How to make sure my kid does their distance learning at home while I’m on an hour-long video conference call
Last week, you were in your comfy cubicle. This week, you’ve upended your living room to accommodate your makeshift home office. Just when you’ve learned how to sign on to your VPN, a new sinking feeling strikes—panic. Now you have to figure out how to home-school your student while also remaining productive at your job. How in the heck are you going to do that?!?
Deep breath. There is some good news here: Most of today’s kids have grown up with technology. Students of all ages are accustomed to using web and mobile apps daily in their classrooms, and many of them may even be faster on a laptop or tablet than you are. It’s also common for many high schoolers to take an online learning class as part of their graduation credits. Yet while they might be better than you are at navigating a transition to online learning, it doesn’t mean that your kids have the discipline (and desire) to manage it on their own.
On a spectrum of parental supervision that runs from deeply involved to completely hands-off, where do you land? How involved do you need to be to help your student be a successful distance learner? As your family navigates this new norm—whether it ends up being for a few weeks or the remainder of this school year—the following tips can help you and your student to survive—even thrive. This is a trying time, but if it’s any consolation, we’re all in this together.
1. Connect with your student’s teacher(s)
Most teachers fully understand that we’re all in crisis mode right now. They’re prepared to be more flexible with kids’ workloads and their degree of online participation. Just like the rest of us, they’re looking for some ramp-up time to adjust to their new work environment, hardware, software, and changes to their teaching methods.
Teachers will have different expectations for their student’s participation in distance learning, based on the age of the student. For instance, younger students won’t have the patience to sit through a lengthy lecture taking notes, whereas most high school students are accustomed to this way of synthesizing what they’re learning.
Open lines of communication demonstrate your support and involvement while also inviting your student’s teacher(s) to clarify their expectations over time—as we all get comfortable with the new normal.
2. Call a family meeting to discuss what’s happening and get everyone on the same page
It’s a scary time—all the more if you’re a kid. Even if we adults don’t know what’s going to change from one day to the next, our children are watching to see how we respond. This is your chance as a parent to reassure them that, even in uncertainty, you’re there to keep them safe. Here are some ideas that can help:
- Emphasize teamwork and patience. This way of working and learning is new to all of us, so we need to practice kindness and helpfulness as much as possible.
- Create a buddy system and incentives. Task older children with helping out their siblings with schoolwork and build in rewards to make it worth their while. Extreme times call for extreme measures. So, be generous with praise and other words and actions that reinforce helpful behavior.
Rewards motivate younger children—it’s the reason that their teachers have them move cards on a board or let them earn free time with good behavior. You can do the same in your home-school approach with phone or television access, opportunities to play a new video or board game, or even “grown-up” tasks like baking.
- Focus on the good news. Amid so many negatives, find some positives. For example, your child may be upset about not playing on the school playground, but now you can take family bike rides during your breaks.
High schoolers may be able to grasp what’s happening more than a younger child, but that doesn’t mean they’re on board—especially if school events like prom, academic competitions, sporting events, and graduation are canceled. In this situation, there’s not much you can say to an upset teen to make it better, but at least you can empathize with them.
3. Establish a new routine
Establishing a routine is reassuring because it simulates normalcy and helps keep the day from spiraling into chaos. Get up at the same time. Have everyone get dressed. Eat breakfast before sitting down to start the day.
No matter your child’s age, print out their school schedule, and use it to structure their day. Help them schedule breaks and lunch. And because sports and extracurricular activities are probably canceled, too, be sure to build in time for plenty of physical activity. Also, remember that children have different attention spans. For example, most elementary school students need a change in activity after 30 minutes to sustain their attention.
Finally, at the end of the school day, have your child clean up their workspace and get it ready for the next day. It’s helpful to model this by doing the same with your own workspace.
4. Create a student-centered workspace
Just like your workspace is tailored to your needs, kids need a workspace tailored to theirs. Here are a few simple ways you can create a space that works well for at-home students:
- Create a computer workstation. Set up a workstation where there is plenty of surface area (a dining room table works well) for doing projects and spreading out books and notes. If you have more than one child and more than one computer, it might make sense to set up workstations in different rooms so that your kids don’t distract (or annoy) each other.
It also doesn’t hurt to have the computer situated so that you can glance at the screen when you walk by. Like adults, kids tend to get distracted by online surfing. And with high school students, try to work where you can monitor them—no matter how much they tell you that they’re more productive when working in bed.
- Anticipate tech support needs. Set up all computers within optimal distance of the Wi-Fi. If your child is using a laptop, make sure they have easy access to an outlet. It’s a pain to be tripping over cords constantly.
Your kids will also be more reliant on audio, so find headphones and ask your child to wear them when watching video lessons, participating in group hangouts, or just listening to music. And yes, it’s okay if they tune in. Most research suggests that listening to music while studying helps with focus and concentration.
- Prep your printer. While your child might not need to print out anything, having your printer stocked with paper and ink is a smart move—just in case.
- Build in opportunities for creative play. For elementary and middle school students, gather art supplies in a basket or bin, so they’re easy to access and put away. Bonus: During times of crisis, art projects and other forms of creative expression can really help children process complex emotions.
