10 Tips for Learning at Home During COVID
By Elizabeth McBride
Read Time: 10 Minutes
Heading back to school in the fall usually involves getting backpacks and lunchboxes ready, shopping for school supplies, and visiting your child's school for a school kickoff or to meet the teacher. But for many parents, going back to school this year may have looked and felt completely different because of the pandemic. This fall, your dining room table may double as a classroom and your child's teacher may be a video call away. Learning at home is a new experience for everyone, but even with all the uncertainty there are things you can do to get ready and to plan ahead for a good online learning experience.
1. Set up your space for virtual learning success.
- Designate one or two areas for learning at home. A kitchen or dining room table is a good option. If possible, have your child do their work somewhere other than her (or his) bed.
- Think outside of the box... or the house. If weather permits, consider using outside spaces for studying.
- If multiple people use a common area, have everyone use headphones. Over-the-ear, noise canceling headphones are best if you have them.
- Put your child's school materials in a basket or bin when she's not doing school work. This provides a clear boundary between school and home and gives her a break during non-school hours.
- Create a charging station where devices get plugged in each night. This doesn't require any special equipment other than a plug bar or extension cord with extra outlets. To keep your child safe and help her sleep better, avoid keeping computers, phones, and tablets in her bedroom overnight.
- Post a schedule near your child's workspace with video call times, logins, and passwords. It may be helpful to have a digital version of this schedule for easy access. Teach your child to check the schedule each day. Set an alarm if your child is in elementary school to help her (and you) remember times for virtual sessions or calls. Teach middle- and high-school-age children to set their own reminders. This is a teachable moment: for younger children can learn about telling time and older children can practice time management skills.
In addition to pencils and paper, your child should bring a positive attitude to her virtual classroom each day. With all the change and uncertainty, it's easy to find things to be sad or upset about. Finding something positive to focus on each day will help your child have a better virtual learning experience.
2. Create a flexible structure to your day.
- You child's school may fill her whole day with video calls, or she may have only a few hours of scheduled online learning. If your child has more unscheduled time, creating a loose structure will help her settle into a routine.
- Set start and end times for lessons so that virtual learning doesn't bleed into every part of your child's day.
- Schedule the fun parts of the day first and fill in with the not-as-fun things. At school, there are specific times for breaks between classes, eating lunch, eating a snack, going outside, PE, music, and art. Build a loose schedule around the non-academic parts of the day. Something as simple as posting when you'll eat meals and take breaks to move around can give your child something to look forward to. It also creates a routine, which helps to make your child's day more predictable.
- Plan for lots of breaks! Keep them short - about 15 minutes. Young children will need more frequent breaks, but they don't have to be longer. Take too long of a break and you might not be able to get your child back into school mode again. Good breaktime activities include running or walking a short distance, jumping rope, hula hooping, or dancing to a few songs. Remind younger kids to go to the bathroom during their breaktime.
- Kids love lunchtime at school. Maintain this favorite part of the school day while your child learns at home by eating lunch together if your schedule allows. This will give each of you a chance to detach from your work a bit and connect with each other. This is a great time to ask your child what she's learned so far that day or maybe share something funny that happened, like a virtual learning video call blooper.
Teaching your child to make her own healthy, kid-friendly lunches takes one more to-do off your list and allows her to learn responsibility. Children as young as five can swipe peanut butter on a piece of bread to make a sandwich. Older kids can microwave soup or mac and cheese or make a grilled cheese on the stove.
3. Tips for learning independently
- Students won't necessarily be video chatting with their teachers during the whole school day. Schools will handle online learning in different ways. Some students may have more offline work to do than scheduled online video chat sessions. At-home learning schedules will vary according to the school and child's age. Your school may give you the option do offline, independent learning on your own schedule with regular check-ins and assignments posted and graded by a teacher. This option allows more flexibility and may work better for younger children who aren't able to participate in video chat calls for long periods of time.
- If your at-home learning schedule is more flexible, plan for schoolwork to take 2-4 hours each day. With changing classes, lunch, standing in line, and other daily tasks, there is a lot of extra time built into an in-person school day that doesn't apply to learning. Your child will likely not have 6-8 hours of schoolwork to do each day.
- If your child needs extra sleep and your at-home learning schedule allows, let her sleep in a little. Just make sure she's keeping a somewhat normal waking and sleeping schedule - not staying up all night and sleeping all day. One of the positive outcomes of at-home learning is fewer sleep-deprived kids! Young school-age children need 10–11 hours of sleep each day and teens need 8-10 hours.
- Set a flexible learning at home schedule that allows for plenty of breaks and goals for what to tackle each day.
Due to the hormonal changes of adolescence, teens naturally tend to stay up later at night and sleep later in the morning. If your teen is having trouble falling asleep and isn't able to wake up at a reasonable time, talk to her about limiting electronics before bedtime, avoiding caffeine, and getting more regular exercise.
4. Tips for virtual learning.
Sometimes students are required to do online learning with a teacher and their class at set times of the day. Here are some tips for when you child has virtual classes:
- Help her remember to take breaks in between calls with a longer break for lunch.
