Tips to Help Your Child with Distance Learning By Stephanie Frumkin, M.A. Ed. Educational Consultant, Exceptional Educational Solutions
This article is a two-part series where I will offer holistic suggestions to help your child get on track with distance learning school success. In this first part, I will discuss parenting, health and wellness, and learning space.
We are coming up on a year of the pandemic with schools being closed full or part time in many areas of the country. And whether your child is in a hybrid school situation or is full-time online learning, I think most parents would agree that distance learning is difficult!
Many students who usually have little trouble in school are now struggling with a multitude of issues including mental health concerns, poor grades, lack of motivation, and inability to stay focused in class and on assignments. Similarly, students who have learning differences and require additional school supports are often having an even harder time in school than usual. Either way, these difficulties with virtual learning sometimes result in a crisis situation.
Many parents who see their child struggling are considering leaving their public school to homeschool or find another education alternative, seeking mental health treatment, or withdrawing their child from elective or advanced classes. While these options are important for some children to survive during these difficult times, I would like to offer suggestions that I have found to be effective in helping students in the distance learning environment.
Parenting First and foremost, acknowledge that in the pandemic, parenting is just more intense. It just is. Being a student online without sufficient social engagement and lack of in-person contact is just hard. When your child is struggling, it is important to step up your parenting game as much as possible. Students who were once independent, coming home with good grades and having an active social life, can now end up clinically depressed, experiencing panic attacks, or failing school. This situation may be intensified if your child is neurodiverse or has learning challenges.
Suggestions: • Do you best to schedule your work hours around your child’s need for support. • Check in on your child frequently to make sure they are logging in to their online classes. • Sit with them (or nearby) during their difficult classes to help them stay focused. • Stay on top of their assignments with them by keeping an assignment calendar and tracking due dates. • Stay in contact with your child’s school including reaching out to teachers, counselors, and administrators as needed. • Enlist others for support especially when you are not available during school hours. Consider hiring help such as a tutor or nanny, ask family members to assist your child, or “pod” with another family to share education and childcare responsibilities.
Health and Wellness Putting emphasis on wellness in the home is of utmost importance for your child’s success in school and more importantly, their overall happiness and well-being. Again, more hands-on parenting is likely required in this area during this time.
Suggestions: • Ensure your child has regular and healthy meals and snacks, even if that means cutting up fruits and veggies for your teenager when they could easily do it themselves. • Note your child’s food and drink preferences. No one wants to be a short order cook, but consider preparing and buying more of the dishes and food items they enjoy so they will get the protein and nutrients they need to succeed. • Enable an environment allowing for plenty of sleep by setting your expectations of “bedroom time” hours. While parents cannot force their child to sleep, they can put on relaxing music, dim the lights, and ask their child to be in their room without screens at an age-appropriate hour. • If your child takes a medication or supplements, make sure they take them on schedule. This might require watching your child actually take their pills or setting a daily alarm. • Set a time for daily exercise and give your child choices based on their interests. One way is to engage in family exercise together such as going on bike rides or hikes or playing tag in the backyard. • Maintain a routine for homework times. When expectations are set, it is much easier for your child to know what to do when and there will be less conflict in the home. • Schedule break times and opportunities for relaxation. It can’t be work, work, work all the time; having fun is important for recharging. Consider holding family game nights, signing your child up for a high-interest club, or encouraging them to listen to enjoyable music. • Ensure your child engages in “nature therapy” as often as possible. Go with them to listen to the creek, play in the snow, and watch the deer in the woods. The restorative benefits of getting outside can contribute to overall well-being
Learning Space A child’s home learning environment can promote or detract from their success in distance learning. Being physically comfortable and in a distraction-free location with necessary supplies is important.
Suggestions: • Set up a comfortable learning space for your child since students are stationary for long periods of time. Provide tools such an ergonomic chair, a cozy bean bag for breaks, and a well-lit desk. • Ensure the space is accessible for parent check-ins. Consider having your child in a public household space such as the playroom or basement or even next to you if you work from home. If your child is in their bedroom, ask to keep the door open and have the screen facing you so you can spot check to ensure your child is staying focused on their class. • Check your child’s device controls to encourage staying on task and for safety. • Ensure the internet access in your home is stable. There is nothing more frustrating than spotty wifi in class, and a child having connectivity issues may log out and not come back on. • Have easy access to a printer and supplies. Over the weekend, ensure that printer ink cartridges are full, printer paper is stocked, your child’s pencils are sharpened, and that their papers and books are in order. Check nightly that their supplies are organized so they are more ready to engage in school. • Keep virtual school links and a calendar handy. It’s much easier to log on when everything is easy to find. Maintaining a school calendar is important to keep track of homework assignments and due dates. • Provide fidgets if needed. Even though it may seem distracting, some students need something to play with while they engage in their online school to actually stay focused, especially those with attention challenges. There are many commercial fidgets you can buy, or just find a safe, household item.
In conclusion, the three areas that I have discussed: parenting, health and wellness and learning space, are important pieces of the puzzle that can help your child with the difficulty of the virtual school situation. In my next article, I will be providing suggestions in other areas including school advocacy, family time, and socialization. I hope these strategies I have provided are helpful to you as your family navigates the challenges of distance learning.