5 Tips to Help Establish a Distance Learning RoutineWednesday April 8, 2020
Families all over the world have been impacted by schools and businesses closing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This change is leaving students, teachers and parents to navigate the new territory of distance learning with parents taking on the role of overseeing their child’s schoolwork, all while juggling their own work from home. This can lead to a lot of added stress, frustration and anxiety for all involved.
One of the best ways to help children (and adults) adjust to a new normal is by establishing a routine. Routines let a child know what is coming, how long each activity will last, and what is coming next. Schedules provide structure, safety, boundaries, and a sense of familiarity, which in turn decreases a child’s stress and provides a sense of comfort.
Here are a few tips to help you set a routine for your family:
1. Make the day’s schedule together
Older children can help by either writing or drawing pictures. For younger children, you can talk about the tasks as you write or draw plans on a dry erase board or piece of paper. Be sure to allow input from your child when appropriate, especially during “free times.” These small steps help give children a sense of control and ownership over their days.
2. Allow for flexibility
Set a schedule that has the significant items that must happen (eating, nap, school work), and then loosely add in a few others. Start with your “must-do” activities. These could include live classroom sessions, meals, parent meetings, specific times that are important to you as a family (like a morning walk or family reading time). Free times can be labeled as such—“free play,” “outdoor time,” “free-choice reading,” or even “free time.” Having broad labels provides structure, but also allows for flexibility. Remember, not all hours of the day need to be filled and not all activities need to be added to the day’s schedule.
You may find it helpful to make a new schedule for each day, as each day may bring slight changes to either your or your child’s schedule. Or, you may find your child needs a break from screens and an increase in movement that day!
An example of a flexible routine where the specifics change from day to day would be:
- Morning walk
- School activity
- Free time
- School activity
- Quiet time
- Outdoor play
- School activity
- Creative activity
- Family reading
Then each day, you can add specifics. For instance, “school activity” could be a subject like grammar, math or science; or a specific activity like reading, live class session, science experiment, or iPad game. For “creative activity,” you could list letters to friends, sidewalk chalk or water balloons.
3. Match your child’s age/needs
Young children will have shorter attention spans for structured, directly-taught lessons, especially if that includes sitting for an online class. Younger kids may also need more movement or sensory breaks built into their day. However, upper elementary students may have more stamina for structured lessons and sitting independently for longer periods.
If you find that the amount of structured, direct learning time is too much for your child, adjust accordingly. Less direct lesson time in front of a computer is better than having an overwhelmed child who is not regulated enough to learn during the lesson.
4. Build-in time for connection
During times of high stress and big changes, the main thing that helps children (and adults) de-stress is connecting to those they love. Each child and family may build connections in different ways so be sure to find what works for your child.
Activities for building relationships include:
- Family walks
- Eating meals together
- Snuggling up to read together
- Playing a quick game
- Rough and tumble play
- High fives between lessons and meetings
- Watching a favorite show together
- Silly dance breaks
- Leaving little notes around the house for each other (the social distancing version of notes in the lunch box!)
Words of encouragement also build connection: “I see how hard you are working on that,” “I am proud of you for listening during that lesson,” “You were such a helper by coloring while I worked,” and “I love spending time with you.”
5. Make time for movement
Your child may be spending more time indoors and in front of a computer screen than they would previously. However, their bodies still need action to regulate their energy levels, give their eyes a break, and build strength. Often when focusing on getting school work and meetings completed, we forget about caring for our bodies, as well. There are numerous benefits to physical activity, so be sure to schedule “wiggles” throughout the day. These breaks can be as simple as a short dance party and a walk around the block or longer like a game of soccer or a family bike ride.
The most important thing to remember is that we are all going through a difficult transition, so keep your expectations reasonable, give yourself and your child lots of grace, and take it one day at a time. It may be a bumpy road at times, but even small modifications can help you manage your day.