With the likelihood that many students will have at least some distance learning this school year, parents need to prepare for how to best support their children’s learning at home. Christine Elgersma is senior editor, social media and learning resources for San Francisco-based Common Sense Media. She is also a former teacher and mom of a 10-year-old. She offers the following advice to help parents set their children up for success.
• Have a dedicated school space. Even a portable crate or box can work as a desk space if you don’t have a separate area for your child to work. “Let them have a pencil case or something that signals `this is my desk for the moment,’ ” Elgersma says.
• Create a routine. Have your child get up and get ready, just as they would for a regular school day. Use a planner or calendar, with pictures for pre-readers, “so they know what’s coming next. Kids love to take charge of that, too. That helps give kids a sense of routine,” she says.
• Set an expectation for when kids will be working, what work needs to be done, acceptable online behavior and more. “We were all thrown into it initially and didn’t have time to think it through – how we were going to work while kids were doing their online work or packets. … We have the advantage this time of setting those expectations first,” she says.
• Stay close by or check in. “Focus is really difficult, especially for kids with learning and attention issues,” Elgersma says. “Knowing a parent is nearby can change the dynamic.”
• Remove other distractions, such as devices like phones, that are not needed for schoolwork.
• Take breaks. Find ways to take breaks for lunch and recess that allow kids to move or get outside. “It’s too much to be staring at a screen or looking at a packet all day,” she says.
• Make it a game. Especially for younger kids, games and role-playing can be more effective than lots of directives. If you need time to complete a task, Elgersma suggests asking your child to act as your “colleague” and remind you if you get distracted, with the reward of taking a break together when you complete your work.
• Display or discuss their work, and look for ways to build on their interests if assigned work seems rote. “If we frame it in an exciting, positive way, that can make a huge difference,” she says.
• Consider new rules for screen time. If much of schooling and socializing continues to be online, Elgersma says the old limits may not apply. Recognize the different types of media use, such as socializing over Facetime or Zoom, or being creative with Minecraft or DIY videos. “The quality of content matters more than the time,” she says. “But we do want our kids to move around and have some fresh air. … Striving for balance is a good thing to do.”
• Focus on wellbeing. Elgersma says it’s important to realize how challenging a situation the coronavirus pandemic continues to be, and its impacts on families’ stress levels and mental health. Keeping a sense of humor and cutting yourself some slack are necessary. “That math worksheet is not as important as your relationship with your kid,” she says.
Common Sense Media also provides a wide range of tech resources for parents – such as Understanding Google Classroom and Parental Controls on School-Issued Devices – through Wide Open School, its online educational partnership that provides learning resources, schedules and more. Visit the Learning at Home section of wideopenschool.org.


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