When it comes to supporting our kids' education, 2020 changed the entire playbook. Put these simple tips in your parenting toolbox to help you and your family conquer virtual learning challenges.
Every year, settling into a new school year can bring families anxiety, disorganization, and a struggle to adjust to new routines after summer vacation. This year, however, families are facing an extraordinary challenge—learning to navigate many more months of virtual learning.
2020 sure has thrown parenting life into chaos! Not only did many of us have to adjust to working remotely, but we were also tasked with suddenly having to help our kids navigate virtual learning. Now, as the new school year begins, we're gearing up for another stretch of the new norm as our kids return to virtual classrooms.
There's no doubt this year school will be different. But with the right tools in place, it can still be an excellent experience for everyone. Here are five smart ways you can make your child's virtual learning a success.
1. Plan as though you're leaving the house
Some people joke that "plan" is a four-letter word. But when it's used to make your family's daily experience more manageable, I think the ability to plan is one of the most important skills we can have in our parenting toolbox, particularly when life is unusually challenging.
Keeping your family organized, productive, and on-task while they're engaged in virtual learning can be easier than you think if you plan your schedules as though you're still leaving your home each day to learn and work.
Whether your child is participating in a hybrid or fully virtual learning model, get ready for school the night before.
Start with your evening routine and move forward from there. Whether your child is participating in a hybrid or fully virtual learning model, get ready for school the night before. Follow familiar routines by having them shower and prepare for a healthy night's sleep. Selecting an outfit to wear, having breakfast items ready to go for morning and reviewing the next day's class itinerary will prepare your family to start the next day calmly and with at least some sense of normalcy in these unusual times.
Your child may be on a hybrid learning schedule, others a full distance learning model. Regardless, get everything ready the night before. Have them shower and prepare for a healthy night's sleep. Selecting an outfit to wear, having breakfast items ready to go, and reviewing the next day's class itinerary will start the day off on a calm note and keep with a more normal routine.
Keep in mind that many after-school sports and activities may still take place. Your child should have equipment, sports bags, musical instruments, and other neccessary items organized so you aren't scouring the entire house minutes before practice.
Planning your time and daily logistics will earn you extra credit now, and as the school year progresses.
2. Create a learning environment
Choose a comfortable place to learn. Your family's common learning space for homework might not work for extended periods. Set up a location conducive to daily school activities. Make sure it's free from distractions and has a good internet connection.
No one likes sitting in the same place for hours on end, so try to give your child a change of scenery.
Kids will, of course, have homework during their virtual learning period. Plan where and when homework will take place. Choosing separate locations for virtual learning sessions and doing homework may be helpful if space permits. No one likes sitting in the same place for hours on end, so try to give your child a change of scenery.
3. Make mealtime a part of the curriculum
When my family became homebound this past spring, the first thing I noticed was that everyone was continuously eating. Our routines were thrown right out the window, so grazing all day and eating meals at odd times definitely became a thing.
My kids are on a hybrid model for the start of this school year and will attend two days per week. Not wanting a repeat of our revolving kitchen door during the spring, I implemented a lunch routine similar to their in-school practice. We make school lunches the night before, even on virtual learning days, so they can eat according to their school schedule and not waste time lounging in the kitchen figuring out what to make.
I also have healthy snacks on hand so they can grab a nosh when they have a break. Not only is it more nutritious, but it keeps them from messing up the kitchen by making complicated goodies like nachos and cheese or gooey fudge brownies.
The smartest decision I ever made was to invest time in meal planning.
It doesn't stop there. While raising eight kids, the majority of my time was cooking in the kitchen. The smartest decision I ever made was to invest time in meal planning. As I explain in my episode Why Meal Planning is Essential to a Happier Family Life, meal planning will improve your life on many levels.
Not only will meal planning help you create a delicious weekly (or monthly, if you're so inspired) menu, but you'll also be able to plan your grocery shopping trips to keep them streamlined and efficient. Impulse purchases will become a thing of the past, helping you save your hard-earned money and avoid the horror of neglected "mystery meat" or unidentifiable veggies lurking in the back of the fridge. Best of all, your anxiety levels will plummet when you're organized. No last-minute scramble to figure out what to make for dinner.
With more people home during these remote-mandated times, if you treat your family's mealtime like it's part of the curriculum, you'll go straight to the head of the class—forever!
4. Practice patience
The one tool that all parents need, no matter the time of year, is patience. Summertime causes us all, parents and kids alike, to go into relaxation mode. This summer, however, parents transitioned into vacation time without much of a break. Parents have been running full throttle for the past six months. Because of the sheer newness of virtual learning, this year's back-to-school season means patience is perhaps the most significant asset for all parents.
Because of the sheer newness of virtual learning, this year's back-to-school season means patience is perhaps the most significant asset for all parents.
The new school year is generally the time of year I see my kids act out more and try to exert control. When I hold it together and stay calm and patient, it has a ripple effect on the rest of my family and helps keep us all grounded. It also sets an example for how to behave during demanding times. So pack your toolbox with as much extra patience as possible, and you'll help everyone have an A-plus year!
RELATED: 5 Ways to Be a More Patient Parent
5. Take advantage of smart hacks
Lifehacks can help you save time in the kitchen, improve your laundry routines, and keep more money in your pocketbook. There are hundreds of useful hacks for all areas of your life, including how to become more efficient in your virtual classroom. Google distance learning hacks for students and you'll have dozens of fantastic ideas right at your fingertips.
The YouTube video below shares creative and brilliant ways to help your child have a successful remote learning experience. My favorite was teaching your child to type. With the majority of learning taking place on a computer, typing is a must. TypingClub.com offers free lessons appropriate for younger children.
Finding ways for your family to maximize their time and effort this school year—now that's smart!
6. Get physical
One of the most valuable tools we can offer our family is embracing an active lifestyle. Consistent physical activity keeps their bodies healthy and their minds refreshed for learning.
Sitting at home for hours more each week means less physical activity than kids usually get at school. It's essential to move our bodies.
Kids need to exercise their bodies just as they need to give their minds a workout. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, children and adolescents ages 6 – 17 years should do 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day. They stress that most of that hour per day should be dedicated to either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, with vigorous-intensity activity happening at least three days a week.
Sitting at home for hours more each week means less physical activity than kids usually get at school. It's essential to move our bodies. Be sure to schedule movement breaks in your day-to-day routine. Include nature walks, time spent kicking a soccer ball around the yard, or a round of Frisbee with the dog.
Go Noodle has a lively assortment of interactive dance and game videos for young kids that are perfect for a fun study break.
Tweens and teens need to get moving as well. They might prefer to sit on their devices and limit their exercise to their thumbs, but that's not going to cut it. If you have a teenager that needs coaxing when it comes to physical activity, address the topic and agree on ways he can stay active throughout the week. My 14-year old daughter has been joining me on my early evening powerwalks. Now that we're in a routine, we look forward to winding down our day together.