No Classroom, No Problem: Tips for Managing the New School Year

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Most school districts will be administering part-time or full-time distance learning this fall. Here are some tips to optimize your child’s home learning experience.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the pandemic has been the absolute uncertainty we are all facing daily. As school districts nationwide finalize their reopening plans for the 2020-2021 school year, many questions remain unanswered.

We understand this school year will be very different, and parents everywhere could use some help transitioning to whichever teaching model their school district chooses. For districts adopting a hybrid model of distance/on-site learning, unsettled details about acceptable class sizes and scheduling to busing arrangements are leaving parents wondering how to prepare.

And after this spring’s abrupt initiation to eLearning, many parents are not ready to jump back in full time without more guidance.

Districts offering any in-school services, particularly those poised to resume full-time on-site learning, need to be prepared to close schools immediately and resume distance learning if anyone on the premises tests positive for COVID-19.

It looks like some amount of eLearning will be necessary at least until a vaccine is developed. If your approach to supporting your child’s academics at home has been casual, it is time to devote some energy to preparing your home for some serious learning.

The challenge is creating a home environment that can meet the needs of distance learning, whether it will be used two days a week or all five. Experts agree on some common necessities for managing nontraditional schooling: structure, predictability, and organization.

Start with structure

The best support you can offer your child is a structured learning environment. This is especially important if the schedule your school adopts has your child alternating days between school and home. Having a set schedule for all days of the week will bring a much-needed sense of routine. For example, on at-home days, be sure they get up even if there is no bus to catch or early virtual class to join. 

If your child’s school does not provide a full schedule to follow, there are many online resources available to supplement virtual instruction programs. The schedule you use can be highly elaborate and color-coded or just a simple list in a notebook.

A consensus of online moms promotes using a large, visible reminder of what needs to happen when, strategically placed for all to see. However, adherence to a schedule matters more than its appearance.

Try starting by regulating large blocks of time for pre-school and younger kids (school time or playtime) and specify tasks and goals (geometry equations, English homework) as children get older and busier.

Another way to add structure and make the school year feel more familiar is to get your child back to as many pre-COVID extra-curricular activities as possible, even if they are presented in slightly different formats. If your kid plays soccer, you might be able to join some small-group practices or workouts.

High school sports may not start this fall as planned, but perhaps coaches are offering some alternative ways to prepare for the spring season, or there are local league options for safe play. 

The at-home days will place a tremendous burden on parents who need to balance work and supporting their child as they learn from home, so be sure to take advantage of the resources available. The community of voluntary homeschoolers – a group that has grown substantially since the pandemic began – has a large presence online and generously offers tips to those new to at-home learning.

Offer predictability

Closely related to structure, predictability is essential in navigating unfamiliar territory this school year. Having a stable schedule is the best place to start. Reinforce the daily timetable by creating a physical learning environment that is the same every day.

It might be tempting to let teenagers work from their beds or use the living room couch as your kids’ classroom. However, it’s better to provide a dedicated place for schoolwork that comes closer to looking like school. If possible, use a basement space or other area separate from your home’s common areas to lessen distractions and temptations.

Settling down to do schoolwork in the same, specialized spot each day will prepare your child mentally for the tasks at hand and provide a better experience physically.

Organization will make everything easier

Having an at-home learning environment that is always set up and ready to use, rather than a kitchen table that must be cleared for meals, will also allow for better organizational strategies. Here is where you can hang that big calendar or whiteboard.

There are low-cost ways to prepare the space for learning by using things you have on hand. Repurpose a bookshelf, setting aside shelves and bins for each child, and perhaps each subject area or class.

Set up a desk or table and chair like what they would use in school, or at least something less comfortable than the couch. Make sure you have plenty of supplies and whatever is necessary to enable online learning.

Most school districts are making accommodations for students who do not have access to a reliable Wi-Fi service or adequate electronic devices. Libraries or community centers may be available for those who need an alternative site for virtual learning.

Find help at the Learning Lab

Regardless of how this school year materializes, the Learning Lab can help. We can help prepare your student by assisting with executive function skills, which will help with setting up a calendar and task management system. 

Since March, we have offered in-person and virtual one-on-one intervention to assist students with tutoring in reading, writing, math, reading comprehension, and vocabulary/language development.

We will work with you to find the appropriate level of support your child needs, depending upon the solution your school selects. Some options are alternate learning days support and services to help children with learning differences, online and in-person if allowed. 

eLearning Lab Support is a new program we offer to help bridge the gap between what your child needs and what their school can provide virtually. It includes weekly learning plan with daily goals, accountability check-ins, and online learning logistics and support.

At Learning Lab, we can provide the insight and assistance children and their parents need to meet the unique challenges of the upcoming school year. We support the full ecosystem of children who are smart but struggle in a traditional school setting. Find out how we can help your child.

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