- Manage everyone’s time. If needed, use a kitchen timer to help your kids keep track of how long they need to focus on an assignment before taking a break.
- Make healthy snacks available. Your kids are probably used to a routine that includes regular breaks for snacks and lunches. Even if you can’t sync up your schedule to munch with them, you can put out a snack basket with healthy options that they don’t need to ask your permission to eat.
5. Do regular check-ins with your student and their teachers
Now more than ever, parent/teacher coordination is important.
Have your child start the day by showing you online what assignments are due, then finish the day by having them show you what work they’ve completed. This way, there’s no doubt about whether your child completed the assignments for that day.
Communicate with your child’s teachers to stay in the know. Your child may be able to manage their workload, but routine check-ins with their teacher can help you stay on top of special projects or online events.
6. Use technology to access study aids
Your child’s school may have already prompted you to download special apps to aid in distance learning. If not, go ahead and set up accounts like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. These apps help your child communicate with fellow students in designated learning environments and also make it easier to communicate and share screens with teachers and tutors. It’s also smart to let your child practice using new technology by contacting friends and family first.
Many technology and e-learning companies are offering their products free for educational use, so take advantage of these resources as needed.
7. Learn how to use your child’s learning platforms
There are a lot of passwords and programs that schools use, and they’re different by grade. Do your best to get a grip on this information as soon as possible and figure out a plan to keep all the logins and other essential information together so you can help your students get organized. Password managers like 1Password can come in really handy for this, but most web browsers also offer built-in password management functions that can help.
Take a few minutes to log in and learn how to navigate between classes, assignments, discussions, and grades so that you can keep tabs on your child’s online learning.
8. Manage expectations
If you’re like most parents, the transition to working at home while your kids are learning from home has probably thrown you for a loop. Rest assured, you’re not the only one in your org who’s struggling to stay productive in the face of uncertainty and constant distractions.
The truth is, you’ll have to adjust the way you work. Organizing meetings may take more planning. Ad-hoc or status meetings may need to be shorter and more focused—or even turned into an email or a Slack message. You may need to add new project management tools into your toolkit to create more transparency around work tasks and keep yourself sane.
This is also the time for candid conversations with your leadership team and your employees. You’ll need to set and manage new expectations around your availability and establish new work routines and boundaries with your kids, too.
It’s a lot, but here are some tips that can help:
- Flex your schedule. If possible, adapt your work schedule to accommodate your child’s. Just as you have your children break their day into manageable sections, do the same with yours. By dedicating blocks of time to specific projects and taking frequent breaks, you can work in focused spurts while also monitoring your child’s academic progress. Keep in mind, though, that it might not be optimal for you. In the long run, you may get more done if you shift your focused work to the early mornings or late evenings.
If you’re using an app like Slack or Microsoft Teams, set expectations with your coworkers and manager by setting a “do not disturb” status when you’re with your kids. You can also snooze notifications for a bit to seize blocks of focused work time. These steps will signal your availability to your coworkers and set expectations for how quickly you’ll be able to respond to them.
- Keep your calendar up to date. Now more than ever, your colleagues are going to need to know your availability. Set up your working hours in your calendar app and block out times when you’ve planned to be unavailable. Make sure to include chunks of time to support your kids’ studies, make lunches, and do self-care.
- Tag team with your partner. Chances are they’re also at home working remotely. If you coordinate your schedules, you’ll be able to run zone defense with the kids.
- Set new guidelines around “do not disturb” time. There are times when you’ll need to communicate with your work colleagues, so you’ll need to establish guidelines with your children so they know when you can’t be disturbed. Before you take that conference call, let your child know that you won’t be available for the next 30 minutes. It also helps to hang a sign on your office door or display a note prominently if your child walks in while you’re on a call.
- Anticipate common interruptions. Think through the little things. For example, dogs bark when the doorbell rings—and it usually happens when you’re on a call. Try covering your doorbell or leaving a note asking postal workers to kindly drop off packages without ringing the bell.
- Get virtual support from family and friends. When you do anticipate times where you’ll need uninterrupted time to work, arrange for grandparents, neighbors, friends, or cousins to do virtual playdates with your kids. You could even ask the grandparents or fellow parents to help check homework assignments or quiz kids and offer tutoring help via Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Facetime.
Summing it up
The bottom line is, it’s going to take a little while for all of us—students, teachers, and parents alike—to find our footing. The best thing you can do is be transparent about the challenges you’re facing and the steps you’re taking to remain productive. Hopefully, the tips we’ve shared point you in the right direction.
Now more than ever, our top priority is creating a safe environment for our kids. It’s not easy, but with a mix of modern-day technology, a little planning, and a lot of patience, you and your family will find a new rhythm for lasting work and study habits that benefit everyone.
Are you a business leader looking for tips to spin up your remote workers? At Rise, we’re fully remote (and always have been). Check out this related article from Articulate/Rise President Lucy Suros, 6 Things You Need to Know to Spin Up a Remote Workforce Quickly and watch our on-demand webinar, How to Transition Your Team to Remote Work, to learn how we do it—and do it successfully.