11 Tips for Successful Distance Learning

Millions of U.S. kids will be distance learning for all or part of the school year. Make the most of their time with these tips for homeschooling.

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Homeschooling. Virtual school. Distance learning. Whatever it’s called in your part of the country, if your children are among the millions of students who will be attending school during the pandemic from home rather than taking in-person classes, they’re in for an unusual and likely challenging school year.

Adapting to a challenge and staying healthy during school are good skills to learn, but it might take some practice. These tips for homeschooling can help make studying from home a positive, successful venture for you and your kids.

  • Create a dedicated workspace. Impart the seriousness of homeschooling by setting up a space in the house that is “just” for school. Keep school supplies, including books, writing tools, a calculator, etc., here so that they’re handy when online lessons begin. Make it your child’s responsibility to keep their space neat and orderly.
  • Provide the right tools. Virtual learning is challenging, all the more so when kids lack the right school technology and gear to do their best work. Make sure they’ve got a kid-sized headset with microphone and, for littler hands, a smaller mouse that’s easy for them to use. Whether they’re working at a laptop or desktop, make sure their chair and screen height are adjusted so that they can view the screen straight on.
  • Minimize distractions. If possible, set up your child’s workspace in a dedicated room like your home office. If that’s not doable, then minimize distractions by providing your child with a headset. Remove diversions from their line of sight — that means no toys, bags of cookies or anything else a child might fuss with during lesson time. Make sure TVs and radios in the vicinity are turned off.
  • Stay close by, but don’t hover. While your tween or teen might not need (or want) your help during virtual lessons, for younger kids it’s a good idea to stick close by. Make sure they’re properly connected and set up when lessons begin, then step out of camera range. I’m able to work while my eight-year-old does her online lessons, but I use a lot of nonverbal communication (i.e., “The Look”) when I can see she’s starting to get antsy or her mind is wandering.
  • Create a daily schedule. Kids who were accustomed to being in school most of the day might feel a little adrift with online learning. Make a daily schedule that includes a wake-up time similar to that of a “normal” school year. Block in virtual lessons and homework sessions, but be sure to allow for downtime, whether it’s watching TV, playing video games or pursuing a hobby.
  • Make lunchtime fun. If your kids are like most, lunchtime is their favorite part of the school day. Make it fun at home, too, by planning (with them) a weekly menu that includes things they might find at school — like tater tots and mini-pizzas. Try serving lunch on these divided meal trays and they’ll really feel like they’re at school!
  • Schedule in-person playdates. If you can do so safely, schedule at least one playdate a week with one or more classmates. Alternate with other parents so it’s not always on you to be the chaperone. If in-person playdates aren’t viable, schedule Zoom or WhatsApp calls so that your kids can stay in contact with their friends.
  • Get outside every day. When weather permits, make sure that your kids spend part of their day outside playing. They’re potentially spending hours seated in front of a computer each weekday, so it’s especially important that they get outside, run off some steam and get some fresh air.
  • Learn something that’s not schoolwork. Whether it’s enlisting your child’s help with a DIY home improvement project or preparing a meal, make room at least a few times a week for learning activities that don’t involve a computer or textbooks. Time spent measuring ingredients, reading installation manuals or learning to hammer nails is time well-spent!

Plus, some advice for parents navigating the strange new world of virtual learning:

  • Stay in contact with teachers. Virtual teaching is as new for a lot of teachers as virtual learning is for their pupils. Make sure you can contact your child’s teachers, whether it’s email, WhatsApp or through the school’s website. If there’s something you or your child don’t understand, speak up and get clarification. And if your child is struggling with this new method of learning, let their teachers know. They might have ideas for how to help students adjust to the virtual classroom.
  • Create or join a WhatsApp group for parents. Maybe you’ve been reluctant to form or join a WhatsApp group for parents because you’re afraid it will be distracting and time-consuming. While these groups can eat up a lot of time, they’re also an effective way to communicate, commiserate and ask questions of other parents. Virtual learning can feel kind of lonely — for kids and parents — and staying in touch with other parents can help alleviate this isolation.