As summer comes to an end, and school is around the corner, school districts and families are trying to figure out what their 2020-2021 plan is for the school year. Some schools in the states have resumed in person classes, and school boards in Canada are trying to figure out how to do the same safely. With COVID-19 precautions still a consideration, some families are choosing to keep their children home and attempt online learning for the school year. In a previous post (here), I wrote about preparing your child and your home for the back to school transition, but here we’ll talk about preparing if you are starting online learning.
I have a few teacher friends who contributed some of their tips for their students and families when headed into the new year. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, so if you are unsure of what else to do to be prepared, try reaching out to your child’s teacher.
Preparing materials that will be required
I mentioned in my earlier post the organization of space and materials that your child might need going into online learning. This is key, not only so that they have everything with them, but so that they are able to independently attend their classes and do their work without needing you around. Checking in with the teacher when classes start might be a good idea – will they need a USB, certain computer programs to download? Are they working in a busy house? If so, would it be beneficial for them to have headphones? Your back to school list might look different and might change as the teacher figures out the best way to facilitate classes.
Learning the online program
With new online learning comes new computer programs to operate. When your child’s school sends out information about the program they’ll be using to teach, start learning how to operate the program so that you can teach your child and support them throughout the school year. Have your child practice logging in and out of the programs they’ll be using, and putting themselves on and off of mute. If there is a designated space for them to type in questions or answers, have them get familiar with this so they won’t be lost while the teacher is attending to the rest of the class. Figure out if there is a certain way to save and upload documents, and have them become comfortable with these processes – your child might still need your help doing these things for the first while of classes, but the more independent they can become, the easier this year will be on everyone. Remember everyone learns at different speeds (especially with technology!) so be patient with your child and yourself!
New styles of communication
Because your child is not in the classroom with their teacher, written communication skills will be more important than ever. Help your child set up a designated school email to ensure their emails don’t get filtered to junk, and then teach your child how to send an appropriate email to their teacher. If you have a younger child, connect with the teacher at the beginning of the year to ensure they have your information along with your child’s. You can also check in with the teacher about how deadlines and homework will be communicated – don’t stress about knowing everything your child is doing in school, but check in at least twice a week with your child (not the teacher) about their deadlines. If you’re concerned your child is missing deadlines or not writing down homework, you might reach out to their teacher, but remember teachers will be busy with lesson planning and communicating with all of the other parents as well, so please be patient!
Another great resource to keep in mind for online group work and communication with teachers is google documents. This online platform is similar to word documents, but work can be shared with your child’s teachers so that they can give feedback for their work. Students can also work together on a document all at the same time for group projects.
Social Learning Opportunities
In a recent article from Parents.com, experts remind parents about social learning opportunities that students may be missing due to schooling being online. Interacting with other children allow kids to learn social skills, chat about non-school related things, and share knowledge and information which can enhance their learning. From my personal experience volunteering with Camp Oochigeas virtual camp this summer, children can find social connection virtually if the opportunity is made. It might not be as organic as playing on the playground or chatting in class, but it still counts. Study dates can be set up for children to do school work via facetime or zoom, which can encourage the in class conversation. Setting up virtual playdates for younger children to watch a story being read together, or doing a craft or simple worksheet, can encourage storytelling and show and tell.
Encouraging Physical Activity
Another piece that might be hard to translate into online learning is gym class and the physical activity that children have at school. Whether you have a gym teacher deep down in your soul, are a basketball fanatic, or have no background in physical activity, you can help provide movement in your child’s day. Not only is it important to move for physical health, but also to help with the quarantine phenomenon of “zoom fatigue”. If you’ve taken part in any online meetings, courses, or “happy hours” during quarantine, you might have experienced the exhaustion from these experiences. Research suggests that physical activity may improve academic performance – encouraging breaks between screen time can help your child combat “zoom fatigue” and focus better when they do sit down again to continue working. A small movement break can involve a walk, yoga movement, a dance party, maybe shooting a few hoops in the backyard. Pinterest is a great place to find some ideas for movement breaks!
Whatever your plan is, whatever this year brings, take some time to chat with your child about how they are doing and what kind of support they might need from you. If you don’t think you can provide the academic support they might need, perhaps finding a tutor who can help with practice and homework can help! Remember, online learning in this capacity is new and challenging for our teachers too, so if something isn’t working or your child needs extra support, please be polite in your communication and feedback to teachers! We are all learning together, be patient, be kind, and don’t give up!