A Remote Learning Survival Guide for Parents
Does anyone else feel COVID whiplash this semester? Just a few weeks ago, our family schedule was starting to resettle and become (somewhat) predictable. But now, canceled activities and remote learning days are back in force.
If, like me and my fellow parent colleagues here at Applerouth, you’re trying to survive this surge while maintaining your sanity, here are some ideas that can help.
1. Location, location, location
Right now, it’s hard to predict how often and for how many days at a time your student might be learning from home. This makes it hard to set up reliable home routines.
One thing that most of us can do quickly and easily is set aside a designated learning location for everyone in the home. This does not mean everyone needs a private office. (If only!)
In my house, my middle schooler learns at one end of the kitchen table and his brother learns at a small folding table in the family room. They both have headphones to avoid distractions from each other and noise around the house.
My kids aren’t home every day but, when they are, they both have a set place to set up shop. Admittedly, I hate the ugly folding table. But it’s back for the time being and I’m willing to live with it if it means our remote learning days get off to an easier start.
Our tutors and coaches know that study spaces really matter. By having a designated location for remote school, we keep the kids learning in a productive space, not slouched in bed or on the couch. We can also have rules for these spaces, like no phones or similar distractions.
Our students’ minds come to associate these designated spots with learning time, and that goes a long way toward keeping them on track in the midst of an unpredictable season.
2. Change up the screen time rules, if you need to
In most cases, remote learning means on-screen learning. Students are spending hours in front of a screen before they even think about playing a video game or texting with friends.
Most parents agree this is a problem. I have yet to talk to a parent who has the solution nailed. But I think that’s, in part, because there is no one-size-fits all solution to this uptick in screen usage.
Dr. Manuel Jimenez, assistant professor of pediatrics and family medicine at Rutgers, recommends that we take our cues from our kids:
[B]e mindful and watchful noticing your child’s signs that they are spending too much time on screens and rethink and assess if you are noticing this behavior.
If your child doesn’t seem to shift their behavior very much and the remote learning is just for a day or two, maybe you let things slide and let them have their game time, even if they’ve already spent hours online at school. It’s not ideal but it’s also not your normal routine.
On the other hand, for a kid who is more sensitive to screens and is showing a noticeable mood shift, parents may have to act more decisively, creating different screen time rules for remote learning days.
Dr. Jimenez highlights the importance of breaks and monitoring the content that students are viewing online. Even if you can’t cut back on the total quantity of screen time, maybe you can build in frequent breaks and start a conversation around the content your student is accessing.
3. Give yourself a small daily gift
I’ll just say it: “self-care” is starting to feel like a dirty word. It’s just one more thing the experts encourage parents to do without considering the reality. When or how are busy parents fitting in things like exercise and meditation?
One secret is to start with a micro-habit. Pick whatever self-care thing you love best and wish you could do regularly — meditation, exercise, reading for pleasure, etc — and commit to doing it in a tiny increment every day. Wish you had time to keep a journal? Promise yourself you’ll spend 5 minute before bed each night writing down one thing from your day. That’s it.
We have a tendency to think that things aren’t worth doing unless we do them all the way. Why exercise if I don’t have time for a full workout?
But doing things all the way requires a lot of time and willpower, whereas micro-habits go below the radar of all the things that get in our way. They make it easier to commit and we can still get a lot of benefits.
Especially at a time like this, when some days are going to feel completely upside down with unexpected changes in schedule and kids learning at home, it can be powerful to have a tiny little habit that’s just for you and unlikely to get skipped no matter what the day brings.
4. Collaborate with your student on a better-for-everyone schedule
When everyone’s at home, it can be easy to let things slide. Students who naturally want to procrastinate will put things off even more without the structure of daily time in school.
I’m all for letting small things go when life gets crazy, but some things lead to bigger problems when they’re not managed proactively. And your students’ remote workload is definitely one of those things.
Nobody wants to spend a Sunday night in tears over an overwhelming amount of work that’s piled up. In addition to the stress this can cause for the whole family, it’s bad for learning.
So you want your student to get their work done in advance and they want to treat remote learning like one never-ending snow day. What’s the best way to resolve this mismatch?
This is the type of problem that’s ripe for what parenting and education expert, Dr. Ross Greene calls collaborative and proactive solutions.
As much as we parents feel like too many things right now are out of our control, our students feel that even more. Using a collaborative approach, we can still create the boundaries and structure we need for the household to function, while giving our students a sense of ownership and control over their work.
It’s not all or nothing — a reasonable solution might entail 30 minutes of progress each night on bigger assignments, while still leaving time for your student to do their chores and catch up with their friends.
With all of these ideas, we’re going for small shifts that will feel manageable for everyone but still lead to meaningful change during this season of uncertainty.
In that spirit, don’t feel like you have to do everything at once. If there’s one idea that stands out, seems to resonate, and feels doable, then start there. And, if you need more support, our Academic Tutors and Executive Function Coaches can help.