11 Tips for Successful Distance Learning

Millions of U.S. kids will be distance learning for all or part of the school year. Make the most of their time with these tips for homeschooling.

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Homeschooling. Virtual school. Distance learning. Whatever its called in your part of the country, if your children are among the millions of students who will be attending school during the pandemic from home rather than taking in-person classes, theyre in for an unusual and likely challenging school year.

Adapting to a challenge and staying healthy during school are good skills to learn, but it might take some practice. These tips for homeschooling can help make studying from home a positive, successful venture for you and your kids.

  • Create a dedicated workspace. Impart the seriousness of homeschooling by setting up a space in the house that is just for school. Keep school supplies, including books, writing tools, a calculator, etc., here so that theyre handy when online lessons begin. Make it your childs responsibility to keep their space neat and orderly.
  • Provide the right tools. Virtual learning is challenging, all the more so when kids lack the right school technology and gear to do their best work. Make sure theyve got a kid-sized headset with microphone and, for littler hands, a smaller mouse thats easy for them to use. Whether theyre working at a laptop or desktop, make sure their chair and screen height are adjusted so that they can view the screen straight on.
  • Minimize distractions. If possible, set up your childs workspace in a dedicated room like your home office. If thats not doable, then minimize distractions by providing your child with a headset. Remove diversions from their line of sight that means no toys, bags of cookies or anything else a child might fuss with during lesson time. Make sure TVs and radios in the vicinity are turned off.
  • Stay close by, but dont hover. While your tween or teen might not need (or want) your help during virtual lessons, for younger kids its a good idea to stick close by. Make sure theyre properly connected and set up when lessons begin, then step out of camera range. Im able to work while my eight-year-old does her online lessons, but I use a lot of nonverbal communication (i.e., The Look) when I can see shes starting to get antsy or her mind is wandering.
  • Create a daily schedule. Kids who were accustomed to being in school most of the day might feel a little adrift with online learning. Make a daily schedule that includes a wake-up time similar to that of a normal school year. Block in virtual lessons and homework sessions, but be sure to allow for downtime, whether its watching TV, playing video games or pursuing a hobby.
  • Make lunchtime fun. If your kids are like most, lunchtime is their favorite part of the school day. Make it fun at home, too, by planning (with them) a weekly menu that includes things they might find at school like tater tots and mini-pizzas. Try serving lunch on these divided meal trays and theyll really feel like theyre at school!
  • Schedule in-person playdates. If you can do so safely, schedule at least one playdate a week with one or more classmates. Alternate with other parents so its not always on you to be the chaperone. If in-person playdates arent viable, schedule Zoom or WhatsApp calls so that your kids can stay in contact with their friends.
  • Get outside every day. When weather permits, make sure that your kids spend part of their day outside playing. Theyre potentially spending hours seated in front of a computer each weekday, so its especially important that they get outside, run off some steam and get some fresh air.
  • Learn something thats not schoolwork. Whether its enlisting your childs help with a DIY home improvement project or preparing a meal, make room at least a few times a week for learning activities that dont involve a computer or textbooks. Time spent measuring ingredients, reading installation manuals or learning to hammer nails is time well-spent!

Plus, some advice for parents navigating the strange new world of virtual learning:

  • Stay in contact with teachers. Virtual teaching is as new for a lot of teachers as virtual learning is for their pupils. Make sure you can contact your childs teachers, whether its email, WhatsApp or through the schools website. If theres something you or your child dont understand, speak up and get clarification. And if your child is struggling with this new method of learning, let their teachers know. They might have ideas for how to help students adjust to the virtual classroom.
  • Create or join a WhatsApp group for parents. Maybe youve been reluctant to form or join a WhatsApp group for parents because youre afraid it will be distracting and time-consuming. While these groups can eat up a lot of time, theyre also an effective way to communicate, commiserate and ask questions of other parents. Virtual learning can feel kind of lonely for kids and parents and staying in touch with other parents can help alleviate this isolation.