Ready or not, the start of the 2020-2021 school year approaches quickly, and for many of us that means a return to distance learning. The COVID-19 pandemic brought us a school year none of us expected, and understandably our kids may feel disappointed about resuming remote learning. Actually, parents probably feel more disappointed than the kids. Instead of feeling normal “back-to school” excitement and jitters, teachers, parents, and students are scrambling to prepare for a not-so-normal first week back.
And maybe that will be our new normal – this school year will present us with many challenges that we cannot control. But what we CAN control is our attitude and how we react to the difficulties we face. Isn’t the idea of having grit and determination during times of struggle an attribute we encourage our kids to have? Our kids gauge our reactions, and while things are far from perfect, we can still model excitement and positivity in a time of unknowns and uncertainty.
Thinking about returning to remote learning may feel overwhelming, but doing some simple and basic activities with your kids will encourage excitement and might make things easier. Below, I’ve rounded up some ideas for you to try with your family. Because who knows? With the right attitude, this year could be great!
1) Designate and decorate an area for learning
It is important to have a designated spot for learning. Although one of the benefits of online class is the ability to log in anywhere – outside, at the kitchen table, in bed etc… it is also a good idea to have a “home base” for activities. A place that is calm and inviting, and free from distractions. Designating a learning space can encourage focus and attention, because when you are in the learning space, it is time to work. It also provides a place to organize school papers, supplies, and activities.
After deciding the best place for learning, encourage your kid to make some of the decisions for decor and organizing. Such as choosing the cup for pens and pencils, or picking an inspirational quote to display. Taking ownership of the spot is a great way to get your kid excited for school. Now they can have their very own “office” or “classroom.”
2) Write and display expectations
Sure, you could lay down the law and tell your kids what the rules are for the school day at home. But if you work together to create expectations, they just might be more likely to follow them. Here is one way you can work together to create some at-home learning expectations:
- Grab some sticky notes, and brainstorm ideas of what makes a classroom successful.
- Write one idea per sticky note. Examples could include “organized” or “students respecting one another” etc…
- Group similar sticky notes. If one says “staying organized” and someone else wrote “clean,” combine them.
- Together, create an expectation for each group of sticky notes that could be applied to remote learning. Examples could include:
Between activities, I will clean up my area.
When I get frustrated, I can take a mental break and try again after a few minutes.
If others are working near me, I will be respectful.
3) Get time on your side
An in-person school day provides much needed structure that will be difficult to replicate at home. However, here are some ideas that can provide the sense of a more “normal” school day.
- Get your kids a planner. Picking out a brand new planner for the school year year is exciting – it reminds you that the year is a fresh start, and full of possibility. Choosing stickers, special pens, and fun sticky notes will encourage them to actually use the planner.
- A more budget friendly option is printing a weekly template that could serve as a planner. Check out some free weekly planners here. Or, maybe your kids would even enjoy designing their own template and printing it out!
- Display a calendar in the learning area. Using your district’s academic calendar, mark important dates like grading cycles and holidays. Decorating the calendar and adding important events will encourage ownership.
- Get a fun visual timer (like a sand timer)! Visual timers give a gentle reminder to stay on task, and when to take breaks.
4) Set goals
Creating and and working towards goals motivates, increases focus, and boosts confidence for students, among many other benefits.
Start off by working on a goal for the year. Students may be tempted to set a broad goal, such as “make good grades,” but that is not specific, or measurable. Instead, “make all Bs or higher on my report cards” provides a more defined target, and gives criteria for success.
In addition to a long-term goal, setting daily goals can provide routine and focus. Again, using specificity is key here. Instead of “study for my history test,” it would be more effective to say “I will create 10 flashcards from my history study guide and review them for 10 minutes.” And if your kids are creating goals with their teachers, display them in the learning area!
5) Plan rewards
It might be harder to stay motivated this year, with so many unknowns and changes to what school will look like. Not seeing friends and teachers in person will be especially tough. It may help to give your kids something to look forward to, even if it is a small event. Write down “family pizza and movie nights” on the calendar. Create a countdown to the first holiday weekend, or other special events. Then, when those moments of frustration inevitably come up, you can remind your kids that “it might be tough right now, but don’t forget we have XYZ this weekend!”