As schools debate about returning to online learning, the lack of internet access for many Americans is a big sticking point.
Kids aren’t the only ones dreading another semester of online classes.
Parents have pretty much been struggling with adjusting to the “new normal” of online school during the pandemic era. While you’re on a conference call for work in your dining room, your kids are engaging in a 30-person Zoom session in the next room. Are you prepared for the next few months of chaos? Probably not, but we’re here to help you through round two.
USA TODAY consulted with four homeschooling experts to help parents transform their home into a more ideal classroom environment. What can you buy to optimize your kid’s academic performance? How can you help them through this experience? Scroll through to see what tips and tricks can help you get your remote learning act together for kids of all ages.
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Invest in a new desk
You don’t want your kid taking a class from bed. Prakash Nair, an expert in the design of modern learning spaces, suggests setting up a desk with room for a laptop, writing area and comfortable ergonomic chair. Parents can also help kids decorate their space with their favorite photos and posters.
Start a socially distant study group
Your kid might be missing their 30-person history class now that many in-person courses are online. Try replicating the socialization experience of school by gathering five or six kids from the neighborhood to take their online classes together. They can sit six feet apart outside on the front lawn, or social distance indoors in a large living room. Don’t let them forget their masks.
Jamie Heston, a Homeschool Consultant and Board Member for the Homeschool Association of California, cautions to only attempt this with children who can realistically abide by social distancing guidelines.
Dozens of colleges and universities are canceling in-person classes and doing online classes as coronavirus spreads including Princeton and Harvard.
Take a break from the screen
How do you limit screen time when school is online? Lee Binz, an expert in homeschooling for high school students, says transferring online assignments to paper worksheets is an effective learning strategy.
“Online education is proven ineffective, and frustrating to students and teachers like,” she says. “Have them read real books, and practice math and writing skills on paper and pencil whenever possible.”
Set phone boundaries
Expect your students to turn off their phones and put them in a designated place during school hours. This does not make you a mean, insensitive parent. Giving students respite from their phones is one of the best things you can do to support their ability to focus. Allowing them to check phones during breaks or at lunch is optional.
Keep track of your students’ online schedule
Caregivers should be aware of students’ online schedule, especially to avoid awkward situations like barging into their room to ask if they’re hungry during a lecture.
Nair believes this will help you plan your own activities accordingly. “Don’t turn on the blender to make a smoothie in the middle of their ZOOM lesson!” he says.
Heston adds that organizing a plan at the beginning of each day and coming up with a schedule for who needs quiet time and when is a good strategy.
Buy new back-to-school outfits
Invest in some cute new fall looks to motivate your kid to get out of bed and change out of their pajamas.
“If your kids prefer structure or seems to do better with a morning routine… buying back to school clothing and supplies is for you,” says Heston. She adds that it’s fine if your child wants to wear pajamas for a more easygoing learning environment.
Make a daily snack stash
Or better yet, have kids assemble an approved number and varieties of snacks (fruits, crackers, juice boxes) in their own plastic bag or basket in the morning.
“No more, “Mom, I’m hungry,” all day long,” says says Joanne Calderwood, a columnist for Home School Enrichment Magazine and founder of URtheMOM.com. “Now they get to help themselves to their own snack stash between meals or classes. Learning how to ration snack throughout the day, to last all day is quite the accomplishment.”
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Make room for formal and informal learning
Even though many classes are online, that doesn’t mean that all learning takes place in front of a computer. Encourage your kids to do continue other activities from home that are both educational and relaxing.
“Make sure that children have spaces in the home where they can be comfortable reading a book, talking to a friend or working on a hands-on project,” advises Nair.
Find the perfect study spot
If your student worked from their room last semester, maybe it’s time to switch it up for the fall. Find a spot with a view, such as a balcony or a area next to a window. According to Nair, research shows that students learn better when they study in day-lit areas with nature views and fresh air.
Model a positive attitude
Your attitude will influence those of your children. Calderwood encourages parents to adopt a positive outlook in the morning, even if it seems impossible during these uncertain times.
“We have fresh opportunities daily to model the behaviors we want to see in them,” she says. “We are our children’s first teacher.”
Things might get a little hectic and loud when you’re working in a full house. Heston suggests buying headsets or earbuds to help your student concentrate and tune others out. Need a breather? You can also use the headset to get some peace.
Keep a checklist
The length of a school day can seem unending, and it may help to show the limits of what students need to do during the day. Binz recommends buying a whiteboard to list daily assignments and times on the board, so students can check off each item as they complete it.
Buy a screen divider (if your kid prefers privacy)
Some kids may prefer working in large open spaces, such as a living or dining room. To give your child a bit more privacy during class time, invest in a work station screen.
“Not every household has the luxury of setting aside dedicated rooms for learning. Something as simple as a screen divider within a living or dining space can be the answer,” Nair suggests.
Minimize distracting noise
Take your (cute but sometimes annoyingly loud) dog out for a walk while your student is taking an online exam. One of the most frustrating things for your kid to study from home is the lack of peace and quiet, so replicating serenity could enhance their concentration for important projects or tests.
“Deep learning happens when students are able to get into a state of ‘flow’ which will be impossible with constant interruptions,” Nair explains.
Don’t forget some fun in the sun
Exercise releases chemicals that increase happy feelings and decrease stress. Encourage your kids to relax between or after classes. Calderwood suggests jump roping, hula hooping or scootering.
It’s OK to not be OK
Even after taking these tips into consideration, you may still feel overwhelmed, stressed and confused. It’s OK to mess up during these uncertain times. Heston advises that everyone in the family give each other a lot of grace as we adjust to this new way of educating and life.
Remember to enjoy the moment
While it may feel unfamiliar and strange to adjust to your student working from home, remote learning may be a blessing in disguise. Enjoy learning alongside your children and discovering things you hadn’t before. Reflect on how you are developing a close and loving relationship with your child as you spend more time with them.
“This may be an era you look back on with thanksgiving, as a positive turning point in your relationship with your children,” Binz says.
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