By Kathleen St. John
The continuing COVID-19 pandemic has forced Colorado’s largest school districts to institute fully remote learning through at least the first months of the academic year.
The cancelation of in-person learning in Denver, Jeffco, Aurora and Boulder school districts to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus has left scores of thousands of Front Range parents bewildered as to how schooling is going to work.
To successfully navigate remote learning, “parents will need to be as positive as possible about learning, schools, teachers and this whole thing that we’re going through,” said Elizabeth Hinde, Ph.D., dean of Metropolitan State University of Denver’s School of Education. “That means caring for (students’ and parents’) mental health, so that when students do return to school, the transition won’t be traumatic. Someday, they will physically return to school, and we want them to be ready to learn.”
As families adjust to a new normal, there are ways to create a comfortable routine for everyone, said Krista Griffin Ed.D., associate professor in the Department of Elementary Education and Literacy at MSU Denver. Here are her best practices for the school-at-home life.
Having a designated study area is key, Griffin said. “Definitely don’t have them sit on their bed in their rooms,” she added. And involve children in the process.
“Having (children) help design the space and personalize it a little would provide them with ownership,” Griffin said.
Discussing expectations for the day’s work can keep everyone on track, so Griffin suggests a “morning meeting.”
“Review together what everyone will be doing and what support might be needed,” she said. “Adults can say, ‘I have an important meeting online at 10 a.m., and I’ll need to make sure I’m not distracted.’ An older sibling might say, ‘I have a test this afternoon, so I need to eat a good breakfast and take some study breaks.’
Critically, this tactic can also prompt younger students to consider what help they’ll need through the day, Griffin added.
The best way to squash a day-ruining “But I don’t wanna!” tantrum is to set consequences in advance, Griffin said.
Make a daily to-do list that must be completed before screen time, or whatever fun activity your kid enjoys, she said.
“If they refuse the work, there isn’t a fight, but then they won’t get to do the things they want to after the school day is over,” she said.
Break schoolwork for early-elementary students into 30- to 45-minute sessions punctuated by short breaks, Griffin said. And remember: Older students need to regroup too.
“The research shows that multiple breaks are needed for all students,” Griffin said, “So if you catch your teen sneaking a catnap, go easy.”
Parents shouldn’t expect total independence for younger students during the school day, Griffin said. Instead, it’s best to simply ensure that your student understands how to complete their work and be available for questions as much as possible.
It’s a good idea to keep up with older kids through the day too, she said. This is where that morning meeting comes in handy – try a midday progress check with the gang to discuss what’s left to do and what help may be needed, she added.
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Even though the lines between work and play are blurred with at-home learning, it’s still important for children to have time completely away from schoolwork, Griffin said. Don’t put too much pressure on enrichment outside of school hours.
“Ensure that they have plenty of outside and play time. And there are plenty of ways to make learning fun, but I would only do it around children’s interests, and only if they wanted to,” she said.
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