Parenting Tips

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How to Make Distance Learning Better for Kids

It’s hard to believe, but August is just around the corner, which means back to school season is almost here. With distance learning or homeschooling at least part of the curriculum for the 2020-2021 school year, you might be wondering how to nurture that back to school feeling during these ambiguous times. For families with preschoolers or kids entering kindergarten, it may be especially difficult to switch from the carefree days of summer to digital or hybrid school. Here are some ways you can help normalize their experience and make the transition stress-free for all.

Implement a Dress Code

As any parent working from home can attest, getting out of pajamas and into comfortable work wear is the first step toward shifting into hunker-down mode. The same goes for kids attending virtual school from home. If your child’s school has a dress code or uniform, nothing will remind them of school faster than changing into those clothes for homeschooling. If there’s no dress code, putting on day clothes or dedicated school outfits would also suffice (toddlers can even wear art smocks over their clothes to indicate that it’s time for school). The idea is to create a clear delineation between school at home. In other words, if they look the part, they may feel the part more too.

School-Inspired Recess and Lunch

Pack their favorite school snacks in a lunchbox and head outside if you can for two scheduled breaks per day. Set an alarm to signal recess and lunch (bonus points if you can mimic the sound of a real school bell – there are plenty of audio options online and apps available for download to your phone). Reusable snack containers are a must, as are personalized cups and tableware designed especially for the preschool set. Even if you don’t pack lunch at home, personalized dining sets are always a hit – what kid doesn’t love seeing his name in print?

Scheduled Naptime (or Quiet Time)

Both of my kids stopped napping before three years old, but when they started preschool, naps reentered their lives as a necessary respite — on weekdays at least. While they did not always snooze, they still took that hour of rest to recharge their batteries and break up the school day. If naps are still part of their school routine, try to keep them going at home (nap mats optional!). And if not, insist on at least 45 minutes of quiet time in the middle of the day for calm, self-directed activities like reading or art.

Divide the Day

What distance learning looks like varies wildly between schools, but one constant that helps kids thrive is structure. Set expectations at the beginning of each day, so they know exactly what’s coming. You can write out times and schedules on a white board, if you’d like, making sure to include non-negotiable slots for recess and play. Designate 20-45 minutes per activity, or whatever makes sense for your family. Do they visit the library on Tuesdays? “Check out” books from your home library and spend time reading together on those days. When it’s PE day, consider going outside and letting off steam, just as they would at school. If you need ideas, check out our favorite tips on how to get kids to exercise more (most of these tips still work under present circumstances). Structure creates an environment conducive to learning while mirroring what a typical school day might have looked like if in-person instruction had resumed.

Designated School Zones

Creating an assigned workspace for each child can help further cultivate structure and focus, allowing them to switch more seamlessly from home to school mode and vice versa. If you don’t have a small desk or work area to utilize as your remote learning and homework station, you can also repurpose the dining table. A clearly defined, clutter-free surface is key – the fewer the distractions, the better. It’s probably a good idea to add kids’ noise-reducing headphones to your back to school shopping list! And don’t forget about ergonomics – if the dining table feels too tall for your toddler to write or draw comfortably, consider adding a booster to help bridge the gap.

Traditional School Supplies

A fresh school year calls for fresh school supplies – there’s nothing like new notebooks, fun folders, and newly sharpened pencils to hold the promise of a new year. They’re never too young to get involved, either – I’ve found that participation and enthusiasm often go hand in hand. Have them pick their favorite colors and patterns online, and be sure to get gold star stickers and any other teacher products they would normally associate with school. Sticker or clip-based charts that commend good behavior (and gently reprimand misbehavior) can also help recreate the school experience at home.

Happy New [School] Year!

Without that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling that accompanies a regular first day, how do you mark the transition from summer vacation to school? If your child is young, this is an important consideration, as he may need help defining what’s largely been abstract since March. How about ushering in the new school year with a little celebration reminiscent of New Year’s Eve? If you have one, put up a Happy New Year sign the night before and count down to kindergarten with a special School Year’s Eve party at home. Send them on a mini scavenger hunt for stickers and other fun school supplies. Dress up, play music, wear party hats, toast with sparkling water or lemonade, write Welcome to Kindergarten on a cake – whatever you do, try to make it feel more special than the typical weeknight, to help mark the start of something new.

And even though school is at home for the foreseeable future, first day of school photos should still be in the picture! Whether you opt for a printable first day of school sign or prefer to DIY, you’ll marvel at how much your little one has grown at the end of the school year, when you capture the moment again.

For some kids, tears and anxiety are inevitable during regular back-to-school times – this year, those feelings are amplified for all (including bewildered moms and dads!). Allow yourself patience, compassion, and grace to help your little ones navigate the blurred lines between school and home. Here’s to happy transitions and continued resilience in 2020!

Ani Morgan

Ani is an award-winning writer and content strategist who has been the voice of many brands for 15+ years. When she’s not busy crafting stories, she's baking healthy treats for her kids or finding her sanity on a spin bike. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two kids.