10 Tips For Navigating Virtual Learning as a Parent
If you are a parent with school-aged kids, virtual learning has become a term you are very very familiar with. In Spring 2020, the pandemic shook up all our lives in countless ways, leading most schools to close their doors for the rest of the school year and embrace this thing called “virtual learning” or “distance learning”.
Parents all of a sudden found themselves teaching their children and managing their school work on a much more involved level. They became gym teachers, lunch supervisors, reading buddies, science teachers, and math instructors, even when the lesson material was beyond their knowledge!
As a new school year began in the fall, most people were hopeful for a school year of in-person learning, or at least a hybrid of both in person and virtual. As the school year continues, however, we have seen a multitude of learning models and schedules as school districts do their best to navigate the ever changing dynamic of this pandemic.
The truth is, even after the pandemic has passed, distance learning will likely continue to be utilized by many schools in a number of ways. For example, Minneapolis schools announced this past year that there will no longer have snow days. Instead, students will simply do their learning online.
Parents, we know this has not been easy for you. To take on this new role of teacher, while still managing and juggling your own job and responsibilities which is also changing by the second, has been challenging to say the least. Before we move on, can we just say to any parent reading this:
You are doing a great job! Keep it up! Your child is so lucky to have you as their parent!
Still, even as you’re doing everything you can to support your child, you probably wouldn’t mind a little help in setting your family up for a successful virtual learning experience. We have pooled together some of the best tips from parents who have homeschooled or overseen distance learning for years to do just that.
Keeping up with the ever changing school formats is tough enough, follow these tips to help set your family up for success through virtual learning.
1. Set Goals and Expectations
Managing your goals and expectations will be the first step in managing your virtual learning day. The most important part of this is to be realistic.
These goals and expectations should be age appropriate and clearly communicated to your child as well. Be sure these goals are realistic for everything your family has going on as well. If you are working while helping your child with virtual learning, take that into account when setting expectations for yourself as a parent.
2. Designate a Learning Space
When your children are used to going to school in person, it can be really tricky for them to do school at home where they are used to being relaxed, hanging out, and having fun.
When your kids go to school, their brains are triggered to flip into “school mode.” When trying to do school at home, they miss this cue, and it can be hard for them to focus on school work with the distractions of home all around them.
Creating a designated school space within your home will help your kids get into that “school mode” a little easier.
If you have a separate space or room that you can turn into a school zone, that is great! Otherwise, if you need to set up at the dining room table each day, that is okay too.
The key is to also have a firm way to transition out of school mode when the day is done. Whether that is closing the door to the school room or clearing off the dining room table until tomorrow. This can feel like an extra step, but it is important for both you and your kids to have distinction between work and play and school and family life.
3. Create a Schedule
Having a daily plan or schedule will help you manage the expectations and goals you set above. We suggest involving your children in doing this. Children tend to feel more secure when they know what to expect. This could help motivate them throughout their school day.
Creating a schedule can include filling out a calendar with their class zoom calls for that week or making a to-do list with items they can check off as they are completed.
4. Stay in Communication With Teachers
One thing 2020 has taught us is how much teachers do! They are some of the greatest heroes within our society, and they can be a great resource to you when doing virtual learning.
For the most part, when participating in virtual learning, you will be executing your teacher’s lesson plan. So don’t be afraid to ask questions when helping your child complete their assignments.
Many parents have found themselves having to teach math lessons they haven’t seen since the 6th grade with new techniques that are completely foreign to them. If this is you, no shame! These things are constantly changing, which is why your teacher will be your greatest resource.
Take advantage of any office hours your kid’s teacher holds to get advice or tips for helping teach their lesson plan. Virtual learning really is a partnership between parents and teachers, embrace that partnership, it will make this process easier for you, your child, and their teacher!
5. Give opportunity for Creativity and Exercise
Though it may not be in the lesson plan, take advantage of down time to step away from the screen and facilitate some of the other subjects your child may be missing right now. Music, art, and gym classes are all ways you can give your child a little screen break and promote a creative outlet.
Gym class can be as simple as sending them outside to play or creating an obstacle course out of couch cushions.
