Keeping children engaged during distance learning seems to be the theme for this week. Many of my clients who are parents have expressed their worries about distance learning. Some of the concerns I’ve heard this week include:
- The long terms effects of using electronics for long periods of time every day
- Whether their kids will be able to learn effectively and meet grade-level expectations
- How distance learning will affect their children’s social skills and emotional world
- How will they be able to work AND make sure their children are on-task while online
Parents everywhere are grappling with how to promote student engagement during distance learning.
The first thing to know is this: you are not alone. This fall parents all over the country (and even across the world) are struggling with how to help their kids make the most of their education during distance learning. It’s a normal worry to have. After all, as a parent, you want your child to have the best education possible so they’re well prepared for the future.
Some parents are feeling guilt and shame about distance learning.
Is it any wonder? Most parents have little to no training as educators. They’re not familiar with teaching strategies or principles of behavior management. Others have expressed embarrassment or feelings of inadequacy if they can’t help with assignments because they’re not fluent in English or their own education was limited.
Online communities and resources can provide practical guidance and encouragement for parents seeking to make the most of distance learning.
1. Follow some teachers on Instagram.
You’re already scrolling through your feed. You may as well make the information that’s popping up help you provide a positive distance learning experience for your children. Search #distancelearning and see which accounts align with your child’s grade level. @luckylittlelearners, @aprimarykindoflife, and @thecreativeclassroom are great accounts for K-3. @Lessonswithlaughter @headoverheelsforteaching @hello_fifth can help for grades 4 and 5.
2. Check out the resources and best practices for distance learning on the Florida Department of Education’s website.
3. Check out some teacher’s YouTube channels.
Here are some great options: Cool Cat Teacher TV, Cult of Pedagogy, Pocketful of Primary, and Edutopia.
4. Start a chat group.
Ever hear that a problem shared is problem halved? Yup, connecting with parents from your child’s classroom or school via text message or WhatsApp can provide you with social support. You can crowd-source information or get quick answers about due dates and class/school policies. You can also ask other parents what’s working for them with you’re struggling to help your child with particular topics/assignments. Perhaps another parent has a great tutor in math or trusted babysitter to watch the kids while you’re on a work meeting. Or maybe you can share a few nuggets of wisdom which will be a big help for other parents.
Eight Distance Learning tips from an expert in education and technology
Linda Carling is an Associate Research Scientist at Johns Hopkins University School of Education. She works with the school’s Education Center for Technology in Education, specializes in learning engagement, and she is also the parent of a child with a disability. In April of this year, Carling published a list of useful tips for promoting student engagement during distance learning.
Understand the expectations.
How much engagement does your child’s school and teacher expect? Depending on your child’s age, their teacher’s approach, and local school-board mandates, distance learning might have varying requirements. Student engagement might entail:
- online discussion posts,
- watching pre-recorded videos,
- live virtual meetings, or
- independent assignments to be carried out at home
Make sure you are clear on how much of each type of engagement will be expected, so that you and your family can plan accordingly.
Figure out which types of distance learning activities work best for your child.
Perhaps they fare better when they’re alone in a Zoom session with their teacher and other classmates, or maybe they prefer your presence during individual assignment times. If you know which activities your child can manage independently, and which require extra help or supervision, you can schedule your time appropriately.
Movement is important.
Kids need to engage physically, too. Time outside every day can be a great way to promote their well-being and focus. Unstructured play time in the backyard or a walk/jog around the block with Mom or Dad can break up the monotony of screen time. If you live in a building, you can pack sandwiches and enjoy them together at a nearby park or common area. Or maybe do some light yoga movements on rainy days.
Consider the space where your child will be engaging in their distance learning. Are there toys or video games nearby? Is the family pet distracting? Can they work independently in a separate room? Remember distractions come in many forms, so think about the visual as well as auditory stimuli that your child is receiving while they learn. Noise cancelling earphones are a good alternative if noise can’t be helped.
Be flexible with the schedule.
Maybe your kindergartner was supposed to read or practice letters for 15 minutes, but on a particular day, they couldn’t focus for more than 5 minutes. Save yourself the battle of insisting they do the whole thing in one shot. Just add in the other 10 minutes of the assignment in 5-minute chunks between other tasks they enjoy.
Embrace a checklist.
Having a visual representation of the tasks at hand for the day can be extremely helpful for children, especially if they have attention/concentration problems. Teachers have been using this strategy for decades because children thrive on routine. It helps them feel safe and in control. A daily picture schedule works best for younger kids. If your child is older, use a whiteboard that they can see from their work area which includes a schedule or a to-do list for the day.
Take a break.
It may be time to unplug if your child is showing signs of frustration or disengagement. This can be an opportunity for a movement break or to do something fun (like activities, toys, or games they love the most). The trick to an effective break is that it’s time limited. This is where a kitchen timer or even the one on your phone or the computer comes in handy. It will help your child understand how long they have to rest or relax. It also helps their time-management skills – essential for distance learning.
Catch them when they’re good.
Children are hard-wired to please the grownups in their lives. It helps them feel good about and understand themselves better. Genuine praise focused on effort goes a long way to encouraging a strong sense of self-worth and the behaviors you want to reinforce in kids. Here are some ideas for providing healthy positive praise:
- “Great job completing that assignment on time.”
- “I appreciate that you worked independently while I took that phone call.”
- “I’m impressed by your effort with that project. I know it wasn’t easy for you.”
Practice, support, and patience are the keys to mastering the challenges of distance learning.
Hopefully, you’ve found these suggestions helpful to master the challenges of distance learning. If your child is still struggling with school despite their (and your) best efforts, though, they may be experiencing challenges unrelated to distance learning, like ADHD or a learning disorder. A psychoeducational evaluation can help identify what’s going on and put them back on the path to academic success. Feel free to call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult to learn more about psychoeducational testing.