Distance learning in 2020 has been tough. I struggled through distance learning with my VERY active kinder-age son in the spring (he’s now in the first grade). I felt like a failure most of the time, but my son seems to be thriving. Here are some of my tips from my experiences to help you survive and make the most of this special year.
Tip#1: Establish Regular Communication With the Teacher
The teachers are having a TOUGH time. Seriously. They hate distance learning as much as we do.
One of the things that helped me, my son, and the entire class doing distance learning at the kinder level, was to establish an open and regular line of direct communication with the teacher, similar to what I would have done had I been able to see the teacher every day at pick ups and drop offs.
A POSITIVE ONE.
Even if I was frustrated, angry, sad, depressed, and confused.
This is especially the case for kindergarten parents, who might be entering the school year with a child who has never attended school before, as parents who have never had any experience with the school system since they graduated themselves many years before.
It is okay if you feel lost, and anxious.
When I started talking with my son’s teacher regularly, I began to learn a lot about what was happening behind the scenes, which in turned helped me understand what was happening and why.
When I started emailing, calling, or even doing zoom calls with the teacher on a regular basis in excess of what the other parents were doing, I was able to advocate for my son’s needs, and provide the teacher with vital feedback that she was able to incorporate into her classroom. Even if she didn’t realize it at the time, she NEEDED the information I was providing her about my kid’s needs.
The teachers aren’t used to gathering feedback in this manner. Historically, they will try something in class and see what the kids do in response. Since this method doesn’t work that great (and they aren’t trained up yet to seek it out from their students and the parents), initiating positive feedback (rather than critical or negative) can have a significant impact on how the school experience goes.
In many cases, I could see immediate changes to the online classes after we talked. Even if we had just brainstormed ways to make a specific kind of lesson better or more engaging.
When I talked to my son’s teacher regularly, she knew me, she was comfortable with me, and I was in a much better place to help my son through the experience as a result.
Tip#2: Advocate for your Child
The teachers really want to do their best to serve the children. Honestly, they do. But they might not have the freedom they are used to having. Or maybe they don’t realize that the way they are teaching isn’t working for your child.
They don’t know if what they are doing is working.
I felt like a nuisance. I was constantly emailing positive comments, thanking the teacher, talking about how my son was responding to a specific lesson during the day, and trying to find ways to help the teacher. As I was doing so, I found many instances to advocate for my son’s needs.
For example, I didn’t like the amount of time that the kids had to sit to do a specific exercise.
Or maybe I disagreed with the teacher’s instruction to the kids to remain fixed in their “learning positions” until break.
Sitting still doesn’t work for my kid. In talking with the teacher, I was able to make my son more comfortable during class by getting the teacher’s permission for my son to stand (rather than sit), and to be allowed to fidget with toys while the teacher was talking.
Since I had been talking to her so much, she understood where I was coming from and agreed that the changes were necessary…..(or she was tired of me and was willing to give me anything I wanted so I’d leave her alone).
Either way, my quiet but positive advocacy made a difference in his experience.
It might not seem like there is room for you to try and change how things are going for your child.
But if you are positive, calm, and understanding, (and also persistent), you’ll be able to help make things better.
Tip #3: Make Your Child’s Learning Space Special
My kids used to complain about getting up and going to school. Now they cry because they miss going to school so badly. To help get them to the computer each morning, I’ve made them each a special learning space. I have a decent sized table space dedicated to learning, that doesn’t get cleared away or cleaned up at the end of the day.
It is THEIR space.
In that space, I’ve got all of their books, supplies, and their Chromebook in a little cubby, just like at school.
They don’t have to hunt for pencils or other materials when requested.
I’ve pinned up their work everywhere around the space on the walls. And if you don’t have walls, you can unfold a large piece of cardboard which can serve as the “school wall” for their art.
Their names are on their desks, just like at school.
It’s not the same as being at school, but it helps.
Tip#4: Follow a/the Schedule
Kindergarten age children need consistency, and a routine.
Depending on your online learning program, you may need to have them to the computer at a specific time in the morning, or you may do the work when you feel like it.
If there is no daily schedule for the work, set a routine.
And then stick with it.
Because if you don’t, the kids will test you, push you, and make it much harder to get the work done. They will develop the idea that school is “optional” or something they don’t have to do.
And you’ll be left pulling out your hair and feeling very frustrated.
When I tell my kids that it is time for school, there’s no struggling to get set up, no arguments about where school is doing to happen, or when.
School happens in the same place, in the same space, in the same way, every single day.
We can all see the scheduled written on a piece of paper tacked to the fridge.
They know the schedule, and they also know that attending school is not optional.
