The 2019-2020 school year ended on a bittersweet note. Schools tried their best to move to distance learning with very short notice. Some were successful at it and others struggled. And that is talking just about how classes were moved online, the kids on the other hand… now that was a real mess for too many. And while that too was a mixed experience, most of the parents I shared with were extremely frustrated with distance learning.
I got a chance back in May to volunteer at a work event where we made face shields to be donated to workers on the front lines. It was a rewarding experience making me feel like I was helping those who were putting themselves at a greater risk to keep the rest of us safe. It was a small group of about 8 volunteers so we could keep safety guidelines that included stations 6 feet apart. I joined the event 3 times, and the common social questions were: how do you remain sane during SIP and how are your kids doing with distance learning? The second one had all the feelings flared!
The experiences shared were so diverse, and there was so much to account for; private vs. public school, grade, teacher style. Parents with kids in private schools said they had so much homework that they couldn’t even finish it within the “school day” hours. There were parents with kids in elementary schools who had opposite experiences even with kids in the same grade; some having too much work and others having too little. The same thing was for parent with kids in high school. Some frustrated with little help and others with tons of extra time for their teens. How can we fix it?
Sadly, there isn’t really a one size fits all answer for this. As is, schools often fail to consider individual needs when it comes to learning. The fact is that we all learn in different ways and we all have different strengths even when it comes to school subjects. I took online classes in college and I can tell you online learning isn’t for all. It requires a lot organization and commitment. Some people rely on in-person classes because otherwise they get too distracted to learn. And I am talking college level here when, as adults, we have better control of our focus. Imagine what is like for a 2nd grader to try to learn through Google classroom. It might be too much to ask.
Some kids are fine sitting in front of a screen, attentively listen to a teacher, without being distracted by others in the meeting or the environment they are joining the meeting from. But that is not the case for all. My daughter, 2nd grader last year, was so excited to see her classmates during class meetings because she missed them so much. And some of the classmates had a younger sibling around or a pet or were making funny faces… so you can imagine how challenging it must be to actually learn something even with the best teacher’s effort. Not easy! So how can we help our kids be successful for what is now the new form of learning? I am no expert in the matter but I have some suggestions for you:
Get materials ready. If you don’t have a dedicated computer at home, most schools are offering chromebooks for kids to use for distance learning (this is a loaner FYI, not a gift). Some districts are even offering a mobile hotspot if you don’t have internet at home for your kids to be able to connect. In our district we also picked up textbooks and other materials that were needed.
Create a dedicated studying space. While this might be a challenge for some, it would be great if you have a designated space for your kids to study. Preferably a place without a TV; I know many who like to have it on in the “background” which is really just a distraction. I have a desk I use for my home office but is too small to share with my kiddos, so we will be doing learning from our dining room table again. I trust we can make this work and I definitely don’t want them studying in their rooms that is filled with distractions. I am also able to keep my 3-year-old away from the studying zone during school hours and I also don’t allow our dog to chill with them. ANY distraction must go because kids get distracted so easily.
Have a schedule and stick to it. Our school district created a master schedule which has 5 minutes breaks in between periods for the kids to be able to log off one meeting and gather their materials to head into the next. Almost of their classes have a “live” portion to it, so they are expected to do their work within regular school hours live with their classmates. Last year we had a relaxed scheduled. They were given a list of things to complete with suggested time to finish each, but often times the kids were done before the allotted time. That was no bueno. Since the school is better structured this time, we are back to a “school schedule” with kids going to bed early, waking up early, getting ready and eating breakfast before their first check-in meeting. I am also not allowing them to have snacks during classes except during the scheduled breaks. The first days you might find that you will need to adjust some timings but once you find the schedule that works for your family and you stick to it, things will be so much easier.
Add incentives. My job requires me to sit in front of a computer my entire work day. I personally hate it! As much as I love to share in my blog, I can’t stand to be on a computer a whole lot more after I am done with work which is why my posts are so far apart these days. So imagine what is like for little ones who also don’t enjoy online learning. It is hard to make it through their learning day. My work incentive is an income that allows me to provide for my family. Their incentive is learning but is hard to see the value of it when you are a kid. So offer incentives for doing their school work. This could be so many things like a special dessert after lunch, a trip to the park in the afternoon, a few more minutes of gaming time, money towards their piggy bank for good grades. I personally think incentives are great for kids as long as the incentive itself is not something that will have a negative effect in your child’s life. For instance, I wouldn’t offer candy as an incentive to my kids.
Patience, patience and more patience! This is a learning experience for ALL of us. School districts, teachers, and home situations all play a role in the success of online learning. We are all navigating through it at the same time. So be patient with the amount of communications schools are sending out. Be patient with the amount of communications teachers are sending out. Be patient with technical difficulties during distance learning. Be patient with your kids as they adapt to a new form of learning. Practice self-control and keep your cool because this is a learning experience for you too.
These are just some suggestions for you that are working for us. Every case is different, and I truly wish you find the right balance for you and your family. I look forward to the day our kids can safely return to school! I know we all do. In the meantime, let’s do all we can to make distance learning work for us and our kids. And let’s show respect and appreciation for all the teachers out there who are trying to make this best experience ever!
Mama Bear Kim