Tips from Teachers: Managing the Move to Distance Learning School-Age Edition

As our community shifts to distance learning and the new reality of many parents working from home, we know that this disruption in our day-to-day routines may be challenging. Recognizing that children of different ages have varied needs and learning styles, we sat down to talk (remotely!) with Preschool teacher Ty Thayer and Jessica Wanless, Learning Coach for the Middle and Upper Schools, to gather some tips for parents of both preschool and school-age children. To view Ty's answers, click here.

What advice would you give parents who are parenting homebound children right now?

Structure and routine, with an abundance of flexibility and humor, are essential. This weekend, we created a daily schedule for our girls (ages 12, 9, and 7) and established dedicated workspaces in our home for each of us. We discussed rules and expectations, with a clear understanding that things will likely change, and that we're a team.  I have had to loosen some family rules around screen time on school days (it's still not unlimited) and get creative with the division of labor in our house.  Each day, we rotate who is in charge of meals and snacks, taking care of our two dogs, and dishes, and making sure daily chores get done. Including my girls in this way has helped take the pressure off of us as caregivers, but it has also resulted in less complaining from our children and some very creative culinary creations!  Lastly, give your children something to look forward to each day (we brainstorm at dinner), whether it's a movie night, a family game, a virtual "playdate" with their best friend, a family-created TikTok dance, etc.  Those are the memories that will last when we all look back on this surreal time in history.

There are many resources for families and parents out there, especially right now. How do you decide what to do without getting frozen in sorting through them all?

First, start with the resources your child already uses at school, and reach out to your child's teachers for suggestions. They are the expert on their content and have historical knowledge of your child's learning. As a parent, when I do go and look for supplemental apps and activities I always look for high-interest and developmentally-appropriate resources as they are most likely going to keep my children engaged and working independently. There is a lot out there right now and it's easy to get overwhelmed, so I have been asking my children to try some of the resources that have piqued my interest and write or tell me their "review" of it.  This allows them to work on being critical consumers and gives me insight as to which types of resources might be interesting to them (and my students) in the future.

How do I support my child’s unique learning needs? 

Talk with your child about how you can help while they are learning from home. What do they need from you? When/if they're having a hard time getting themself on task, what would be helpful from you?  The older the student, the more they are accustomed to more freedom and less micromanaging. Having a conversation about what "loving accountability" looks like in your household will be important.

That said, younger children may need more support in the area of executive functioning: task initiation, materials management, predicting how long a task will take to complete, backward planning larger assignments and projects to meet deadlines. Learning Coaches and teachers are available to help support this virtually; however, parents will likely need to support these skills as well. It will be very important that parents walk the line of appropriate support that is scaffolded with an eye towards independence. I will be strongly encouraging students to continue to use their planners to keep track of the assignments and assessments in their classes and have one place in the house where they monotask on schoolwork with minimal distractions. If parents are going to be checking Veracross, I would recommend that they do so with their child in order to gain the most context from the posts and so that students feel as though they are in the driver's seat.

E-learning will be a unique challenge, as well as an opportunity to try new things. There are likely going to be moments of frustration. Talk to your child before school starts up again about what they can do if they get stuck on a task and, depending on the age of your child, generate a list. It will likely be similar to what they already know to do: ask the teacher (via video chat or email), ask a friend (a good excuse to FaceTime), ask a parent, write your question down and move on to the next task to ask at a later date.

Good "brain breaks" reduce mental fatigue, improve our on-task focus, and improve cognitive functioning. The best "brain breaks" do not include technology. I strongly recommend, as unpopular as it is among my students, to make "brain breaks" physical activity, reading a book, getting a healthy snack, meditating, writing a thank-you card to your favorite parent, drawing, etc.

Many of our families are working from home while also making a plan for distance learning -- much like you! How are you planning for this transition?

A lot of deep breaths. As I mentioned, we have a daily schedule (with flexibility) for our girls to provide a sense of routine, and we have created workspaces for each of us. Our girls' workspaces are in more open areas of the house (not their bedrooms) but spaced out enough that they can't readily irritate each other with things such as typing on the iPad too loudly, or otherwise daring to co-exist in the same space. My husband Troy and I have designated our workspaces to be in a room with a door that closes, as it is our rule that if the door is closed it’s because a parent is working and you don't interrupt unless it is absolutely necessary.

We all care deeply about being the best parent and employee that we can be, and it can feel daunting and overwhelming when faced with the reality of having to juggle both tasks simultaneously.  Lean on your support network of adults, give yourself and others grace, and trust that we're all doing the best that we can. For me, balancing the support of students with the simultaneous support of my family will be a challenge. Managing my expectations around what is realistic and what is not will be an ongoing process that I would encourage parents to frame for themselves. There will be moments in the day that it feels like we're raking leaves in a hurricane.  But, there will also be some sweet moments that we would have never experienced if we didn't have the opportunity to be together with our children for such an extended amount of time. We're in this together!

Finally, tell us about something fun you did/have planned for your own children.

We asked the girls to come up with a special project that they could each work on during our “coronacation.” Our oldest is making a documentary, our middle is writing a children's book, and our youngest is creating a science journal. We're looking forward to seeing their final products!

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