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  • Sharon Widmayer

Be Proactive so you don't have to be Reactive!


Parents, this fall is going to be tough for us. Teachers know it, students know it. The pandemic has turned education inside-out. And as much as we are so over social distancing, the virus, sadly, is not over us. To have a successful fall, the key is to be proactive and create an environment with clear routines and expectations that support your child. So what are our top tips for making distance or hybrid learning successful for your kid this fall?


Create a learning space. You do not need a fancy desk from Pottery Barn Kids or to buy out the Container Store and Staples. However, you should discuss and plan with your child a place they will learn, how they will organize their supplies, and how you and your child can work together to minimize distractions in their learning space. Keep supplies really minimal - a whiteboard or chalkboard, couple notebooks, pens pencils, maybe a highlighter. This way the supplies are easy to organize if they will be going to school on some days and learning from home on others, and easily to keep track of at home.


As a teacher, I know the seductive lure of cool pocket charts, fancy manipulative, and organizing baskets. Resist! I can guarantee you that they will be lost or gathering dust under the bed by October. If there are any materials beyond the basis, your school will let you know. You can also use color coding to keep things organized, such as a different color notebook and folder for each class. This is especially key if they will need different supplies for home and to take to school or if they will have different classes and activities on different days.


Read our blogs on creating a space for learning and being an educational scavenger to get more tips on a nurturing learning space that you can set up with a minimal investment.


Oh, and make sure there's a timer in the learning space. Why? Read more here.


Set routines. The best bit of teaching advise I ever received was about setting routines. If you spend the time with your child going over routines and schedule expectations now, they will be able to learn more independently, distract you less if you are working from home, and be more successful in school. Luckily, a lot of school divisions are helping you out here by having more consistent schedules for virtual school sessions that many had this past spring. However, it's not just about the class schedule. Work with your child to have a set morning routine and routine for lunchtime and snack times. Discuss with your child food available for lunch and snacks and any clean up routines so it does not become a distraction for you. Use a whiteboard or chalkboard if you have one to write a to-do list or hang up important reminders and the daily schedule. Have small kids? Hang up pictures that remind them of what icon to click to do common tasks, such as turning on their sound or shutting down their device.


Most importantly, talk to your child also about a routine if they are stuck on something and need help. I like to think of help as a tiered system. First, your student should try to access textbooks, notes, and online resources to help themselves. Next, they can ask a classmate for help. After that, they should ask the teacher if that person is available. Afraid you child cannot do that and needs you right away? Elementary teachers have been using a version of this technique for years.


Know the technology. I know you are busy, but sign up now for any webinars your district is offering on the technology being used this fall. Make sure you know your parent password to get into any learning sites and online gradebook program and know how to email your child's teachers. Is your child Zooming? Make sure you know how to use Zoom. Is there a course management system? Make sure you know which one the school is using and how to access it. Do not wait until your child comes to you with a problem. You do not want to be trying out Google Sheets for the first time at 11:00 at night when the assignment is due at midnight.


And, as my IT expert husband says, if all else fails, turn it off and back on again.


Remember to move. You know how in movies and in TV, kids are always sitting in desks in rows? Yeah, that's not actually what was happening in schools prior to the pandemic. Your learner was most likely sitting with a group and groups often changed. Activities included movement, from sorting cards to getting up to finding a new partner to lining going to difference corners of the room if they agreed or disagreed with something. Teachers are pretty creative people and many are coming up with cool ways to incorporate movement into online classes, but online classes and socially distant classes are going to have less movement that was possible before the pandemic. Remember those routines we talked about? Build in some routines for movement. It can be taking a walk, or doing a chore around the house, or how about a 5 minute dance party with your kid? I recommend I gotta feeling, my kids' favorite from back in the day.


Show grace. You know what? This pandemic stinks for all of us. And it's OK for you to be frustrated. It is OK for your kid to be frustrated. And I am pretty sure their teacher is also frustrated. Seriously, a lot of teachers have cried a lot. The best of them thrive on the energy of being in the classroom and are working way more than even to give your kid the best education they can in circumstances they cannot change. Having a bad day? Show some grace. Everyone - everyone- unless you are in New Zealand (and even THEY had to recently shut down Auckland again) is living with this pandemic craziness, and sometimes it's OK to say 'uncle.' Nobody's education is ideal right now, and your kid's life is in fact not ruined if they cannot take seven in person AP classes or your computer crash. Take a break, breathe, skip that one homework assignment, and eat the ice cream. You can work it off during your next 5 minute dance break.

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