The rapid closure of schools due to the outbreak of COVID-19 took many families by surprise. Suddenly, kids all over the country were being asked to learn from home. Parents became teachers overnight! Online learning is a new experience for most families, and in the new virtual learning environment for the 2020-2021 school year, everything old will be new again. We know it is not easy to convert living rooms into classrooms so here are some tips to prepare your child for online learning at home.
1. Create a learning space for your student.
Does your student already have a special place to do schoolwork? Great! But if you're converting the kitchen table or living room desk to a student workspace, it's important to set up a quiet, clutter-free area for your child. Reducing clutter helps kids focus and your scholar needs a quiet space that allows them to listen to material to lectures, videos, or classroom discussions – and this means turning off the TV. Stock the learning space with all the supplies your student needs, keeping in mind that if the space is a “family space," you'll need a place to pack away all materials after learning time is over. Invest in some plastic tubs or wooden crates or whatever will help keep materials organized and tidy. You can convert just about any space in your home into learning station – just remember to make it conducive to learning.
2. Make a schedule and stick to it.
Finding time for learning requires planning. Look at your family's schedule and figure out the best times for learning. With no school bell to mark kids tardy, what's to stop students from sleeping in? Setting a schedule keeps everyone on track and minimizes the risk of kids missing out on schoolwork.
Here are a few questions to help you and your child come up with a schedule:
Once you decide when your child will learn, identify that time as school time and stick with it.
- Does your child need a lot of help from you to get started? If so, think about when you, another adult, or responsible sibling is available to provide support.
- Do you have a middle- or high school student? If so, late afternoon and early evening might be when they're most awake and ready to learn.
- Are you building time into your child's schedule for exercise and social interaction? Going outside and taking “brain breaks" can help kids focus and get more done. Also, we know that social/emotional engagement is an important aspect of development. Schedule some “recess" in your child's day so they can use their social media apps or a video conferencing to connect with friends.
- Does your family have any “contracts" to help kids follow rules at home? Agreeing on when to watch TV or play video games is important when kids are learning full-time at home.
- Do you have multiple children who need to share a device? You might need to consult your child's school to see if additional devices are available for use at home. If not, you will want to schedule each child's screen time according to class requirements or other considerations.
- Does your student's class have a designated schedule to follow? Whether it's a specific log-on time or a required amount of activity engagement, be certain to consider when making your child's schedule.
3. Reduce distractions.
Our homes have lots of distractions – video games, computer games, social media, TV, toys, pets. Make a list of the things that distract your child. Then, find ways to limit them during learning time. Put the dog in another room to reduce that Rover will come looking for a treat or a snuggle. Social media and online gaming can be tempting for students working in a virtual environment. You may be able to block certain things on your child's device during instructional time. After downloading an assignment, consider turning off the Wi-Fi and/or cellular service to help your child focus on the work.
4. Create a classroom calendar to keep track of assignments.
Setting up a system to keep on top of deadlines will help your child stay organized. Post a calendar and mark it with due dates. Help your child plan backwards from the due dates. Use visual markers to break an assignment down into smaller steps and the specific strategies needed to complete it. You can also use color-coding for tasks. For example, use a red pen for reading and a blue pen for math.
5. Get plenty of exercise.
Research has shown that exercise helps us think better. When we move our bodies, our problem-solving, memory, and attention improve. Physical activity is a natural way to reduce stress and prevent anxiety. Experts say that when we get our heart rate up, it has a positive impact on how we think. Look for family-friendly workouts you can do at home. Identify a time and place for physical activity – it could be in your home, at a nearby park, or in your yard. The best time to exercise might be right before tackling schoolwork. It's also good to take exercise breaks throughout the day.
6. Look for accessibility features to complement the technology in your home and your child's learning style.
Most e-learning environments rely on technology to work. And most devices being use in e-learning environments are equipped with webcams, microphones, and other features. But some learners might do better with headphones. They can block noise and other distractions, as well as keep others in the room from listening to the lessons.
Today's phones, laptops, and other mobile devices have built-in assistive technology. For example, read aloud or text-to-speech can help struggling readers, and speech-to-text can help struggling writers.
On YouTube, you can adjust the settings to slow down the playback speed if your child is having trouble understanding videos. You can also change the settings to show closed captions if it helps your child to read the text while listening to videos. See which features help your child access digital content and select the ones that fit your child's needs and learning preferences.
7. Make contact with your child's teacher.
Online education or learning at home requires family support. To support your child, set up a direct line of communication with your child's teachers. Use email, text, phone calls, or maybe even video conferencing to connect. The SCCPSS Learning Management System, Its Learning, provides built in tools to help parents stay in touch with school administrators. If you're not sure how to do an assignment, don't guess - reach out for help. You may want to establish a regular time to connect with the teacher. You can use this time to talk about challenges your child is facing, review upcoming instruction, and understand expectations. Being proactive is essential to ensure online learning is successful.
8. Look for ways to remove barriers to learning.
If you find your child is experiencing challenges with virtual learning, it's important for you to review the material the school has assigned. Consider a conference with your child's teacher to determine if there are options to help students struggling with online material. Or if your child has trouble writing, ask the teacher if your child can send a video response. Work with your child's teachers to identify and remove any barriers. Remember: If it's a challenge for your child, it's most likely a problem for other kids, too.
Online learning takes a collaborative effort to be effective. Let's face it...no one expected to be in this situation. SCCPSS is committed to working together to achieve the best outcomes for our students.