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7 Distance Learning Tips for Parents

Many parents and kids got a crash course in distance learning when COVID-19 hit, with classes going online seemingly overnight. The fall semester is now underway, and although we may have acclimated somewhat to this new style of learning, it’s still an adjustment for many parents, teachers and students.

Associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Southern Connecticut State University Sousan Arafeh says, “Attending (and teaching) class online by video is very different from being in a physical classroom. With the amount of change that is going on, it is important to be realistic and gentle with ourselves and each other.”

If you are a parent with children participating in distance learning, here are seven tips to help make the experience a success for both you and your child.

1. Help your child establish and stick to a routine.
The closer your child’s day is to a regular “school schedule,” the smoother life will be. Treat school days as if your child is attending school as usual. For example, have your child get up at the same time every day, get properly dressed and eat breakfast.

If you’re working from home also, try to align your work hours with your student’s. If everyone in the house is quietly busy, and shares a common work ethic, it will be easier for children to stay on task. Find a routine that works best for your child’s class schedule and your family’s work/sleep schedule, and stick to it.

As much as possible, minimize any distracting noise, and consider establishing video game/TV-free hours during the school day. Ask family members to make and take personal calls somewhere they won’t disrupt other people trying to work or study in the home.

2. Maintain a dedicated learning space at home.
This is not always easy, but important, since your house may be full of distractions, especially if there are siblings who aren’t on the same study schedule. Ideally, students should have their own bedroom with a desk where their computer, books, notes and other supplies are handy and organized.

If that’s not an option, a study space can be in the living room or another part of the house; and make that area off limits to the rest of the family during established learning/study times.

3. Create a daily plan.
It can be easy to not take remote learning seriously. With regular classroom learning, there’s a required place you have to be at a specific time. Learning online requires students to study, attend virtual classes, and complete homework largely on their own time. This requires discipline about how to use their time throughout the day to ensure they don’t fail or fall behind.

Creating a daily plan for your student is important, and it isn’t just a matter of scheduling. A daily plan looks at the schedule and then identifies to-do items for that day and combines the two for a specific plan for that specific day.

It’s recommended that you use some sort of timer to clarify for your child how much time should be spent on what.

Any work on the daily plan that is not completed should have a time-bound actionable next step. For instance, having your child (or you can do this if your child is very young) e-mail the teacher to ask for help or clarification on an assignment so he or she can turn it in the next day by noon. Don’t let assignments fall behind or your child will spend the semester struggling to catch up.

4. Stay connected with your child’s advisor or teachers.
Teachers and advisors are usually more than willing to connect with parents by e-mail or phone after school hours. Contact your child’s teacher or advisor if he or she is finding the online learning platform difficult or having difficulty staying on task.

Check for messages from teachers and other students and make sure to reply to any messages that require one. Be on the lookout for any communications from teachers that say they are having trouble connecting with your child during this time.

5. Encourage physical activity and exercise.
Your child will be sitting in front of their computer for long stretches of time. Encourage them to use the breaks in the day to stretch, walk the dog, play outside, do jumping jacks—movement will help your child refresh mentally and help burn off some physical energy.

Provide healthy snacks that your child can grab quickly on breaks to keep fueled for the day: fruit, yogurt tubes, cut-up veggies, cheese sticks, bottled water, and low-sugar fruit juices.

6. Resist the urge to sit in on classes with your child.
It’s important to respect your child’s privacy and that of other students. It may be tempting to “pop in” on your child’s classes, but resist the urge unless completely necessary.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stay connected to your child’s classes, however. Ask what your child is working on. When you ask in this way, it gives them a chance to break down their workload into bites of information that you can understand, which reinforces learning.

While some students may find your questions irritating, most will appreciate and benefit from your curiosity and you will learn from them as well.

7. Take care of you.
This is very important. If you’re not taking care of your own physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs, you will have less energy and patience to connect with and take care of your children. Even 10-15 minutes of scheduled “me” time during the day is beneficial.

Maintain a good sleep schedule, eat well and exercise. Stay in touch and connect with friends, family and colleagues. If your city or town has city alerts, sign up for the e-mails as many have opportunities to ask for help or volunteer for neighbors in need. Check in regularly with your support network to share worries, advice and the ups and downs of living and learning in close quarters.

Online learning can be an opportunity for personal growth, especially if you and your child are open to new ways of thinking. Says Arafeh, “…This is an opportunity to learn to live in new ways. Be open, flexible and creative. Embrace change and see where it takes you.”

Here are even more distance learning tips for elementary age children, high schoolers and college students.

Don’t forget FAFSA!

If you are a college student, or the parent of one, completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form allows you or your student to be considered for federal student aid. In addition, states and colleges use FAFSA information to award their own grants, scholarships, and loans. The application must be completed annually.

For the 2020-21 academic year, you can apply now. The FAFSA forms must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Central Time on June 30, 2021. Click here for other important deadlines.

For the 2021-22 academic year, the earliest you can fill out an application is October 1, 2020. Remember, the earlier you complete your application, the better your chance of receiving financial aid.

If you’re new to the FAFSA process, here are some things you should know before getting started.

Resources: Teach Thought, Studentaid.gov, The Academy at Penguin Hall, Fastweb.com, Manchester University, Collegiate Parent, Whatihavelearnedteaching.com, Southern Connecticut State University, UNICEF