School From Home: Tips and Tricks for Distance Learning Success

Many schools have decided to educate their students online until the end of the school year. Although this is a change for most families, distance learning is nothing to worry about. You can do it. You will help guide your child’s education just like you always have. You and the kids are going to be okay.

Charles and I started homeschooling our kids in 2003. Now, our daughter is a Sophmore in college and our son, still homeschooling, is a Junior in High School. After some consideration, we thought a few tips and tricks might be useful to those of you facing a school-from-home situation.

1. Your kids do not spend all the time that they are at school, learning. You do not have to keep them engaged in studies from 7:30am to 3:30pm every weekday. When your kids go to school they spend a great deal of time socializing with their peers and waiting.

  • Elementary students line up to have water breaks, line up to go to the bathroom, line up to go to recess, to go to lunch, to go to the buses, to go to the library, to the gym, to the computer room, and to anywhere else their teachers take them. Have you ever tried to corral a room of elementary children? Each school day the act of getting in line and waiting in line takes up a great deal of time.
  • Junior High students may not line up as frequently as they used to, but they get a five-minute break after every class. Additionally, the first and the last five minutes of each class are used to prepare and recover from that five-minute break. Letting your Junior High kids take 15-minute breaks between each subject can help maintain normalcy in their learning. We do not know what your school system will suggest for work to rest ratio, but our experience suggests no more than 45-minutes of study in one sitting for Junior High students, followed by at least 15-minutes of break-time.
  • High School students also take those 5-minute breaks and face a plethora of in-class interruptions; announcements, office messages, “I have to go to the bathroom,” and the presence of 29 other teenagers in the room to look at, talk to, and think about. To say nothing of smartphones…

Your kids do not have the same things to deal with at home, that they deal with at school. The time they spend engaged in actual learning will be different at home than it was at school, but even at school, your kids did not spend hours on end engaged in quiet study.

2. Prioritize and Incentivize. If you know where your child struggles to succeed, use that knowledge. Get through that subject first, and do it together. Every student has strengths and weaknesses. Once you identify those, you can structure their day to play to their skills. Tackle the hardest subjects in the morning and treat the “easy” subjects like dessert.

Prioritize your kids’ day so they can get through the hardest tasks while they have the most energy and save the fun ones for the natural afternoon slump.

Depending on your child’s temperament you may be able to incentivize their day with something as simple as a checklist that they get to mark off. It will show them how much they have done in a day and motivate them to move from task to task.

Some children prefer more tangible extrinsic rewards and that’s okay too. Through trial and error, you can find a healthy incentive that works well for you and your children.

Caution! Bribery works but gets expensive. Start small, “Pennies for Progress” is better than “Dollars for Details.” Remember too, that the kids will learn to expect monetary compensation for schoolwork if you establish that norm now.

3. Your number one job is to be a parent. Never take teaching so seriously that you forget your #1 job. Depending on what grade your child is in, they may have ten or more years to master the skills they learn this quarter, at home, with you. Reviews are built into public, private, and charter school education for a reason. This material will be covered again. Do you best to cover everything thoroughly and trust the process to fill in any gaps in understanding.

4. You are not being judged or graded for your ability to teach. Your child’s teacher is your friend. Ask all of your questions.

5. Your child is unique. Take the curriculum your school district provides and customize it in order to help your child learn. Cover all the same material but make it fun for your kid. No one knows your child better than you. Joy in learning makes learning a joy.

6. Listen to your kids. This is hard for them too. It’s okay if they don’t know the answers, and it’s okay if you don’t know the answers. Learning is all about finding answers. Remember to breathe, then ask Google, and learn together.

I wish we knew these things when we began our homeschooling journey so many years ago. You can survive this quarter and learn some things in the process. You’ve got this. Share this with other parents you know. Get the word out!

Distance learning tips and tricks

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