Distance learning is not ideal, but it doesn’t need to be a total disaster. Here are some of my family’s ideas for distance learning success.
It’s what parents are talking about. I hear it In my own conversations with parents, in Facebook groups, on Instagram and TikTok.
Distance learning is tough. The hours on Zoom calls. The difficulty with assignments on See Saw or Canvas. The tears and refusal.
But it doesn’t need to be a total dumpster fire. You can find some small strategies that work that make it feel like distance learning is a success. Here’s what is working for our family during distance learning.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links; read more here.
Pin for later!
Morning Activities to Start the Day
Getting started on the school day at home can be a tough sell. So do want you can to make it fun!
We start the day with “Morning Activities.” I’m doing fine motor tasks because that’s a concern for my family.
- Related: How to Improve Pencil Grasp
You can set out anything to help your child transition into the day. It could be a puzzle, a simple art project, open-ended toys, or a sensory bin.
Our current schedule is:
- Monday; q-tip painting using our Lowercase Letter Binders
- Tuesday: play-doh using our Initial Sounds Mats
- Wednesday: trace and color with broken crayons using the Lowercase Letters Binder
- Thursday: string alphabet beads to make spelling words
- Friday: for Fun Friday, we just build with Legos. I haven’t added in real educational component yet but building works the hand muscles.
Use Book Bins at Home
Each child has a book bin with several picture books in it. It helps to have the picture books already selected so my children can spend less time searching for a book and more time reading.
When it’s time for independent reading, I can plop the baby on the floor next to us and read him board book. Then my two older children can read the books in their bins.
And, yes, my four-year old is a non-reader but he reads the pictures and this totally counts as reading practice!
Our public library now has a drive-up service where I can request books and then pick them up when they are ready. The librarians bring them to my card and pop them in my trunk. So check to see if your library is open and has a similar service.
Have a Distance Learning Calendar Routine
If your child is in preschool or early elementary, consider doing a calendar routine. You can buy a commercial calendar set like ours on Amazon or at a teacher supply store like Lakeshore Learning.
My daughter’s second grade class doesn’t do calendar during distance and it’s a really important skill. Reading a calendar and understanding the progression of time is a Common Core Math Standard.
Plus we know as adults that it’s important to use a calendar to manage tasks and appointments.
Write out the Morning Message
(A review of this preschool program is forth-coming but I love it and thoroughly recommend it!)
This is super important for developing oral language. When you ask a question, you can model for your children how to answer it in a complete sentence.
For example, one question could be “What is your favorite color?”
I will model for my children, “My favorite color is red. I like it because it is bright.”
You’ll want to practice this with your children early on because you want them to learn to speak in a complete sentence. This will help them when they go to write later on.
Here are two examples of what you don’t want:
Or “Red because firetrucks are red and super fast and I like sirens and they are noisy.”
Both of these types of oral responses will make it harder to write complete sentences later on. So don’t correct your child, just rephrase it for them.
“You like red because it reminds you of firetrucks. They are super fast. You like the noisy sirens.”
Use a Wiggle Seat during Zoom and Google Meets Classes
We are using a wiggle seat during my daughter’s Zoom classes. It’s a plastic cushion filled with air and it can be adjusted with a pump to make it softer or firmer.
Some children with inattention or sensory needs benefit from a wiggle seat or wobble cushion because the slight movement or texture gives them enough input to stay engaged and focused without being totally distracting.
Sitting in a traditional chair allows them to space out more easily.
The wiggle seat is also helping my daughter develop more core strength which is important for handwriting and other fine motor tasks.
Use fidgets and chewy toys during distance learning
Sitting in front of a screen is boring and not developmentally appropriate. Everyone knows this – even teachers – but we’re all doing our best with this tough situation.
We’re currently using these Lego chewy necklaces. My daughter was chewing on marker caps so she was communicating with her behavior that she needs more sensory input.
She also colors on her hands sometimes. This shows she needs something to keep her hands busy and some sensory input in her hands. So we give her play-doh or theraputty to squeeze and roll in her hands.
Fidgets and chewy necklaces should not take attention away from learning – they should help your child focus. You’re likely going to need to experiment to find the right tool for your child.
Have Daily Work Time Offline
We have negotiated for there to be screen-free work time for my child. She doesn’t read books online or do math worksheets on SeeSaw.
She reads books from her Book Bin (see above) and we play math games instead. There is little educational benefit for reading and math worksheets to be on a screen.
You’re going to need to work with your child’s teacher about this.
I genuinely believe most teachers are empathetic to how hard this is on families.
So write an email and negotiate for some activities to be done off a screen. Your child or you can upload a photo to SeeSaw or Google Classroom if the teacher needs “evidence.”
My hope is more districts will adapt and realize little children shouldn’t be in front of a screen for 5 hours a day.
I’ve seen plenty of my former colleagues and teaching school classmates prepare and distribute written materials and craft projects to their students. It is possible for schools to do this.
Have a Consistent Routine
As much as possible, try to follow a daily routine. We use the routine printables from the Ultimate Routine Printable Pack.
If you don’t have a routine yet, I suggest you just start with the Morning Routine. Work on getting your child to get ready for the school day at home on their own.
This is helping our family because my husband and I cannot manage all the things for all the people. Plus we’re robbing our children from learning valuable life skills if we continue to micromanage them.
So we give them the tools: printable routine charts. We’ve taught each step, and we celebrate each time our children gain more independence.
Establish a Cut-off Time for Distance Learning
We have a hard stop at 3pm. If work is not done, it won’t be finished.
After 3pm, my daughter plays outside, with her brother, or in her room. Play is still the work of childhood and we protect that time.
I’m going to say this loud and clear:
Your mental health is more important than your second grader’s grades. Your relationship with your child is more important than their sixth grade report card.
Use your parent instincts to prioritize the subjects they need to most. Let the rest go when you need to.
This might be a controversial suggestion – share your thoughts in the comments.
Pack Lunches The Night Before
My daughter has lunch and recess at home from 11-12 pm. It helps her stay in the school routine to grab her lunchbox from the fridge and sit down at the kitchen table to eat.
It also helps my husband and me not to drop whatever we’re doing to prepare lunch. We include enough for both morning snack and afternoon snack so we don’t prepare those during the day either.
So we’re packing our school lunches the night before.
Children can learn to pack their own lunches. This is one way to cut down on food waste. You provide the options that are acceptable choices for your family; then your child decides what to actually pack in the lunch box and eat.
Full disclosure: we’ve had the children pack their lunches before, but my husband is doing it right now. It is what is working for us with a baby and a global pandemic and 0 childcare.
Have a Clean-Up Routine
We’ve established a boundary with our children. When my husband is done with work, the children pick up the toys and the classroom.
They cannot watch TV or play ChessKids until we’ve picked up. My husband and I work alongside them.
Our expectations are developmentally appropriate and we make it fun.
Recapping Distance Learning Success
Here’s the recap of what is working for our family during Distance Learning:
- Start the day with a fun activity
- Use book bins at home
- Have a distance learning calendar routine
- Try a morning message
- Use a wiggle seat or wobble cushion
- Use fidgets and chewy toys
- Have time offline for school work
- Have a consistent routine, especially in the morning
- Establish a cut-off time for school work.
- Pack lunches the night before
- Have a clean-up routine
Your children are going to get through Distance Learning. Find some strategies that create distance learning success for family.