Given that we’re almost near the end of July; many school districts in the country have released their plans for returning to school…and a lot are choosing to go with continuation of distance learning.
My district just made the announcement that we will be completely virtual (doing distance learning) for the entirety of our first semester; which for us, is the end of August to the end of January.
We’re still waiting for Devon’s district to announce their plans (we work in different counties) but we feel like they’re probably going to go all virtual as well (as will probably most of Maryland). (Devon’s county actually just announced yesterday afternoon that they will also be all virtual for first semester.)
Most families were left scrambling and uneasy when virtual learning started this past spring and I know, especially from hearing from our friends and family, that most parents and students are really hoping that this round of distance learning is a lot more organized and better set up which will help students feel more successful.
Please understand, now; this post is not meant to be political, nor is it meant to judge or bash any school system on how they’ve handled the pandemic thus far. Every district did things differently and I would like to hope that most did the best with what they had and what they were capable of. I know a lot of people were disappointed, but all I will say is: no one was ready for this. As a public school educator (who is married to another public school educator) we’re hoping that systems have learned from their mistakes and will do the best they can moving forward. And please know; your kids teachers and counselors will also be doing the best they can to make sure your child is cared for; even from afar.
If you are getting ready to do distance learning again this year; you’re likely waiting for guidance from your school systems as to how things will look. While you’re waiting, there are some things that you can start doing at home, as well as getting stocked up on, to get your children ready for distance learning this fall.
1. Stock up on school supplies
Yup, you still need them. Maybe you don’t need a backpack or a lunch box, if you’re looking to save some money, but I promise you still need notebooks, pens/pencils, binders, dividers, etc.
And don’t @ me with: “all their work is online, getting notebooks is stupid”.
Two arguments against that:
A. How many of you still write things down when you’re sitting AT your computer? Most of you. Can you imagine your kid trying to do Common Core Math without a notebook and pencil in their hand? Prolly not.
B. The hope is that they go back to school eventually. And most kids, when they do, will go back to the “old school” way of learning by sitting in a classroom with a notebook and pen. Help your child to not regress their note taking habits, by setting them up to still do it at home.
Bonus C. Having notebooks/pens/paper feels normal for your child. A sense of normalcy is what so many of our kids need right now and if getting them a binder to set up like they normally would allows them to feel that sense of normalcy; maybe it’s worth the $10 investment?
2. Setting up a designated “school” area.
I know this isn’t feasible for every home and every family. But if there is a way to give them designated “school” space; a room that can be quiet during the day where all of their school stuff is held; do it.
All of us who have been working from home know it can be kind of distracting at home. I am not NEARLY as productive as I am at work because I’m in my house thinking of other things I can be doing.
But having a designated office space helps me be more productive. There’s no TV in the room and minimal distractions so I stay focused longer than I would if I was just trying to do work in the living room where the TV is on and other people to talk to.
3. Setting up a study carrel/room divider
Like I said, I know for some, you don’t have a room that you can designate as a school space. But maybe you have the ability to purchase a study carrel or a room divider.
It’s not a perfect solution, but it could help minimize distractions and keep your child more focused on their work.
For those that don’t know what a study carrel is (your kids likely know though because they’ve possibly used them in their classrooms when they take tests), it looks like this:
Walmart has them, Amazon has them, you can also find them at teacher supply stores if you would rather, as well.
If you can get some sort of a room divider, like this:
That would block out more distractions and possibly keep them on track easier.
4. Get a whiteboard
A lot of students will be participating in live classes with their teachers this year and many teachers are looking to try to be more interactive with students from home. One of the easiest ways to do that is to go over a concept and have students work it out and hold up a board/paper to show their answers.
You could use paper for this; but if they’re doing a lot of examples/classwork you’re going to go through paper quickly. At least with a whiteboard they can erase after each example/problem and keep moving with their class.
If you buy a whiteboard for this purpose, it wouldn’t need to be a big one; like an 8×11 or 10×14 size should be good; most of those are pretty inexpensive.
5. Stock up on art supplies
Similarly to school supplies; you’re still gonna need these too. Maybe more than usual this year. Many schools are trying to be more creative and interactive with instruction so that may include more artistic and colorful projects to be done at home.
Also having things like markers, crayons, construction paper, drawing paper, etc are good to have on hand when your child needs a break from school. Giving them some time to color or create, even if it’s for 10 minutes, can be a nice brain break to keep them from feeling overworked.
