find the positive.  The ability of turning of a setback into an opportunity all while maintaining a generally optimistic outlook is one that has always impressed me and one I try to emulate.  It made me wonder, how to do that here?  Ready for my optimism brainstorm?  Here goes:

  • It’s been a blessing to be able to step away from the laptop and simply walk into the next room to be with the family.  That new dynamic has created opportunities for togetherness, cooking, eating on the back porch, playing cards, and going for walks on the trails around Folsom Lake after the heat of the day.
  • My wife and I are more aware of what our kids are working on at school and are more present to how they learn (and don’t learn).  I’ve brushed up on my algebra and Shakespeare and learned the patience required to teach multiplication tables to a first-timer.
  • I’ve become adept at navigating and impressed at witnessing the scope and capabilities of the digital tools available to support our kids’ learning.  This is amazing, isn’t it?  I asked my son a while back whether he needed more ink for the printer, and he looked at me with a look that made it clear he couldn’t fathom why I would possibly think he needed to print anything on paper.  I was explaining the concept of chalk boards and clapping erasers to my eight-year daughter and she was looking at me with the most bemused look on her face.  I guess I’m approaching “old.”
  • I have a new respect for the profession of teaching.  Just taking into account the differences in learning styles, abilities, and attitudes of our oldest two and then multiplying that across some 30 kids, I am amazed that teachers are still capable of mustering a smile, much less effectively imparting knowledge to an entire class while maintaining more than a modicum of poise and good cheer.

So, with that, we’re going to try to stay positive with ourselves as we work through a second season of remote learning.  After examining our own experience and doing some sleuthing around the internet, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on making the experience a good one for your family (here comes the dreaded top 10 list):

  1. Stay positive with your kids.  If they detect frustration or negativity from the folks, they are less likely to bring a good attitude to the experience themselves.
  2. Go easy on yourselves as parents/teacher’s aides.  You’re not teachers.  Just do your best.  What more can you ask of yourselves?
  3. Give your kids, and yourselves, a break between subjects.   Anywhere from 10 minutes or more is good for recharging the batteries.
  4. Consider letting your child sleep in later.  Many kids today are sleep-deprived anyway, and older kids especially are shown to have better academic performance, creativity, and mental health with later starts to their school days.
  5. Play to their strengths. Take advantage of the fact that you don’t have to teach anyone but your own child, and tailor remote learning to him/her.  If math is their toughest subject, for example, tackle it early in the day when they’re more likely to be fresh and focused. Save their favorite subjects for later, to give them something they can handle when they’re less energized.
  6. Do what teachers do.   Follow this simple rubric. “I do, we do, you do.”
  7. Figure out what your kids like best about school, and see if you can recreate some of those same features/feelings at home.  Recess is good?  Let’s go to the park and I’ll play with you.  A favorite teacher approaches the subject matter like this?  Let me touch base with him/her and see if I can mimic that tack.   Miss your friends?  How about some Zoom calls or socially distanced play time out of doors?
  8. Be consistent. For all of us, routine and predictability are calming during times of stress. While that doesn’t mean recreating a regular 8-hour school day or that you shouldn’t be flexible in figuring out works for your household, once you’ve got something working, stick with it.
  9. Check in with your child.  I’ve found driving is a great time to ask my kids how they’re doing, so they aren’t force to do the formal look-me-in-the-eye, and they can’t get out of the car. It’s an easy way to do a conversation and see how they are.
  10. Keep your cool.  Whatever you do, try not to lose your patience.  It’s one of the quickest ways to shut down learning and damage the trust with your child.  If the situation is becoming stressful for everyone, walk into another room and take a few deep breaths, or call an impromptu break and try again later.  No one can learn when their brains are flooded with emotions anyway.
  11. If you need it, ask for help.  There are many resources online and through your school to support your child’s learning during this trying time.  Asking your child’s teacher or principal is a good place to start.

It is becoming clear that some things in our daily lives are not going to go back to what they were before this virus came, and the timeline for even partial returns to normalcy will remain fluid and uncertain for a while.  Our children’s school is just one example.  Even so, when our lives eventually return to something more like normal, I wish you changes in all the places you’d like to see change, and a gratifying return to normalcy in all the places you need that as well.  And a positive outlook throughout.

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