Healthy Ways to Help Your Child Adapt to Virtual Learning
Tips for Effective Virtual Learning at Home
Some schools plan to embrace distance learning this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of returning to a classroom, many students will learn online at home. To help parents and guardians navigate the transition to virtual learning, we sat down with Paige Marcantel, licensed clinical social worker and director of the Universal Parenting Place at Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women.
Have a Family Meeting
Family meetings can be fun, productive and meaningful ways to strengthen communication and trust. Hold a family meeting to establish expectations and discuss how your family can support each other as you navigate virtual learning together.
“Explain that virtual school is going to be different,” said Marcantel. “Mom and dad or grandma and grandpa aren’t necessarily teachers, but they are going to help with schoolwork. Everyone will make mistakes, but we’ll be patient with each other. Let your children know that you’re not perfect—and you don’t expect perfection from them either.”
Explain the Safety Measures
Children need to understand why they aren’t going back to their school classrooms right now.
“Make sure they know they aren’t alone,” said Marcantel. “Their classmates are learning virtually, too. Explain that masking, practicing social distancing and learning at home help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Kids have a great ability to develop empathy and understanding for other people. They can see why safety measures matter.”
Establish a Productive Learning Environment
“For most parents, the at-home learning environment may be the dining room table, a desk or an office space,” said Marcantel.
It’s important to keep this space clear of distractions and stocked with materials your child needs, such as textbooks, pens, pencils and markers. Mimic an in-school environment as much as possible. Turn off TVs and eliminate phones and other screens. Use headphones or earbuds so your child can listen to a lesson without distractions.
“Your learning environment doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive,” said Marcantel. “It just needs to feel like a regular school desk as much as possible.”
Make a Schedule
“Create a learning schedule that works for your household,” said Marcantel. “Kids thrive in predictable environments. Think about how much time your child spends on the computer, when they will have breaks for physical activity and when they will eat lunch.”
Consider making a visual schedule to display on your wall or refrigerator to relieve any uncertainty or anxiety your child may feel about the virtual school day.
Take Brain Breaks
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents model appropriate technology use and encourages them to set clear boundaries around screen usage for children of all ages. Because virtual schooling increases screen time for kids, Marcantel recommends children take brain breaks.
“Get physical movement involved to give the brain a break,” said Marcantel. “You may need to set other screen rules in your house to prevent what you feel is too much screen time. I like to remind parents that they decide how and when their children use technology.”
Prioritize Connections and Coping Skills
“We know that young children learn by playing with others,” said Marcantel. “They learn how to take turns, how to be kind to others and how to respond when someone acts rude. Children practice these social and emotional skills in the classroom.”
Parents can find new and old ways to nurture these skills, including arranging a virtual play time with their child’s friends, encouraging their child to talk to friends on the phone or writing letters and sending notes by mail.
“Older children and teenagers struggle, too,” said Marcantel. “Acknowledge their feelings and allow them to grieve the loss of formative experiences, such as canceled extracurriculars and sports. Encourage them to continue to communicate with friends.”
Marcantel regularly cautions parents not to forget about their own needs and reminds them they are doing the best they can in challenging circumstances.
“It’s important to have reasonable expectations for yourself as a parent,” said Marcantel. “You’re going to get tired and frustrated at times. Be gentle with yourself. This is a big challenge. Offer yourself patience and grace.”