Think about the age of your child and what their typical school day looks like. The younger they are, typically, the shorter they spend on each activity and the more breaks they typically get throughout the day. Having some drawing/coloring time planned into their “school day” might help them not get as frustrated and keep them on task longer when they are actually doing schoolwork.
6. Give them a typical school day routine.
I know. If you’re working and feel like you can’t make it work, this may be hard. But the more you can give your child a “normal” school day; the better it will be for them.
Now, I’m not saying you HAVE to wake them up at 5:30 to get them ready to start school at 7:00 and have them work all the way until 2:30 with 30 minutes for lunch in there and then do “extracurriculars” after “school”.
That’s not realistic. And also not needed for most schools. For instance my school’s “class hours” were only 9am-1pm after we started distance learning this spring.
Have a schedule for them, especially if your children are younger. They’re used to school routines and so many thrive on them (and again they will be back in school eventually so it doesn’t hurt to keep some of that ingrained in them).
Once you know your school/teacher’s schedule for classes put a schedule up on a wall with what classes/subjects happen at what times, what time lunch is, etc; something they can see and know what is happening when.
If your child is older; now might be a good time to get them to start using a planner (we know I love planners). I know it seems silly “well they’re home what do they need a planner for”, but they are keeping track of Google meets/hangouts, Zoom classes, assignments that are still due, etc and they need to be able to know what is happening when. Just because they’re home doesn’t mean they don’t still have a lot going on.
7. Organization for their school stuff
Can I tell you how many of my students come to weekly to say they lost their binder/notebook/bookbag/etc? Now, logically, they shouldn’t lose their stuff at home….
But children (especially teenagers) aren’t always the most logical people in the world and have been known to lose things between their bedroom and the living room.
Plus, depending on their school, what classes they’re in, etc, they may actually have a lot of stuff to keep track of and if they can keep everything in an organized place, it’ll help them be ready for class that much quicker every day.
If there is a room that they can use for school maybe you can get them a bookshelf to keep everything on:
Plus, this shelf is currently on sale for $15.99 and while not “top of the line” I did have this very shelf from Target for several years and it held up just fine!
Or if space is a concern, maybe they could use smaller organizational drawers or baskets to keep all of their stuff in one place and easily accessible.
Like, you could get these plastic trays from Target’s Bullseye Playground and use a tray for books/supplies for each subject:
Be sure to check out Target’s Bullseye Playground for other classroom organizational tools as well (#notsponsored) but they have a lot of great inexpensive bins/storage pieces.
If you are storing all of these supplies in a common area and don’t want it to feel like a classroom or want your kids stuff to blend in a bit better, you an also opt for cuter storage baskets/bins, like these:
8. They may need a technology upgrade.
I saved this for last because I know this is the one that most people are cringing at. Technology is expensive and I know with so many people in sensitive situations right now that can’t do this.
My hope is that school districts are providing your children with the access to technology that they need in order to be successful. I work in a lower-income school district and how our superintendent found the ability for us to become a 1:1 tech device district for distance learning to resume (as well as providing wi-fi hotspots to families who need them) is beyond me, but I know our families are grateful. We had a lot of students trying to keep up with everything on their phones and while phones have gotten better; they can’t handle this.
If you are looking to provide the tech your child needs for distance learning I recommend three things
If you’ve already got an iPad or Kindle at home that could work; but maybe get them a case with a keyboard to make it easier to type out assignments. If not Chromebooks are pretty standard to most students.
B. Earbuds (with a mic built in)
These can be basic. Your child might think you need to get them Air Pods.
C. All-in-One Printer/Scanner
If you can, a printer is nice, but an all-in-one is a lot easier. They can copy pages that they need, scan stuff back to their teachers easier (if you do just have a basic printer you can use your phone to scan, though).
With it, technically, being back to school time you can usually find really good printer deals at Walmart, Target, etc, so keep an eye out in the weekly deals if you are looking to do that.
I actually found a really nice Epson all-in-one printer for under $50 about three years ago during the back to school season, so keep an eye out!
I do hope that this is helpful. I know parents are making so many decisions right now and it’s a lot. If I can help in any way, I’m happy to. I only know so much and am, obviously, most well versed in what Maryland is doing, but I’m happy to listen even if you just need to vent you frustrations. Educators are all here with you; we’re all trying to figure this out; we love your kids, too, and for most of us, if we can help; we will.