We’re now 3 weeks into distance learning at home, and I’ve been getting requests on social media to share my top tips and tricks based on our experiences at home.
My two older kids have very different personalities, but these tips have helped us navigate and accommodate for their learning styles. I’m definitely not an expert but I am blessed to have a lot of friends and family who work in schools and special education. We’ve been able to draw on their expertise and get some great ideas to support our kids.
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Create a flexible learning space
We took a rarely used room in our home, and converted it into a “classroom” using an old table, and wall calendar decals to keep us organized. They have a large table, with shared supplies in the centre, and a rolling cart with storage (more on that later). For those times when they need a change of scenery, we also got them a really fun lap desk that they can bring to a comfy seat to balance their Chromebook, or as a writing surface for their written work. The exact lap desks we got are available at Indigo in Canada, and they have a variety of fun patterns to add some personality to your child’s learning environment.
In addition to the classroom, each kid has a desk in their room for more distraction-free learning. What I’ve learned most through the first weeks of this experience are that the kids have different needs for their learning space. If your child is easily distracted, they might do well at a desk in their bedroom, noise from the rest of the house is limited. If your child is very high energy, they might benefit from a change of scenery every 45 minutes, and therefore rotate through different available spaces in your home, which is why the flexibility of the lapdesk has been great. Working with their individual needs has really helped keep them engaged in learning, and we’ve approached it as an experiment to see what allows them to be most engaged & successful.
Gather Supplies & Keep Them Accessible
One of the most useful parts of the classroom set up is the rolling cart storage that we added to the classroom. These carts are available at lots of big box retailers, or there’s a similar version on Amazon to have it delivered right to you. The cart can roll from room to room with us as needed and having all the school supplies close at hand helps keep us organized & prepared. It houses the kid’s supplies & general school clutter, and allows us to pack it up to get it off the table when needed. On the top of the cart, I have a magazine divider with one slot per kid that keeps all their papers together, and some noise cancelling headphones. Surprisingly, even though their work is mostly digital, there are still some paper activities so this prevents them from piling up on the table. In addition to school activities, we’ve also been journaling regularly, so this keeps their journals and notebooks all in one spot. On the middle shelf, we keep our school supplies like pencils, erasers, rules, and math manipulatives like counters, dice, and a calculator.
Since I’m also homeschooling our pre-school kiddo, the bottom shelf is her learning materials, divided into activities/themes. Things like counters, magnetic letters, colour matching games, and pom poms for sorting are divided and stored in slim rainbow photo storage boxes. These photo storage boxes are just the right size, stack nicely, and we use them throughout the house to store everything from garden seeds to card games.
Provide movement breaks & fidgets
Sitting in a chair on a computer for an entire day is hard for any one (even adults), and especially challenging for a high energy child. If you’re finding that your child is having trouble focusing or sitting still, a fidget or sensory toy might help them hone in on the task at hand. They can be really helpful in particular for students with ADHD, autism, sensory processing disorder, high anxiety levels or OCD. The small movements may actually help them process the information better, so providing these fidgets can promote attention and reduce their stress. Personally, my older kids are fidgeters and these toys were purchased after one of them fidgeted with (and “reconfigured”) an entire box of paperclips leaving a twisted pile at the end of the day. This set of fidgets has lots of variety, and they provide a way to get that energy out, while still remaining seated and engaged on their Google Meet. The little soybean toys, the stretchy bands and the twisty twirl are favourites in our house.
We’ve also been prioritizing going outside for a run around at every break time. This definitely helps them concentrate better and be more productive when they get back to the computer. Depending on your child’s online teacher, they may be prioritzing movement as well, but if not, you can also teach your child some desk stretches, or encourage them to stand up at their computer if they feel that they need to move their body.
Encourage growth mindset
Remember that this way of learning is new for all of us - your child, you as a parent, and their teacher. We are approaching this as an experiment, to see what works and what doesn’t work and find the right combination for our kids. We know that they will learn, grow and adjust as they become more accustomed to this new style of school. As we do in every school year, we’re challenging the kids to grow in their effort, deepening their personal interests, and setting goals for what they hope to learn. Our work in our Heart of a Hero journals keeps them focused on what they’re grateful for, and cultivates a growth mindset. We talk about the importance of mistakes, how challenges help them, and encouraging them to try even when it feels uncertain. These learning skills will help them in any context, whether the future is in person or online learning.
I hope this helps as you and your family set up your online learning adventure, and navigate this new school year!