Distance learning is tedious. Between the emails, Zoom meetings, various portals teachers utilize, and the individual workload of every class, juggling at-home learning during the new “virtual school day” can be a tall order for both children and parents. Even more difficult, though, is maintaining this juggling act when there is more than one school-aged child in the home. This is new territory for everyone. To ease the stress and confusion, we’ve compiled suggestions and strategies to assist families who are learning at home with multiple school-aged children.
Designated work areas
One major hurdle when it comes to remote teaching and learning is organization. It should come as no shock that organizing a learning space is paramount to ensuring continuity of learning now that the usual classroom routines and structures have been discarded. Students need to have a designated quiet place to focus, read, correspond, and create. Many families are struggling to enable children to focus on their remote classwork simply because the environment is not conducive for concentration. While the kitchen counter or a child’s bedroom may have previously been the homework area of choice, times have certainly changed—we’re no longer talking about rushed homework tasks in between soccer practice and dinner time.
If teachers and parents expect children to sit and focus for an extended amount of time, they need to provide a comfortable space, free of distractions. When siblings are working in close proximity, complications are bound to emerge. Therefore, it is important that each child has his or her own private workspace, equipped with comfortable seating, a laptop or other device, necessary school materials, and some form of desk or surface on which to work. If space is an issue, parents should consider lap desks as an alternative to bulky furniture desks.
Headphones are a true lifesaver when it comes to remote learning. Since many teachers are utilizing Zoom calls and other video tools to conduct teaching and learning, students would benefit from noise-canceling headphones that allow them to focus solely on the instruction. Headphones also spare other house members the headache of trying to block out the instructional videos and video chats.
Individual check-in times
Many parents are finding that, on top of their own jobs working from home, they have now suddenly become homeschool teachers of multiple grade levels and content areas. To avoid being stretched too thin, parents should consider designating certain times of the day for each child to check-in, seek help, review work, etc. Limit this form of “parental assistance” to a half-hour per child if possible. If parents find that a child needs more support, they should communicate with the school and specific teachers about classes and assignments that are becoming unmanageable. To stick to the 30-minute check-in period, encourage children to jot down their necessary questions ahead of time and to come prepared to articulate where and how they need assistance. Set a timer so that children know they are “on the clock” for their specified time. Whatever questions or issues that they are still experiencing after their time has expired should be directed to their teacher.
Coordinate brain breaks and snack times
With multiple kids in the house, coordination is key to productive distance learning. Depending on each child’s age and learning needs, siblings may need more or less time for movement, screen-free learning, “brain breaks,” etc. As much as possible, try to establish universal times throughout the day when children break from learning to keep motivation, focus, and energy levels up and running.
It is important to move, converse, socialize, play, and create throughout the day to interrupt the monotony of virtual learning; however, if one child is playing outside while the other is concentrating on schoolwork, parents may want to rethink the learning schedule. Allowing simultaneous break times ensures that kids aren’t being distracted by siblings during work sessions. There is no jealousy or “unfairness” factor if siblings are getting a break at the same time. Be consistent with breaks as much as possible; use a timer if necessary to set limits for learning versus playing.
Remind, Reassure, Reset
Regardless of how academically inclined they have felt in past school years, children are struggling right now. Learning is always hard. However, virtual learning brings its own challenges on top of that. Social media is helping to shed light on the issues that virtual learning is causing in homes across the country, with numerous videos demonstrating just how emotionally taxing this “new normal” has become.
However, kids need to know that this isn’t normal. Elementary-aged kids sitting in front of computer screens all day isn’t normal. Missing “school” due to connectivity issues isn’t normal. Clicking a button to virtually raise your hand isn’t normal. Having to rejoin class multiple times each day because of platform glitches isn’t normal. Most importantly, none of this is their fault. Yet, these children are becoming more and more defeated every day. Parents can use the “Remind, Reassure, and Reset” strategy to help combat this.
Remind your child that many, many aspects of virtual learning will be inherently beyond their control. These little beings are not tech wizards, and they shouldn’t be made to feel incompetent because of this.
Remind your child that handling error messages, blank downloads, broken links, etc., is not their responsibility as a young learner.
Remind your child that every other student is also struggling. Their peers may be more comfortable with certain aspects of virtual learning; it may come more naturally to others. However, no one is innately equipped to thrive in this virtual world—it takes time.
Remind your child that the teachers are new to this, too. Their teachers would love to be back in the classroom interacting and exploring with them. They, too, are frustrated with the technology and expectations put on them.
Reassure your child that it will not always be like this—learning will return to normal. They will rejoin the brick and mortar classrooms and have a greater appreciation for in-person schooling than ever!
Reassure them that their teachers are on their side—that they are always rooting for student success and trying to shoulder the technology burdens whenever possible.
Reassure children that all of these challenges, while insanely frustrating, are helping them to become resilient. That with each unique difficulty, they’re learning patience, problem-solving skills, grit/determination, creativity, and responsibility.
Close the computer
Eat a snack
Run around the block
Jump on the trampoline (even a mini trampoline inside)
Juggle a soccer ball’
Color in a coloring book
Snuggle with the family pet
Stretch on the floor
Blast some music for an out-of-control dance party—whatever you need to do to encourage a “mindset reset” when the tears start flowing.
Reset the vibe in the room when things get emotional. It is okay (and often necessary!) to take a break and step away from the screen! Help your child reset when emotions run high. Reset the negative self-talk. If you hear your child verbally beating themselves up over perceived shortcomings with virtual learning—don’t let it go unnoticed. Help them reset by reminding them of all their strengths and talents. Tell them explicitly that any new difficulty or misstep does not negate these strengths and prior successes.
Wendy Taylor, M.Ed has extensive experience working with students of all ages and abilities, with a focus on learning differences and disabilities. Prior to founding Learning Essentials, she served as a faculty member at Saint Petersburg College, a supervisor of pre-service teachers and a Montgomery County Public School teacher. A certified educator and qualified educational diagnostician, Wendy holds a B.S. in Social Science and Secondary Education from Frostburg State University and a M.Ed. in Special Education from George Mason University.