Orli Bander, MA, Ed.M.
Student Support Services Department Chair
Middle and Upper School Counselor
15 years’ experience in counseling at New York metropolitan area independent schools and Columbia University
Natalie Minichino, MS, LAC, NCC
Lower School Counselor and Middle School Learning Specialist
20 years’ experience as a private school educator, school administrator, counselor, and mental health therapist in private practice
What are some of the things that parents can do to set their children up for success, from setting up a great work space to setting workable schedules?
Predictably and routine are two concrete things that can help create a sense of security and accountability for students when they are learning from home. Maintaining a good sleep schedule and daily routine will go a long way to set a positive and productive tone for each day. Even though students may be working at the kitchen table or a desk in their room, they should be dressed to learn.
In addition to a reliable printer (with spare toner or ink), each child should have a designated workspace--whether it’s a desk in his or her room, a space in a home office, or a corner of the kitchen table--with a caddy of supplies that can move with the child as needed. Depending on each child’s age, consider stockpiling pens, pencils, whiteout, scissors, rulers, tape, glue, staples, Crayons, colored pencils, erasers, folders, notebooks, graph and loose leaf paper. Some schools also share a list of suggested supplies, so refer to your school’s website to see if they have additional suggestions. It’s also easier to stock up on the supplies now to avoid a last-minute scramble.
While it may be tempting to outline a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to setting students up for success with distance or hybrid learning, the reality is that some students may require a more customized workspace and schedule to help them maximize their full potential. Flexibility will be key. Students with attention issues or those with learning differences may require a completely different environment and set of supports to mitigate frustration and guide success. Design workspaces with your own children in mind. Consider purchasing some alternative furniture if you have diverse learners in your home. Standing desks, rocker chairs, or balance balls provide students the ability to move while remaining on task.
Do expectations differ for children learning at home vs at school?
Progress will likely look different for children learning at home versus in school. Even with synchronous instruction, the learning environment at home is different from the classroom setting, and it is best to adjust expectations accordingly. Recognize that progress might be at a different pace during this at-home period, but that it is important to celebrate positive progress and keep children motivated and engaged. This could also be a good opportunity to cultivate your child’s interests outside of the class curriculum, and that encouraging new discoveries, exploration, and hobbies could help to boost mood, self-esteem, and motivation. Remember that this will not look like the year we had envisioned, and perhaps progress will be at a slower pace, but that exercising flexibility and positive encouragement will help to frame children’s attitudes toward resilience, working through obstacles, and building a love for learning.
What's the best way to mitigate distractions? Build in breaks?
It is best to have a dedicated space for learning equipped with materials and supplies that should be tailored to your child’s educational needs. Do your best to minimize distractions from noise and technology, but figure out what works best for your child. Some might benefit from working near a window or outdoor space, while for others this could be distracting. The same holds true for quiet background music, which could be distracting for some and soothing for others. Some children have a greater need to move around, so while structure is important, it is best to be flexible to allow for discovery of what works best for each child’s learning. Create a schedule with your child that breaks up focused learning with time for meals and snacks, physical activity, leisure time, and social connectivity. Make sure that your child works with you to build a plan so that they are positively invested, and make adjustments together as needed.
Have you found good ways for kids to virtually connect with peers?
Maintaining connections with peers is vital to social growth as we continue to adhere to social distancing rules and distance or hybrid learning. Seeing friends and family can help children feel more secure and connected during uncertain times. There are a host of connections parents can help facilitate for grade-school aged children. Hosting virtual gatherings on Google Meet or Zoom is a great way to connect children with their friends in small or large groups.
Many kids are already connecting to friends via video games like Roblox, Minecraft, Pokemon Go, and Mario Kart Tour. For children with access to iOS devices, GamePigeon offers a variety of fun games to play via iMessage.
Modified Board and Virtual Games
Beyond video games, kids can play more traditional games with a bit of patience and creativity. Charades, Candy Land, and drawing games like a modified version of Pictionary can be played on Zoom or Google Meet. When playing Pictionary, use a free whiteboard application in conjunction with the meet so that the kids will have a place to draw on screen.
Online Art Show with Art for Kids Hub
Host an online art show for kids and their families via Zoom or Google Meet. A few days before the event, invite the participants to go to the Art for Kids Hub channel on YouTube, select a drawing tutorial, and then view and complete their artwork. Host Rob Jensen creates whimsical and easy-to-follow drawings and is usually accompanied by one of his own children in each video. On the day of the art show, have kids showcase their drawings and talk a bit about them.
Netflix Movie Night
Another great way to connect is through movies and television shows. Make some popcorn, download the free Netflix Party extension for Chrome, and invite your friends (with their own Netflix accounts) to the party! The movie or show will play in sync across the screens and there is also a chat feature for the viewers.
Offline Fun: Pen Pal Connections
Remember the simple joy of receiving a postcard or drawing in the mail? Let your child pick or create some postcards, get some postcard stamps, and send some happy mail to friends and family. Have your child ask recipients to write back to start a pen pal connection!
What are the best ways for parents to best support their children's at-home learning?
While the level of parental involvement might look different for different age groups, a good way to support children’s at-home learning is to engage with them and offer help while also allowing age-appropriate space and autonomy for self-motivation. Highlight positive learning progress and discuss interesting learning experiences, while also acknowledging that this format is different and can be a difficult adjustment for many children accustomed to classroom learning with in-person access to peers and teachers. This is often where children can struggle and reject parental support, and it is important to remember that you are not in this alone and that reaching out to teachers and others for help is encouraged. Parents are not expected to be learning and subject-matter experts, and utilizing flexibility, adjusting expectations, setting goals and positive reward systems, and employing empathy and humor will go a long way toward getting through these challenging times together.
Since this is such a drastic role shift, from parent to educator, do you have advice on how parents can best mitigate the inevitable power struggles?
This is a great question. Transitioning to online learning has been challenging on so many levels, and even parents who are educators themselves are struggling with their own children’s learning. It’s important to recognize this and keep it in mind when feeling stress or pressure about distance or hybrid learning. Flexibility, managing expectations, and seeking support are key.
Parents should view themselves as educational facilitators instead of teachers. By letting children know you are there to support them, it helps them to reframe their expectations, too. Parents may need to help students with prioritizing, task initiation, planning, or organization, but instruction comes from teachers.
Students who have special learning needs may require additional, or even external, support. Enlist the help of honors high school students in your neighborhood, a retired teacher, or a professional tutor or homework coach from online educational or caretaking websites.