Virtual Learning: Tips For a Successful Start to the School Year

Project B3 knows one thing is for sure: it’s a strange year. The school year is starting and many school districts have decided to go fully virtual in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Whether you agree, disagree or are just plain overwhelmed by the whole situation, one thing is clear: we need to accept this is our reality. Our kids need us to take this new approach to learning seriously and with a good attitude- otherwise we will be setting everyone up for months of failure.

Try to remember that this year is not only hard for working parents to navigate, but has been difficult for our children, as well. Our students may be looking forward school starting, whether they are expressing it or not. A sense of “normalcy” and structure might  be exactly what they need after a socially distanced summer.

Common Sense Media has a great list of strategies to get your virtual school year off to great start. Here they are:
(Source: Caroline Knorr)

Kids may be motivated by different things than they were last year. Your type A kid may no longer work for gold stars, and your slowpoke may speed through work just to get it over with. Don’t make assumptions on what’s going to work. Instead, ask questions: See how they’re holding up, ask how they feel, determine what they want to accomplish, and figure out what you can do to support them.

Your energy will wax and wane, but keep your attitude positive and your approach consistent. If you sense your kid is flagging, find role models — from movies, books, or real life — whose grit may inspire them.

Yes, we all want this to be over with, but remember that learning is a lifelong goal. When discussing schoolwork, focus on the skills kids are building, the value of seeing things through, and the feeling of accomplishment. Most kids can push themselves when it’s something they love, like creating a successful game or mastering dance choreography. Ask them to call on the same skills that drive them in other areas.

Maybe they got a problem wrong but asked the right questions. Maybe they breezed through the day’s reading assignment when yesterday’s was tough. Now, more than ever, taking notice of and commenting positively on how your kid is growing and progressing can really give them forward momentum.

Sticking to a schedule provides the stability kids need to keep plugging away. Plus, it minimizes their instincts to go rogue. When expectations are set, it’s more likely they’ll be met. You can try digital tools like to-do lists, site blockers, and screen-limit settings when kids need help staying on task.

Maybe you can’t motivate your kid — but their best friend can. Have them schedule daily check-ins with a friend either by text or on social media. Accountability helps kids realize they’re not alone and gives them a tangible reason to work hard.

Kids may be motivated by rewards, but you want to make it feel as though they’ve earned their treat (or you’ll end up in a vicious cycle). If they finish one packet, they can choose a board game to play; two packets, they get to make that brownie mix you’ve been saving.

 This school year kids won’t get to have Friday pizza parties and dances. But you can still give them something to look forward to. Plan a celebration (online) with family and friends, like a virtual class party, a Zoom dance, trivia night, or a watch-together movie

Some kids respond well to visual cues. Use a calendar or another visual aid to mark time so they can see how much they’ve accomplished and how much more there is to go.

 A positive aspect of remote learning is the flexibility to go deep on topics kids really love. Build upon and extend what they’re learning with a natural connection. If they’re learning about the solar system, let them stay up late on a weekend night and use an astronomy app to map the night sky.

If a kid is struggling with reading a book, turn it into a read-aloud or get an audiobook. If math is “too boring,” do the problems on a whiteboard or outside using sidewalk chalk. A change of scenery can do wonders for a kid’s motivation.

If you have some control over when they do the work, break things up a little. Let them have a slower-paced morning and do their work after lunch. Make an agreement in advance: “If you take the morning off, you still have to get your schoolwork done before you can play online with your friends later today.”

 There’s nothing magical about the hours of 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. — that’s just when we’re all used to school happening. Of course, if your kids are in online classes, you have to accommodate those schedules. But for things like working through a packet of assignments from a teacher, there’s no harm in experimenting with different times of day. Sometimes the change is all it takes.

A word of encouragement, such as a recorded video message, a text, or an email, from a beloved teacher can be just the thing. Your kid wouldn’t want to let the teacher down.

Sometimes what looks like a lack of motivation is actually a kid covering up for a problem. Probe for underlying issues and address them. If they just need a mental health break, these apps may help.

If we’ve learned anything during this crisis it’s to expect the unexpected. Your kid may not take to the new learning environment. Insist on the bare minimum (completion of all assignments), and set up natural consequences for noncompliance (maybe they miss out on an online playdate). Empathize with your kid’s feelings and move on. Allow yourself a moment to gather your strength and recharge. Celebrate the little victories, and start tomorrow with fresh eyes.

Project B3 knows that this year will be full of many ups and downs. There are will be so much more planning and preparation, rearranging of schedules and need for flexibility on the part of parents. But, with proper self-care, many breaks, and plenty of grace we know that every parent is capable of doing what is best for their child. You can do this! Your kids can do this! Hang in there!