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Distance Learning. Ready. Set. GO!

Updated: Aug 27, 2020

School has begun, but your children are at home. How are you going to juggle the normal routine with work, housekeeping, cooking and now school? Where will you find the space for everyone to function? It seems as if just getting my kids out of their pajamas is a victory.

With parents struggling and watching their children struggle with distance learning, it is important to remember that you are not alone. Teachers are scrambling to make sense of this new format for teaching. Other parents feel at a loss too. Students are grappling with learning in a new environment. Everyone is feeling overwhelmed too- you are not alone.

In high school, a medical issue led me to leave traditional schools behind and start independent studies at a free public charter school. This consisted of receiving text books and companionate packets of work to fill out, and taking tests on the content twice a week. It was like homeschooling, but I taught myself rather than a parent teaching me. I still had a designated teacher who could help me with any challenges or obstacles I came across, but I was largely on my own. I was an avid procrastinator, so many times I finished packets last minute or late in the night. I learned to actually use the desk in my room, to set a routine, and that trying to work in my bed made me tired. It was definitely tough at first, but I found my stride and ended up flourishing in that environment.  


Here are my quick and dirty tricks and tips for getting ready for distance learning: 

1. Set up a Dedicated Workspace

This may be a harder task for some, however it is a must. Children and adults alike need a dedicated workspace where their brain is set to focus on the tasks at hand.  

The location of this space is important! If your dedicated space is your bed and a lap desk, you are more likely to get very drowsy and even pause work to take a nap. When you sit in bed, you are sending a signal to your body that it is time for bed, we are creatures of habit afterall. If you frequently nap on the couch, you send the same feedback to your body, that it is time to relax and sleep. To combat drowsiness, make sure you allow in plenty of sunlight, because sunlight helps your body wake up and stay awake. 

For many, the dining table will be the easiest and most obvious place to set your child up. If you have the means and space, getting your child a desk may be a good option.  Even a T.V. tray and a chair would be helpful. Sitting in the same space to work on school will train their brain and body that this is a space for focus and productivity.  When classes went virtual last semester, I had to set up my desk in my 2-year-old’s room. We had to make it clear that touching things on Mommy’s desk was a “no-no.” 

Do what you can with what you have, remember that you have got this!

2.  Develop a Routine 

Writing things down everyday will also help you and your child know what you need to get done and when, as well as learn how much can actually be accomplished in a given amount of time. This is a recurring issue I have too. Everyday, I review what needs to be done and I write up a to-do list that I expect myself to accomplish that day- but I consistently expect too much from myself. I have a hard time determining how much time tasks take to get done. But the more I practice this skill, the better I get at predicting the time consumption of certain activities.

Routines help boost productivity and focus, and help with understanding how much can be accomplished in a day. 

3. Take Breaks

It is super important to remember to take breaks. If you notice your child getting frustrated at, say, a math problem, have them step away from it for awhile. Either have them work on an easier subject for them or have them go for a walk, or a play break. When they get back to that math problem, they may find it easier to solve than they originally experienced. 

If they get frustrated, they may get so overwhelmed that they need to stop for the day, some call this “rage-quitting.” Don’t let your child get to the point where they rage-quit. Help your child learn when it is best to stop and focus on something else until they can calm down and approach the problem again with a clear frame of mind.  

Besides overwhelm and frustration, scheduling breaks ahead of time and breaking work down into smaller bites will help your child digest their school work a lot better. They will have more time to process what they learn and it will help them remain calm. It is highly discouraged to have students cram-study- this is when students sit down and try to study for long periods of time, usually to prepare for an exam. When students cram study, they tend to only remember the first and last concepts they studied. 20 minute blocks of study are recommended, with 10 minute breaks in between.

For example, have your child do a 20 minute work session followed by a 10 minute break, then another 20-10, and another 20 minutes followed by a longer break, like half and hour-- 20-10, 20-10, 20-30. 

Breaks help keep students calm and focused, and prevent frustration and overwhelm.  

4. Help Your Child Retain Information

This is Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve. This is the first thing I always taught my students when I was a supplemental instructor. Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting curve details a theory of the rate at which we forget learned information. Immediately, you may remember most of a lecture that was just given, but an hour later, you may have forgotten nearly half of the lecture already!  This is where your notes come in. You take good notes during the lecture and then you review them. Radical idea, I know.

Most students write their notes and then never look at them again, until maybe they have an exam the next day. The truth is you should review your notes again right after your teacher has finished their lecture, and then again when you are home for the day, and again right before the next lecture. How does this fit in with distance learning and your child?

When your child is done with their Zoom meeting, if they took notes, have them review them.  Then, go ahead and ask your child what they learned during the meeting. Have your child review their homework and notes regularly. Periodically ask your child what they learned that day and if they can teach it to you. Having them review with help cement their knowledge and help them recall that knowledge faster. 

Review is an invaluable and simple tool in your arsenal.  

Pulling it All Together

Setting up a dedicated workspace, maintaining a routine, taking breaks, and review are all tools for success for your child in their distance learning efforts. A dedicated workspace will train their brain that when they are there it is time to focus. A routine will assist you and your child with knowing what to expect and how much can realistically be accomplished that day.  Taking breaks combat frustration and deter from cram studying and its pitfalls. Regularly reviewing notes, homework, and telling you what they did and learned that day will help with retaining information and recalling that knowledge faster. 

During this pandemic, I also want you to remember that no one is perfect, that everyone is doing their best, and that everyone is frustrated and overwhelmed too- including your child’s teachers. We are all trying to navigate through this crazy time and get through it the best we can. So when you feel less than perfect, cut yourself a break- cut your child and their teachers a break too. 

We are all in this together.

About the author:

Cady Nulton-Craig is an academic coach, literature and film expert. She is currently the stay-at-home mother of a 2-year-old. She is currently pursuing entering a credential program to become a secondary school social studies teacher.

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