Even children who cannot tell time understand that things happen at a certain time and in a certain order if you are consistent.
Tip #5: Watch the Wiggles
Some kids can sit still, while others cannot. What I do is watch how wiggly my kids are in their seats, and then work on strategies to combat them. Think of wiggles like a barometer. You can tell just how things are going by the wiggle activity you observe.
Then you can formulate strategies to deal with them.
For example, one of my sons struggles to sit in a chair during class. He is happy to look at the school and participate, but sitting in a chair doesn’t work.
I have his learning space set up so that he can sit cross legged on the carpet, lay on his belly, or even switch back and forth between positions to do his school. Since I have talked so much to his teacher, she understands that he is paying attention and doing the work, and doesn’t care that he isn’t in his chair.
Another thing I have done is initiated strenuous physical activity before, during, and after online learning for all of my kids. I will get my kids up just a little extra early and take them for a quick jog, send them out to the trampoline during a 10 minute break, or take them out to the park right after school to help him handle all of their extra energy. This way, the wiggles don’t build up as much and they are more likely to be able to pay attention.
If wiggles are really bad during class, I’ll take one of my sons into his room to jump on the bed like a madman, or do jumping jacks until he is breathless. (I do them with him, so he doesn’t feel like he is being punished).
We also talk about his wiggles and the need to get them out by doing something SUPER physical. Just getting up and walking around isn’t enough for him.
Other ideas include getting permission to give them something to occupy their hands during class, like a small toy, legos, doodle pad, stress ball, or even snacks so they don’t feel the need to jump around or run away from the computer.
Tip#6: Chill Out About the Technology
The technology aspect of having a kinder aged child in distance learning is a major challenge on so many levels.
First, you are providing your child with consistent access to a piece of electronic equipment that they might be not ready to take care of. I can’t tell you how much stress it caused me to have my sons on my work computer, fiddling with the mic and the webcam that I also used for work. I was constantly worried about them breaking something that I needed for work, or that was very expensive to replace.
To combat that, I invested in some pretty cheap laptops that could access the internet, had built in mics and cameras, and wouldn’t die as quickly if they got manhandled. I got the kids their own headphones. I put the desks on carpet so that if the kids pull the laptop off the desk on accident, it is more likely to survive a fall on carpet than my handwood floor.
While this didn’t entirely alleviate my anxiety and stress about the device smashing onto the floor, it did help a lot.
Next, technology (meaning the connection) is not all that sophisticated yet. While there are many tools that schools are now using to connect up kids and teachers remotely, we don’t have control over much of it. For example, we can buy the best internet we can afford, but can’t always control the quality of the connection. We utilize the top rated video-conferencing services, but sometimes those services have outages. There is so much that we can’t control, both as parents and as teachers.
Don’t get too freaked out when your kid gets kicked out of a session. It happens a lot, and all we can do is log back in and work with the teacher to catch up on anything that was missed. You might feel like your family is the only one missing out if your session freezes, but remember that it is happening a lot and isn’t the end of the world. Give your child a book to look at or let her use that time to jump around until she gets reconnected.
Third, none of our teachers were trained in school to teach over Zoom! Getting upset because the teacher doesn’t do the job of an experienced television presenter is unreasonable. You can help her by providing positive feedback AFTER the class is over. Make positive suggestions that you think would help your child (or others) and avoid being critical.
Only stress about things that are absolutely necessary. Look at the experience as a whole, rather than on a day to day or even minute to minute experience.
Tip#7: Keep Things In Perspective
Remember, this is kindergarten.
While there are certainly significant academic goals (sadly), the most important thing a kindergarten teacher does this year is to help your child understand that being in school is a great thing, and that learning is a great thing.
Yes, learning letters and numbers is important.
Yes, it would be great if they learned to read this year.
But if your child doesn’t seem to progress academically that much, that is okay.
This isn’t a normal time.
If you spend the entire year frustrated and angry, and attending school is a traumatic experience every day, then it won’t matter how many letters or numbers the child has learned.
The school experience will have failed.
Your child won’t have a positive association with learning. And that is a real problem.
When I finally let go of my preconceived notions of what kindergarten was supposed to be, I found myself enjoying online school. Each day, we learned a little bit, and then focused on being curious.
Strengthening our relationship.
If you fail in anything we’ve talked about in this article, be okay with forgiving yourself and starting the next day new and fresh.
Emily Anderson is a mother of three children, all under the age of 10. Located in the Pacific Northwest of the US, Emily is a mom and part-time blogger, jumping in front of the computer when the kids are sleeping. She started this blog in April of 2019 and is proud that the blog is now paying for itself. If you want to know about her journey as a blogger, check out out her personal digital journal or her post about failing her way to blogging success.