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Tips and Tricks to Make Remote School Work for You

Allen is a parent with two kids. He knows stuff. Lots of stuff. Parenting is hard.

Is Remote School Working for You?

COVID-19 and the threat of future pandemics is likely to be with us for some time. And unfortunately, that also means remote school is likely to be with us for some time.

In fact, administrators are beginning to realize that remote school has some positives. For instance, if remote learning truly works, suddenly snow days are a thing of the past. Is your student too sick to sit in front of a computer? Most of the time it's unlikely.

Thus, it's pretty clear, remote learning is here to stay. Here are some tricks and tips to make it more effective in your home.

My Situation With Remote Learning

My remote learning experience began when my kids were in 3rd grade and 5th grade. As of the publication of this article, my kids are in 4th grade and 6th grade. The transition to 6th grade, which is elementary school to middle school, represents a particularly good opportunity for analyzing the effectiveness of remote schooling. That's because the intensity of the learning and the student's responsibilities changed so much.

Overall, my experience with remote learning has been pretty good. I am certainly aware that it hasn't been that way for everyone. Admittedly, I live in a pretty wealthy area and we have a good school district. In fact, I thought the district and the teachers did an outstanding job. So that's where I'm coming from.

I am very aware it wasn't that way and hasn't been that way for everyone. Still, I think how the kids interact with the instruction has some common elements and I will try to address those.

Supervision Is a Must

There's just no way to get around the fact that remote learning requires a certain amount of adult supervision and periodic auditing.

This will be a particularly frustrating comment to most parents, particularly those working from home. Unfortunately, in order for your kids to get the most benefit from remote learning, parents are going to have to involve themselves. So far, my experience suggests that 4th grade and below requires considerable supervision.

One option to minimize the supervision is to strictly limit which web sites your child can access. There are numerous programs out there that can help accomplish this. Unfortunately, it's vitally important to control what your student is doing and if you can force them to be on task, the learning will be better.

The main problem I've discovered is that my kids get distracted. It's been a battle to keep them focused, even when a class period is only 40 minutes or so. Either they have objects in the room that they pick up or they have multiple tabs open on their computer. They think they can look at one web site while listening to the teacher. They can't.


What I've Observed With Other Kids

One big advantage of watching your child in the remote learning environment is that you can see what other students are doing. You can also see what the teacher is looking for.

As far as my 4th grader is concerned, he's in that grade where they're transitioning from play learning to more traditional learning. Many of the kids are struggling. They struggle with responsibility and they struggle to sit still.

The kids who are struggling can't sit still and they can't avoid distracting the other kids. Many kids will get up in the middle of class and walk away when they should be listening. Some kids will be lying on the couch. Others will play with objects. If you can create expectations for your child about what it involves to be an effective student, you can set them up for success.

There Have to Be Rules

There's no doubt. You have to set expectations and have rules. Otherwise, your child is going to struggle. In the remote learning environment, you can't expect the teacher to handle misbehavior. You, as the parent, have to be the enforcer. And it's much better to set rules rather than dole out punishment as things happen.

Among the rules I've tried to establish:

  1. No play objects in the room
  2. No additional reading materials in the room
  3. Volume must be high enough that I can hear it
  4. No distracting noises
  5. Sit upright in learning position
  6. No tabs open other than what the teacher wants

This is what I've come up with so far. I'm sure I'll develop other rules as things progress and I observe more.

Reduce All Other Screen Time

Because the kids are on computers all day, they suddenly start to think they get unfettered access. You have to make it clear that they do not. Once school is over, force the computer to shut down.

It's critical that part of your learner's day involve stuff that doesn't involve the computer or any screen. Otherwise, your kids will atrophy.

I've started making it a requirement that my 4th grader go on a walk with me. It's been good for him. Kids need exercise and sun. I'm in the fortunate position that I have time for the walk and realize some parents may not. If you can force outside time, it's absolutely vital.

My 6th grader, who's in an advanced learning situation, is usually tied up. However, even when he's free, he resists going outside. So I'm starting to see how I'm going to have to force the issue with him too.

The 6th grader is the one who is getting much too comfortable being on the computer all day long. This is a really tough battle. It's particularly tough because if a student wants to write or read, the computer is often a reasonable device to use. He's a good typer, so if he wants to write, he wants to do it directly into the computer. This makes it hard to monitor what else he's doing.

We're still struggling with this. He's getting way more screen time than he should and not going outside enough.

Be Forgiving

Your children are going to make a lot of mistakes. Some of them will be intentional, but a lot of them will be unintentional. You have to be forgiving and understanding. I often fail to explain and help my child and that's essential in this environment. I will give one example that happened recently where I learned this lesson.

My son was very proud of some writing he did and during reading time, he read his story. Well, the teacher moved on to another lesson and was engaging the students when my son emailed the link to his story through chat. Of course, this went to the teacher and all the other students.

His teacher immediately kicked him out of the lesson. I was also upset with my son for disrupting class. However, he didn't really understand what he had done wrong. He cried and was very sad, so I had to explain to him that he was showing his teacher that he wasn't paying attention to the lesson in front of him. He also potentially distracted his classmates.

I had him write an apology letter, but even after that, he was nervous about talking to the teacher. I had to tell him that it was okay to make that mistake, but he had to understand why he had made the mistake. Getting on him did absolutely no good. It was only after some sympathy that he felt better.

Ultimately, many of the kids will not understand the mistakes they've made because they don't completely understand the rules of the environment. Help them understand it.

Don't Be Afraid to Email the Teacher

You have to be careful with this one. Teachers are under a lot of pressure and what they're doing isn't easy. If you're going to email your child's teacher with a suggestion, it has to be as constructive as possible. You have to sound like you want to help. It can't be criticism.

I emailed my son's teacher when I realized that many of the students, along with my son, didn't understand when they should log off. My son would frequently log off while the teacher was talking. Thus, he'd miss important instructions.

I emailed her and explained that I thought it would be helpful to explicitly explain to the students exactly when they could log off. She understood exactly what I meant and explained it within the hour. Students were only to log off once she had explicitly said so. After she explained, it helped my son and helped the teacher a lot.

Don't be afraid to email the teacher when it's appropriate.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Allen Donald


Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 26, 2020:

Excellent, some new ideas for our home. My son is thriving at it. I enjoy all the time saved getting ready to go and going to and from from school. Safer also. (although my son still has ritual to be ready for class)

I am more of the bent to leave the class time just to him. Like if he was in a classroom with no parents. But we have a review process and constant communication with the teacher.

It would not be pretty if I caught him with another tab open ;-)