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My wife and I used to half-jokingly refer to our kids returning to school in Fall as an opportunity to gain the latest and greatest in education, fashion, social trends, and plague. This year, it’s no longer a joke. While school officials across the country continue to meet to prepare contingencies, one thing is sure: our children will not be returning to a typical school year.
Some schools have already begun the school year only to be shut down again due to new COVID-19 cases. Other schools have opted for either a hybrid option alternating classroom attendance with remote learning or total remote learning. Regardless of what learning path students take, they will face disruption through remote learning while parents face another problem: stress. We want to help with that.

Renova is a family-owned and operated wellness organization. We recognize and appreciate the logistical challenge of working remotely while ensuring our children remain focused while learning remotely. We face the same challenge with our five children, ages 10 through 19. It can be daunting. So we’d like to share some tips and practices we employed to help our children be successful through remote learning. These are by no means viral tips that will solve all of your problems. They are merely advice from parents who have been there and done that.

Create a solid routine with focus habits

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One of the greatest challenges children of any age face with remote learning is merely getting motivated. Being home instead of in a classroom feels like a vacation. Children thrive on routine and, research shows that creating a strong routine teaches initiative as they grow. As they become accustomed to regular routines, children learn to think and act more independently and feel more secure in themselves.

Our children’s morning routine includes looking after their dogs, completing a few chores to earn an allowance, and getting ready for the day. Then, when we meet at our learning area, a.k.a. kitchen table, we journal, check-in at school, and record new assignments. We then spend a few minutes creating a daily plan of action discussing what assignments are due and how long they might need to complete them. Tasks that cannot be completed the same day or have extended due dates are broken up over several days.

Photo by Bonneval Sebastien on Unsplash

The Pomodoro technique works wonders when incorporated into remote learning. A visual timer, a short five-minute break every 25 minutes and a 15-minute break every hour makes the day go by quickly and encourages children to work more efficiently. Combining the two techniques meant that our kids usually finished with all assignments by 1:30 in the afternoon.

Create a “defensible” learning area

The next most significant challenge to successful remote learning is maintaining focus. Children face more distractions from smartphones and other devices than adults. Smartphones compete for the same attention as schoolwork but with the promise of far more enticing rewards. So children need a little help from parents to encourage positive focus habits. Start by creating a defensible learning space. Making a learning space “defensible” means that all family members are aware of boundaries and all distractions have been addressed. Even another family member “passing through” to get a snack can derail an entire morning from our experience. So having a defensible learning area is crucial for children to maintain focus.

It’s not all work, work, work.

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Remote learning should not be fraught with tears. Education should be a journey, not a battle. So the next key to ensuring remote learning success is preventing burnout. Children, like adults, are not immune to being overworked. They express it differently. In traditional school settings, students and teachers alike rush from one class to the next with little reprieve from the time the bell rings until the end of the school day. Remote learning provides the opportunity to set a schedule that is most conducive to productivity. You can determine how late or how early to start, lunchtime, and time outdoors, which equates to time for yourself. Research suggests that later start times, particularly for teens, are beneficial because they naturally sleep later. In fact, at the end of the 2019–2020 school year, many teachers observed that students performed better simply due to increased sleep.

Make a cake and eat it, too!

Most of this article addresses functional topics. But the final and, perhaps, most important key to success is emotional stability. Within the last six months, stay-in-place orders, closures, protests, and murder hornets disrupted routines and created an immense fear or uncertainty in all of us, including children. Remote learning is as much of a disruption to normalcy for children as it is for parents. So it is essential to meet children on their level. It can be as easy as bingeing a show together, making a treat without worrying about the sugar content, and simply asking, “what do you think of all of this?”. The answer may surprise you. Our children have certainly surprised us with their responses.

It’s not “Father Knows Best,” either.

Remote learning is, in itself, a learning experience and will not be without bumps in the road. We acquired the information we’ve shared here through trial and error, dozens of family meetings, countless emails exchanged with teachers, and a roller coaster of pride and frustration almost daily. Our children run the gamut from easily distracted to dubiously focused, self-starting to sleeping-in-until-2:00pm, headstrong to receptive, and motivated to apathetic. But we survived. And you will, too, albeit with a little more gray hair.