10 tips to help navigate this round of distance learning

A man smiles as he gestures in front of a laptop.
Prodeo Academy teacher Markus Flynn leads a fifth-grade science class in distance learning on Dec. 15, 2020.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2020

The record surge in COVID-19 infection due to the highly-transmissible omicron mutation is creating yet another wave of headaches for parents, students and teachers. 

Beginning as early as Friday, dozens of districts across the state will shutter schools, which means hundreds of students across Minnesota will again fire up their laptops from home to continue learning this winter — if only for a few days or a few weeks. 

And while this go-around may be short-lived (fingers crossed), it certainly will be filled with stress for all parents. The days ahead will be particularly harrowing — again — for many Minnesota parents who have children with special needs, those who work outside the home and those who do not have internet connections or unstable connections.

Here are 10 tips, culled from teachers, experts and parents, to help your students (and you) in the coming days and weeks:

Stick to your routines 

  • Keep to your school schedule: Up at the same time, get dressed, have breakfast. Make your bed (if you do that kind of thing).

  • Avoid the impulse to sleep in or stay up late.

  • Set digital (oh heck, egg timers work, too) timers to remember when to log-in for classes. It’s easy to forget.

  • Have dedicated lunch time.

  • End the school day at the same time.

Maintain expectations

  • Create a daily school schedule both digitally and printed out and keep it handy so your little learner knows what class is coming up and what is expected and be sure to include a link to the online classroom, if there is one.

  • Help your child know what is expected in each class and each day.

Create (or re-create) dedicated ‘school space’

  • The space you dedicated to school work in 2020/2021 may or may not work again. Ask your student. 

  • Avoid the temptation to let students stay in their bedrooms or use the same space where they complete homework — if at all possible.

  • Create a physical space that students need to walk to (if only a few feet) in order to begin their day.

  • It should be free (or as free as possible) from distractions and should not be behind a closed door, so parents can monitor or listen in to the teacher.

  • For the youngest learners — and if you have enough room — try to create different learning areas that focus on different subjects (A bean bag chair for reading; the counter for spelling; the kitchen table for mat), according to Katie Azevedo, creator of schoolhabits.com. She offers great tips for the youngest learners (kindergarten-second grade)  in this video.

Check-in

  • In the morning ask your child what they have coming up, what is due and if they need help.

  • At the end of the school day, check in again and ask your child what they learned and what homework they might have. 

  • Offer support. Ask your student: What would make tomorrow even better?

Communicate

  • Watch for email or text updates from the school and your child’s teacher.

  • Check the school’s website for updates.

  • Any response from direct communication with teachers, administrators and counselors may take a few days. 

Take brain breaks

  • Take breaks between classes: Sing, dance, jump around. Color, craft, play. (That goes for caregivers, too).

  • It’s hard to sit still in class, a fidgety learner may need to stand and move. Maybe create a standing workstation, like at a countertop.

Remember recess

Get social

  • Don’t forget to build in time for your little one to interact with their pals — in person or over the computer.

  • If you can meet and be safe, make time for that.

  • If not, set up virtual meet-up play dates so they keep in touch and check in with their buddies.

Be flexible

  • Not all children are the same; nor are all learners.

  • You may need to modify what works and ditch what doesn’t.

  • Don’t be afraid to try different tactics or stop doing something that doesn’t work.

  • If your student is frustrated, let them stop and shift gears.

Be positive and breathe

  • Remember this isn’t forever, even though it may feel like it.

  • Give your student accolades for doing good work (Think stars, awards or a simple check mark to make their work a BIG deal!). You can create your own or buzz to most any craft store to find them online.

  • Let them pick a reward for work well done — including getting through each day. Maybe it's getting out of doing the dishes or 15 extra minutes of reading at night or play time.

Extra resources

For parents of children with disabilities:

For working parents:

  • Working remotely while students are learning remotely, Real Simple has these tips and Indeed offers these.

  • The Los Angeles Times offers several tips for parents in 2020 who were working away from home, while their children were learning at home. They include: 

    • Checking with your school district, like Minneapolis that will stay open and provide group learning on-site.

    • Checking with your employer to see if you can take a short leave, a shift in your work schedule or a shift in your days off. 

    • Work with other working parents to help each other out and backfill.

Join the conversation: Discuss distance learning and all other aspects of parenting in our Facebook Group Raising Kids in Minnesota.

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