Education vs. pandemic: How to keep kids engaged in distance learning
As New Zealand’s COVID-19 response measures begin to soften, the reality is sinking in for a lot of us that distance learning will start to become a new normal. While many students have returned to school, closures to prevent outbreaks are still occurring regularly, and it’s hard to see an immediate end in sight for this.
As a parent, it’s easy to feel like you’re caught in between a rock and a hard place with these restrictions, particularly if you’re juggling a full-time job yourself. You know that your child’s schooling is a critical time in their life, but how do you keep them engaged with distance learning without sacrificing your own sanity?
Here are a few practical tips for managing the formidable task of keeping your kids’ learning in check.
Give age-appropriate context for why we’re all staying home.
Kids begin to develop a sense of ‘fairness’ and ‘unfairness’ while very young – many studies point to this occurring between 4 and 6 years old. Particularly for younger kids who are just beginning to get across the idea, being told that they need to stay at home seems inherently unfair. If they have older siblings who they’ve watched go to school every day in the past, this is only amplified. And you’d probably agree they’re right: nobody thinks the situation is ‘fair’, but that’s the reality we’re all having to deal with.
How can this be managed, particularly when you (as an adult) are also grappling with the ramifications of operating from home? A good start is to provide age-appropriate context for the situation, and letting them know that it’s OK to feel that way – everyone is finding it difficult.
Of course, you can’t explain the ins and outs of a global pandemic to a four-year-old. What you can do is provide guidance within the contexts they understand. For example, you might let them know that we need to stay at home in order to protect the people we care about, such as elderly family members. By combining this with a healthy dose of listening to your child’s concerns and assuring them that everything will work out in the end, you’ll start to lay a great foundation for the work they’ll be putting in at home.
Establish a routine.
One of the first things that kids start to miss about the in-person school day is the sense of routine. It’s the little things – travelling to school, having the same classes at the same time every week, lunch breaks – that provide structure at school. Although your days at home might not be quite as structured as what they’re used to, it’s still important to provide some sense of routine so your child knows what to expect every day.
In order to give your kids some agency over their own learning, it’s useful to co-create a timetable with them. For example, you might ask them what time they’d prefer to take their lunch break, making sure that this works around their scheduled classes. Giving them this sense of control over their day back will help them to feel less overwhelmed about an inherently uncertain situation.
Stay in touch with your kids’ teachers.
Everyone’s doing it tough, but you really have to feel for teachers. Keeping a classroom full of young students engaged is a difficult enough job at the best of times, but add Zoom-based learning into the equation and you have a recipe for a receding hairline and skyrocketing blood pressure.
You can lighten the load on your kids’ teachers by staying in regular contact with them. Ask if there’s anything you can do to support the learning process, particularly with regards to staying on top of homework and self-directed learning. Education is a team sport, and it’s better all round if you can play your part!
Protect your kids online.
The realities of juggling homeschooling with a job of your own mean that there will probably be times you need to leave your kids alone with their laptops or tablets. This can be scary for many parents who are used to physically monitoring their kids’ device usage, and rightly so – the Internet can be a dangerous place if you don’t know how to use it.
Thankfully, there are plenty of parental controls you can use to ensure your kids are safe online. Both Apple and Windows systems come with inbuilt controls you can enable to prevent your kids from accessing any inappropriate material, and you can supplement these with a host of third-party tools as well. Add a few healthy conversations about keeping safe online into the mix, and you’ll be able to use the situation as a learning opportunity for navigating the Wild West that is the Internet safely and effectively.
Don’t forget to get outside.
The final part of the equation is to remember to avoid keeping your kids holed up inside all day. Young children are bundles of energy, so being intentional about spending some time outside every day will help prevent them from being distracted when the time comes to sit down and focus on work.
There are plenty of ways you can integrate physical activity into your day. Perhaps you want to go for a walk before school every day, particularly if your child is used to walking to school. If you’re busy with work, you could consider walking meetings as a way to get out of the house. So long as you can find the time, it’s a great excuse to explore more of our beautiful country and spend some quality time with your kids!
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