Another school year is about to begin, but it will be unlike any other in history. With COVID-19 still a significant health threat in the U.S., many schools are opting to teach students online while they stay at home to limit their exposure to the virus. One potential problem, however, is that “41% of teenagers overall, including 47% of public school students, say they haven't attended a single online or virtual class,” according to a Common Sense Media poll of 849 teenage students.
It’s a mistake to assume that kids who are adept at using technology will automatically be great virtual students. Online learning offers an educational experience different from what most students are used to, and even tech-savvy kids may have to learn new apps, procedures, and habits in order to succeed. Here are some quick tips to help prepare your kids for online learning success.
If your school has officially announced that online learning will be taking place, make sure you review what technology will be required to participate as soon as you can. You may need to acquire a computer/tablet/phone, programs, high-speed internet, etc. in order for your kids to get the most out of the experience. Your school may be willing to supply the necessary equipment if you don’t already own it, but supplies may be limited. Try to have everything tested and ready to go a week before classes begin so you have time to troubleshoot.
Whether it’s a tidy corner of your child’s bedroom, a folding table in the living room, or a favorite seat at the dinner table, designate a comfortable, distraction-free workspace for learning. Ideally, this should be a consistent spot that your kids can count on being available every school day. If you’ll be working from home during the school year, take your own workspace needs into consideration—conference calls and math lectures can be loud if you’re not using headphones, so try to give each other some space.
Kids are used to having a consistent schedule during the school year, so it’s critical to establish a similar learning routine at home. Your school may have teachers hosting live online learning sessions at scheduled times, which will help keep your kids on track, but students may also find themselves more responsible for self-directed learning this year. Your kids may have to work through online assignments solo and at their own pace. Get everyone into a scheduled routine just as you would during a normal school year—get up, have breakfast, start school, have lunch, back to school, wind up the day. Expect your kids to spend the same amount of time each day on schoolwork as they would under normal circumstances.
If you thought your kids were getting too much “screen time” already, consider how much more time online learning will contribute. Not including time spent using screens for school or homework, American teens spend 7 hours and 22 minutes looking at screens per day. That’s a LOT. Consider making an effort to plan fun activities for the whole family that don’t involve staring at a screen. Give your kids’ eyes a break and get them moving.
These are extraordinary circumstances, and we all need to help each other get through them. Learning online is great for some and challenging for others, so try to recognize how your kids are doing with their schoolwork and provide the support they need. This might take the form of providing technical assistance, arranging for tutoring more suited to their learning style, and helping them deal with the social and emotional effects of the situation. Bear in mind that teachers are dealing with their own challenges in this situation, so please be kind to them, especially when things need adjustment.
If you’re worried about your kids going to school online, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. Millions of Americans are figuring it out right alongside you. No one expects you to be a computer guru or a master educator. Challenges are bound to come up that you aren’t able to solve on your own, so you have to give yourself permission to ask for help when you need it. Make a call to your school’s information technology department. Send a respectful email to your child’s teacher if you feel they might need some extra help. Reach out to other parents going through the same thing you are, even if it’s just to blow off some steam.
The school year is just beginning, but we can get through it together. If you think your internet could use a boost to improve your experiences working and learning from home, please get in touch.