(Covid-) 19 Tips for Distance Learning
1) Set rules and expectations in advance – Before school starts, have a family meeting and
solicit feedback from all members about how they would like to see the next few months play
out. Really listen to one another and do your best to take children’s opinions into account.
Make a family contract about what’s going to be required of everyone during this challenging
season, and set guidelines for the consequences of successes as well as failures.
2) Create a reward system – Children’s brains aren’t wired for boring repetitive tasks, and
school at home (especially with parents who are working from home too) isn’t going to be
without pitfalls. Everyone will benefit from some positive reinforcement. Plan for fun family
time (a walk, a game, a special meal, a movie together) at the end of a successful day.
3) Create a dedicated learning space – There should be a place for each child, free of
distractions, where all the necessary supplies are at hand. This will minimize the child’s need to
get up and look for things, breaking the flow of concentration. Make this space special for
learning, separate from where they eat or play or sleep (even if it’s just a corner of their rooms
or a different seat at the dining room table from where they eat). Work with your student to
compile a written list of the user id’s and passwords for all the websites they will be using (for
older kids, categorize by class or subject matter), to keep close at hand in their learning space.
Seek input and feedback from your students on what feels comfortable – this will increase their
cooperation and success.
4) Make and post a schedule – There are lots of samples on Pinterest of ways to set this up.
Designate blocks of time for each family member from wake up to bedtime in a format that
your aged children can follow on their own to cut down on you having to constantly direct them
to the next activity. Be sure when you create the schedule that you separate the less pleasant
tasks, interspersing them with things that are more entertaining.
5) Take movement breaks – In between sedentary activities, schedule in opportunities to get
up and move around. Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube is easy to follow, and for shorter breaks a
quick dance party to one song or an active game of Simon Says will help. Young kids need to
shake their sillies out, and concentration is improved for all ages by movement. As a side point,
many kids benefit from being able to move WHILE they are working, so a stability ball seat or
something they can fidget with can be helpful.
6) Set and follow a routine – Kids thrive on routine and predictability, and parents trying to be
productive with work and still manage school at home really need it. Planning a week at a time
works well for many families, and helps kids know what to expect.
7) Be flexible – While routines are important, these are unprecedented times and consistency
may not always be possible. Give yourself and your family permission to adjust as necessary. If
you find you are having to adjust too often, though, you may need to restructure the routine
8) Figure out a system for accountability – How will you know if the plan is working? How
much feedback does your student need in order to stay on track? How involved do you actually
need to be? Check in with each other regularly on how it’s going, but micromanage as little as
possible. We want our kids to be moving toward independence, and if they were in school as
normal, we wouldn’t be involved in every aspect of their day. Share control as much as
9) Pay attention to your student’s learning style – Is your child a visual, aural, physical, social,
solitary, or logical learner? Understanding this can help you set up their space with what they
need, and give you clues if they hit a roadblock in distance learning. There are many online
quizzes to help you identify your child’s learning style.
10) Be creative with learning methods – Learning can take place during fun activities; not
everything has to be in a classroom lesson format. Cooking together teaches math and science,
lots of interactive board games have educational themes and benefits - Where in the World is
Carmen Sandiego, Bananagrams, Boggle, Yahtzee, Dominoes, and Cribbage are just a few
examples. Nat Geo’s website and tv channel also provide lots of learning, as does PBS.
11) Meet social needs – Many kids, especially extroverts, are really feeling lonely and isolated
the longer this goes on. Missing out on seeing their friends and teachers feels like a loss to
most of them, so we need to help them stay safely connected to others. Online “playdates” can
feel awkward, especially to young kids, so help them be comfortable by encouraging a show
and tell type ice breaker, or encourage them to work on a shared project during video time,
such as painting kindness rocks or taking turns writing a story. Also, you might consider
building a Quaranteam with another family whom you trust to keep their exposure and virus
precautions in line with yours, and with whom you feel you can safely gather.
12) Manage electronic device use intentionally – With all the juggling we are doing, it’s only
natural to want to give kids extra screen time. It keeps them occupied while we work, it’s a
reward they are typically very willing to work for, and often is a short-term solution to a
meltdown. It’s okay to do this, but keep in mind that too much screen time very often will
backfire. Making sure that there is screen free time every day (reading from a paper book,
getting outside, playing a board game, exercising, and having face-to-face interaction) is vitally
13) Don’t feel that you have to figure everything out on your own – Much has been written by
educators and mental health experts recently on parenting in a pandemic, and there are
resources available to help with this “new normal.” I’ve complied many of them on a Pinterest
page under Robin Gustine, Parent Coach, and am happy to consult and problem solve with you
via individual coaching as well.
14) Find sources of help – It’s so hard to be teacher and parent at the same time! Consider
finding (or starting) a co-op with other families so you can take turns monitoring the school part
of the day, or taking the kids on safe outings. There are a lot of high school and even college
students who would be glad to make extra money tutoring younger kids, virtually or in person.
15) Communicate (compassionately!) with the teachers - Teachers are trained and dedicated
experts in education, so much of what is baffling to us about helping our kids learn is second
nature to them. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them to ask questions and strategize solutions to
your individual child’s challenges, while staying mindful of the fact that for many of them, the
online format is new and as frustrating for them as it is for us as parents. There will be
technical glitches, as there are in any new system, so be patient as the teachers learn to
navigate this whole new and drastically different way of doing their jobs.
16) Check your attitude – it’s contagious! If you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed,
chances are your kids will too. We’re all experiencing some degree of pandemic fatigue, but as
parents we need to be able to model for our kids that the challenges we are all facing right now
are surmountable. By working together as a team, your family can thrive, but you may all have
to take turns building each other up.
17) Avoid burnout by making time for self-care – We are playing more roles than normal and
being pulled in so many directions these days, in addition to feeling like we’re all on top of one
another. It’s nearly impossible to give when you’re depleted, so making time for yourself is
actually the opposite of selfish. When making your schedule, be sure to build in time for
yourself to do the things that release stress and increase joy. Once it’s written down, you’ll be
less likely to skip it and end up feeling overtaxed.
18) Relax – Many parents are concerned that this distance learning is going to create some kind
of academic or intellectual deficit in their children’s lives. While we don’t know yet if this is
true, remember that most of their generation is in the same situation, so it’s a pretty level
19) Focus on positives – and there are some! The pace of life prior to the pandemic was
incredibly stressful for most. The spiking rate of childhood anxiety shows us that kids were
burning out from the pressure of school, sports, activities, and all the resume building tasks
they were juggling; there is great benefit to slowing down. Family relationships are able to
deepen with the extra time together, and as a society we have a chance to reevaluate what is
important. Ask yourself what you really miss from your “normal” life, and what you will miss
about your current life when “normal” resumes. In the answer to these questions, you’ll find
where your focus should be.