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The 6 Key Tips to Starting Virtual School Effectively

Setting your child up for success this year is less about the trip to Target or Walmart and securing the box of Kleenex for the teacher and checking off the rest of the supply list! Instead, creating an environment that is conducive to learning is what you need to focus on.

  1. The first question you need to ask yourself is, where is your kid going to attend class? This becomes really difficult if you are also working at home, or if you have multiple kids, but don’t make these mistakes: 
  • The Kitchen: This is a hard NO. Parents think that this location will allow them to help with questions, oversee their work, and make sure that their child is staying on task, but the reality of the situation is different. Your kid will sit down at the island or kitchen table and their brain immediately thinks, “I am hungry”, “Can I have a snack?”, “What’s for dinner?”, or it could be, “Mom, what are you doing?”, “Mom, who are you talking to?”, “Mom what are we doing this weekend?”. Your presence is just as much of a distraction as food is!

    These thoughts arise because the kitchen is most often used for eating or family conversations, and that’s what kids’ brains associate that place with. The brain does not think of the kitchen as a place to study and does not acclimate well to changing the focus it has had in the kitchen for the past several years.

  • The Bedroom: Another hard NO. It does not matter if you have gone to extreme lengths to set up a great desk, bookshelves, new computer, and printer. Why? Because most kids—particularly teens—use their room for sleep, naps, texting friends, social media, playing video games, TikTok dances, texting, naps, repeat, repeat, repeat… It is normal for your brain to immediately think of the activities that are “normal” for that space. Most kids will find it difficult to concentrate on schoolwork in their bedrooms because it is a space where they should be relaxing!

  • The Living Room/Family Room: I bet that you can guess all of the issues with these rooms after reading the above. You run into the same problem as the kitchen and bedroom—the living and family rooms are associated with other tasks. Your kid is used to sitting down on the couch and watching TV or Netflix, or scrolling through their phone, or playing with their siblings. Their brains will want to participate in those activities. Additionally, other members of the family may be trying to use these areas for their intended purpose, making an incredibly distracting environment.  

So what makes a great space for your child to “attend school”?

  • The Dining Room: If you have a formal dining room that is only used twice a year for holidays, clear the table and make this the classroom. Your son or daughter does not have daily habits tied to this space, so training their brain that when they sit at the table, it is time to work on schoolwork, homework, and attend Zoom sessions, is much more effective.

  • The Den/Office: Perhaps you are lucky enough to have a den or office and are not working from home currently. This would make a great space for your child to attend school. This is often a challenge as you probably have all of your work spread out in the office. But a little organization (you know that you have been meaning to file/purge all that clutter anyways) can help set your child up for success. 

  • A Quiet Corner: This is tough. Many families do not have a quiet corner readily available, but again a little “Marie Kondo-ing” this weekend can make a big difference in your child’s learning and advancing this year. Try the end of a hallway that doesn’t get used much during the day, or a corner of the laundry room, a storage nook that can be repurposed for a few months, or some other space that your family doesn’t frequent during the time that your kid will be working on schoolwork.

What if you are in a 2-bedroom apartment and there is NOT a single space that can be set aside for your child? Don’t worry—we have advice for that, too.

To break the current brain pattern that your child has associated with each room, move furniture around, change up the environment, and create a specific space that is separated or well defined. If your child’s desk has to be set up in their bedroom, hang curtains around it to set it apart from the rest of the room. If your children are younger, be sure to decorate it with classroom type materials— the alphabet, the planets, something applicable to what they will learn this year. Be sure their space has access to an outlet, so they are prepared to log in to a Zoom meeting or get notes and assignments from their Google Classroom.

  1. One of the most important things a parent can do is to insist on some structure. Sure, kids will fight you on this, but they thrive with structure.

    They work best when they know what is expected. Part of the stress of this entire COVID-19 situation is the unknown, the lack of clarity. Help your child have less stress by defining the process, creating routines and habits. The more certainty students have regarding their day and their week, the more they will thrive. This is true for all students and should be non-negotiable, particularly if your child suffers from anxiety or lacks motivation to perform well in school. If we as adults knew that COVID-19 would be over on 10/20/20, we would all feel more relaxed and able to concentrate, but since we don’t know, we need to create as much confidence in the daily routines as possible.

    The structure should include set hours they will work on schoolwork. Keep in mind that this will set them up for success as they need to manage their time in college. Have your child show up for homeschool just like they would for school: dressed for public, teeth brushed, breakfast finished, homework done. Most people function better when they ‘feel’ ready for the day. You are doing your child a favor by incorporating these habits into their life now!
  2. Leave your kid alone. Seriously. Once you have them set up in their own space and you’re sure they’re doing their work, leave them be! Learning takes concentration, and constantly having mom or dad pop their head in or asking questions, or having a sibling interrupt and ask to play or help with their own homework, or having to stop in the middle of a lesson to let the dog out or to do chores will break that concentration. When your kid has set hours that they are at “school”, you need to respect that too.

  3. Make their “out of school” time different from “in school” time. This goes hand-in-hand with creating an environment specifically for school, setting up a schedule, and changing the way their brain associates environmental cues. Insist that your kid changes their clothes out of their “school” clothes. Don’t you feel better after changing out of your work clothes and letting your hair down after a day at the office? Your kid will feel the same way, even if the office is right in their own home. Make them go outside for a little bit to break up the monotony. Tell them to give their friend a call or let them do something fun. They just worked hard!

  4. Make sure your kids are challenged! If you don’t think your child is being challenged by their homeschool assignments, there are many amazing resources available, such as EdX and Coursera, that can provide your child with the ability to learn something they are interested in: filmmaking, game design, architecture, business, marketing, social media, nutrition, cooking, and numerous other options. Create a love of learning by showing them that it does not need to be boring classes that appear irrelevant to the rest of their lives.

  5. Be understanding. Understand that your kid is trying. Understand that their teacher is trying, too. At the beginning of the year, no one predicted that we would be in the midst of a global pandemic by the start of the next school year. Your kid has a lot to adjust to. The tech might be unfamiliar, the teaching methods might not mesh with their learning methods, and many kids will just need more patience and more understanding. Let them work at their own pace (within the parameters of their assignments).

    Encourage them to ask for help, and don’t punish them when they do reach out to you with concerns. Figure out solutions together. Give them the right tools to succeed!

Good luck this year! We know it will be difficult, but your kid is just as smart and capable as you are. And remember, if you need help or have questions, contact us today to schedule an appointment for tutoring, study skills, and more.

 

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