This challenging time has highlighted just how grateful our community is for teachers and educators who support children’s learning. As the saying goes, sometimes “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” If you are like most parents, chances are you are not magically equipped with lesson plans and developmentally appropriate materials for your child’s remote school day. However, parents everywhere are rallying to support one another by sharing tips, problem-solving, and (hopefully!) being kind to each other and themselves in tackling this challenging situation. Below are some considerations to guide you in structuring your child’s learning environment and taking on this new role.
Be Thoughtful About the Physical Space
Now that families are in close quarters, it is more important than ever to be thoughtful about your child’s physical workspace. An environment that supports learning, focus, and motivation is key for both children and adults to function in their jobs. Keeping your child’s school space separate from the play area will help to cue ‘work mode.’ Just as adults may not thrive when working in a cluttered, dim, or overstimulating space, a supportive learning environment is even more critical for children who are still building self-regulation skills. Ideally, your child’s workspace will be neat, well-lit and organized.
To reduce distractions, it is best to have minimal toys near the work area; any toys present should be academically related. If there are multiple children in your home, set up distinct workspaces for each child and be clear and transparent about which workstation belongs to whom to reduce negotiations. Ideally, all supplies for your child’s remote school day can be set up at the workstation to support independence and decrease interruptions. If you have a desk at home that resembles a school desk, use it! Such subtleties can help to recreate the school environment and signal your child to enter ‘work mode.’ If you anticipate that your child will need intermittent or even frequent support, locate your child’s workstation in a space neighboring where the most available caregiver is working or sitting. This way, your child may feel comfort in proximity and can more easily call for help as needed.
Abide By a Schedule
For those of us staying at home, the days may feel more unstructured now as each day bleeds into the next. It’s more important than ever to keep consistent routines and to model stability and predictability for your child. Providing a structured routine also mirrors the school experience. At home, this includes consistency in dressing and bathing routines, mealtime, and chores. Just as adults may feel more professional, confident, and ready for the day when we change out of pajamas, the same goes for children. You can support your child’s self-efficacy through establishing those self-care routines.
When you create a school schedule with your child, collaborate and co-create in order to get buy-in and give your child a sense of control. This is also a good time to be strategic! If you have an important meeting at 2PM every day, this is an ideal time for your child to engage in a preferred activity that requires limited supervision. Perhaps that means allowing your child to watch their favorite television show; though this may mean increased screen time, not every battle is worth fighting! Reserving novelty toy items—those that the child rarely gets to play with— for these critical times is also useful. Your child will feel more engaged and excited to see the kinetic sand that only comes out once a week as compared to the train set that has been in the play area for six weeks. Alternatively, when you have an important meeting or a meal to cook, it may be a perfect time to schedule special virtual activities for your child, such as a virtual board game with the grandparents or virtual karaoke with a neighbor.
Use Visuals and Have Fun Activities Available
As the ominous saying goes, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” In other words, boredom will quickly ensue without intentional schedules, breaks, fun, and rewards. Visual schedules are very helpful in supporting children to understand what is coming next and to know how much they have left of a given activity. Be realistic about what is developmentally appropriate—can your child focus for 5 minutes at a time or 30 minutes at a time? Adjust movement breaks accordingly throughout the day to allow your child to release excess energy and to break up the work. This is especially important for children who are living in close quarters and unable to run outside as they once did. Elementary aged children may benefit from regular breaks, for example 10-minute breaks after every 20 minutes working.
If your child is younger (preschool or early elementary-aged), it may be helpful to use a visual schedule in addition to or instead of a written schedule. For example, morning meeting for school may be represented by weather icons. When you place the visual schedule in an easily accessible location such as the child’s workspace or the refrigerator, you and your child can review the schedule together each morning. You may want to use Velcro so that the activities can be removed once completed, or moved around if there are changes in the schedule. Become your child’s cheerleader throughout the day! When possible, note the activities and jobs they have accomplished and those they still have coming up. Praise any movement towards independence, engagement, and competence.
Be Proactive in Managing Your Child’s Expectations
The lack of structure of quarantine may cause anxiety and an unsettled feeling for your child. Your child’s routines, interactions, and hobbies may suddenly have been stripped away. We as adults feel these impacts as well, perhaps suddenly making more to-do lists or using other organizational supports to help us cope in this new ambiguity. Children likewise benefit from clear and transparent support in understanding what is expected and how to succeed. In a typical school day, teachers provide information about the schedule, student roles, and activities coming up. Parents can now take on this important role to help children feel confident and ready for the day.
It is important to think about what your child is capable of developmentally. In general, 2-6 year-olds will require parent support with online school regardless of how regulated and motivated they are. It may be useful to rehearse parts of the day with your child to help orient to what is coming next. For example, before morning meeting, practice the interaction with your child! “I know when Mrs. Smith says your name in morning meeting, you say ‘Here.’ Let’s practice together.” Give your child praise in the morning before beginning work, noting their autonomy and ability to complete tasks in recent days. This will help to pump your child up for the new day and build self-esteem.
It will also be helpful to manage your child’s expectations of caregivers’ availability throughout the day. In a two-parent home, it may be that each parent has a variable work schedule, or one parent is much more accessible than the other. “Stop” and “Go” signs on doors can be very useful to indicate when a working caregiver is occupied. Creating a visual menu of activities will help your child to know the toy options that are available when the “Stop” sign is on the door. For example, perhaps more highly desired toys will be available at this time to support your child in tolerating the separation and frustration. For the Stop and Go sign system to be effective, however, the child cannot be denied access to one caregiver at all times—the sign does need to be on “Go” during parts of the day to be a fair and tolerable system.
Acceptance will be key during this difficult time. You are doing all that you can mentally and physically to support your family and burnout is inevitable. There is no right way to navigate quarantine or to tackle remote school with your child, however some small adjustments to the home environment may go a long way in setting your family up for success and reduced conflict.
- Visual School Schedules: https://cdn.thisreadingmama.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/VSSC-SF-TRM.pdf
- Khan Academy Printable Activities: https://khankids.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/360041004572-Printable-Activities-for-Parents-and-Teachers
- PBS Kids Parent Resources: https://www.pbs.org/parents
- Scholastic Learning Resources: https://classroommagazines.scholastic.com/support/learnathome/resources-for-families.html
Braff, D. (2020, April 21). How to Get Your Kids to Treat You Like Their Teacher. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/21/parenting/coronavirus-home-schooling-children.html?referringSource=articleShare
MacMillan, C. (2020, March 25). 8 Tips for Working From Home With Kids During COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/8-tips-work-at-home-with-kids-covid-19/
TodayShow. (2020, April 30). Free resources for home-schooling during the coronavirus crisis. Retrieved from https://www.today.com/parents/how-homeschool-during-coronavirus-crisis-t176020
Working and Learning from Home During the COVID-19 Outbreak. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/chest-lungs/Pages/Working-and-Learning-from-Home-During-the-COVID-19-Outbreak.aspx