Art projects can look like making holidays cards for loved ones or drawing pictures for their school space at home.
Music class can be a dance break in the kitchen. You can even take this time to enroll in classes to learn an instrument.
6. Set Safety Limits on Electronics
Like we just said, taking frequent breaks from looking at a screen can be really important, even for you as a parent. It is more than likely that in 2020, your children’s use of digital devices skyrocketed. So setting clear guidelines for use and safety is key.
Safehome.org published an article all about keeping our kids safe in a connected world. Some of the most important points are included below.
Block Sites: To prevent your child from stumbling upon inappropriate content or unsafe websites, look into using tools like google safe search. It can also be a good idea to block websites that may be time wasters or distracting during school hours, such as social websites or games.
Parental Access: As the parent, you should have access to see anything your child is doing on the internet, especially young children. Keep an eye on who they are interacting with. The goal is to teach safe internet practices so as your kids get older they can self regulate their internet use without close supervision.
Clear Boundaries: Set clear household rules around internet and digital device use. When can they be used, for how long, and what can they be used for?
7. Make it Fun!
One of the things that makes teachers as valuable as they are is their ability to bring FUN into your children’s day of learning. We know sometimes as parents it can be easy to get bogged down by the daily tasks and hustle of life that we forget to take time to have fun!
Be intentional with saving time for fun. One great way to do this is adding a reward system for school work. As assignments and school days are completed create a system of reward to help motivate your children.
Rewards can be as simple as a toy from the dollar store or getting to choose what’s for dinner. One of the best rewards you can give your kids, however, is your time. Come up with fun family activities that can act as a reward for completed school work. This could be baking cookies together, having a pizza party, or going for a family bike ride to the park!
8. Include Life Skills
One of the greatest challenges for parents has been balancing virtual learning on top of all the other daily tasks and chores already on their plate. Why not invite your children into the daily life skills you use each day?
We have all had moments in adulthood where we have thought “I wish I would have learned that in school”. Why not take this time of being home together to be intentional with teaching your children life skills they won’t learn at school.
It can be as simple as helping cook dinner, planning the grocery list, or doing laundry. For older kids, you could even bring them in on what it looks like to plan a family budget or manage a bank account.
Learning these skills early on in life will be invaluable to your children as adults and maybe give you some extra helping hands around the house!
9. Ask for Help And Support
If there is one thing we have learned about virtual learning, it’s that you can’t do it without help and support. Aside from utilizing your child’s teacher as an excellent resource, we encourage you to find other avenues of support.
If you are able, maybe hiring a babysitter or tutor would help you manage both you and your children getting designated time to work.
We know hiring help isn’t an option for a lot of people, but there are many ways to get creative with giving yourself a break. If you know other families in the neighborhood who are virtual learning, you could take turns being the “teacher” once a week for each other. Not only does this give you as the parent a much needed break but it’s a great opportunity for socialization for your child.
Online support groups are another excellent option. There are so many parents who are in the same boat as you right now. Why not connect online to share experiences, best practices, and maybe even vent about your struggles alongside others.
10. Give Yourself Grace
Lastly, but certainly not least, be sure to give yourself and your child an abundant amount of grace. Nothing about the ever changing learning environments and techniques are normal right now. Not for you and not for your child.
Parents around the world are worried their children will be falling behind in school, but the good news is, kids are incredibly resilient. Your support as a parent through these ever changing times is more important to their success than anything else.
Some days you will get off track, some days your child may not complete every assignment, and that’s okay. Move forward knowing you are doing the best you can. This season will pass, and someday you will look back with fond memories of the extra time you got to spend with your child.
Many parents and students are looking forward to the day where children can go back to school fulltime in environments created to foster creativity, learning with professionals trained to teach little minds. At the moment, it’s hard to say when that will happen or how it might change moving forward. All we can do for now is continue to do the best we can to master virtual learning in our own homes.
Maybe the title of “teacher” is one you never dreamed of having. We applaud you for showing up each day and making the most of your constantly changing situation. We hope that by implementing even a few of these tips, it will bring you and your family more success with virtual learning while adding some peace and fun within your home!
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