- Post a calendar of her classes and call times. If she's old enough to have her own devices, teach her how to use a digital calendar that will automatically notify her when she has a class or assignment due. The more organizational tools and ideas you can give an older child, the less you will have to manage her virtual learning.
- Cover video chat do's and don'ts with your kids. Remind your child to:
- Use her real name on her account (not a silly name).
- Limit background noises by staying muted until given permission to speak.
- Be mindful of what's in her background. She may want to use a virtual one instead. A virtual background should be simple and not steal focus from the teacher.
- Always be respectful of teachers and classmates.
Teach your child that it's a good idea to be early to video calls. Taking a few extra minutes to make sure everything is working properly and that she can be seen well on camera will make the class run more smoothly for everyone involved.
5. Not all learning at home happens online. You are teaching your kids when you:
Read out loud.
Kids are hungry for your attention. Reading to your child is the perfect way to:
- Learn something new.
- Develop a love for reading that is key to success in school.
When you cook with your child, you are teaching her:
- Science. Even something as simple as boiling water is an example of states of matter. Baking cookies can be a chemistry experiment.
- Math. Measuring the ingredients is a great way to learn about fractions. How many ¼ cups of flour are in ½ a cup?
- Literacy. Go through the recipe together. Reading instructions and following directions is a big part of being successful at school! Younger children can practice simple words by reading the recipe's item list and looking for those same words on the packages of food.
- Health. Cooking is a natural time to talk about what our bodies need to grow and be healthy.
- An important life skill. Your child won't be little forever. Everyone needs to know how to choose healthy food. Even if you're not confident in your cooking skills, you can still learn right alongside your child. There a lots of cooking shows and online tutorials that make learning to cook healthy meals easy and fun.
- A sense of accomplishment. Parents often underestimate what their kids are capable of in the kitchen. Teaching your child to be independent and trusting in their ability is a real confidence booster.
Play a board game.
When you play a game with your child, she is learning about:
- Resiliency - dealing with disappointment.
- Social emotional learning - being a good winner and a good loser.
- Strategy - predicting what will happen and thinking through the consequences of actions.
- Counting - whether she's counting money, dice, or spaces moved on the board, your child will be honing her math skills and having fun doing it.
- Patterns - as you're playing, talk to your child about whether she is noticing patterns, such as which properties people tend to land on in Monopoly, and how she might use this information to win the game.
- Colors. Games like Candyland are a fun way for preschool and kindergarten children to learn and apply their knowledge of colors.
- Reading. Choose games such as The Game of Life or Monopoly that require your child to read and understand information. Games like Scrabble and Bananagrams are great for building vocabulary.
Take a walk.
Teach your children to see the natural world as a scientist would.
- Listen for different bird calls and try to identify them.
- Collect leaves and learn which trees they came from.
- Learn about the different types of clouds and what creates them.
- Identify plants and bugs.
Virtual learning during COVID-19 is different from homeschooling. Homeschooling is a choice that some families make to teach their child at home. Homeschooling requires the parent to be the child's teacher. There are state requirements that must be followed if you decide to homeschool. While learning at home during COVID-19, you can rely on your child's teacher to do the bulk of the teaching, whether they are providing independent lessons and regular check-ins or teaching a class over video chat. You may need to help your child troubleshoot technical problems, stay organized, and manage their deadlines, but you do not need to be the teacher in addition to all the other things you are juggling. If your child is struggling with assignments, reach out to the school for help.
6. Know your child.
- Virtual learning doesn't work as well for everyone. It requires a lot of self-directed learning skills.
- Students who struggle with in-person learning are likely going to struggle more with online school. Think through some ways for helping your child succeed.
- Be realistic with your expectations. Praise hard work instead of focusing only on grades.
- Be proactive about reaching out for help from their teacher if you feel your child is falling behind. Now more than ever, teachers are depending on parents as partners in education.
- Talk with your pediatrician about your child's school struggles. There could be some underlying health issues that need to be addressed.
7. Facilitate safe group learning opportunities.
- Schedule video chat study groups with your child's friends.
- Connect with other parents to create a safe, socially-distanced learning (or play!) for your child.
8. Nurture a passion project.
- Encourage your child to learn something she really wants to learn but hasn't had time to focus on before.
- Help her focus on the positive by seeing this time as a good opportunity to pursue her own interests.
- Need ideas? Here are some examples of passion projects:
- Learning a musical instrument with a virtual learning app.
- Creative writing.
- Starting a blog about a subject she loves.
9. Prioritize learning time according to:
- What your child needs most.
- What she cares about most.
10. Be forgiving.
- Of your kids.
- Of yourself.
- Of your partner.
- Of your kids' teachers and school staff.
It's easy to get overwhelmed by everything that's hard and scary right now. It's normal to feel those feelings.
- Talk through your concerns with people you trust.
- Work to find solutions to problems that may arise.
- Know that you're not alone. Everyone is going through this together.
- Accept what you can't control and find something positive to focus on each day.
Choosing to embrace this new version of online school with a positive attitude will help you and your family find moments of fun and laughter together.
If you're struggling with managing all the demands of parenting and learning at home during this unique and difficult time, know you're not alone and that there's help. Contact the Family and Youth Success Providers to talk with volunteers trained to provide guidance and referral information - or to just listen.