10 Tips for Digital At-Home Learning During COVID-19

Nonprofit Children and Screens has advice on how to navigate the new realities of digital at-home learning for their kids during the coronavirus crisis.

Woman and child working on a computer

With COVID-19 causing widespread school closures, kids across the country – including here in southeast Michigan – are being given alternate resources, some online, to study outside of the classroom.

Temporary solutions being devised for remote education range from online classroom tools like Google Classroom to video conferencing software like Zoom to podcasts by teachers. While parents are adjusting to this new scenario, during this time, it’s also important to help kids stay focused on learning and avoid overuse of games, social media and videos.

“This is a stressful, unpredictable time for everyone, including families, parents and children,” says Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra, president of Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development. “You can help your children by providing them with a structure and routine, and being a positive force in their education.”

With that in mind, Children and Screens has put together 10 tips for families as they adjust to the new reality of learning at home.

1. Digital quarantine

Consider limiting your children’s cellphones and tablets until their schoolwork is done satisfactorily, so that it can receive their undivided attention. Apps, games, and messaging features are fun, but they can also be distracting.

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It may not be an option for everybody, but ideally, try to give your kids a dedicated device such as a school laptop for maximum online learning.

2. Make space for learning

Kids achieve their best work in a quiet, comfortable and dedicated space devoted to learning. Ideally, this will be a different set-up than where they normally play games or watch television.

Keep in mind that children will be in this space for many hours each day, and parents should watch out for any orthopedic issues that may arise related to comfort and posture.

3. Monitor the (computer) monitor

In this new learning milieu, you can help by monitoring your children’s levels of interest and engagement in adapting to their new schedule and at-home materials. The simplest way to do this? Observation.

Look at children’s eyes to see if they are following along with the screen. Check if they’re taking notes or zoning out. Ask questions at the end of a lesson. While this may require taking an hour off from work or stepping out for an early lunch, it’s important to confirm that your children are indeed learning.

If you find that your child is not engaging with the lessons, don’t be afraid to contact the school district or teachers to better explore the issue. Sometimes, easily remedied technical problems such as bad audio, a poor connection or an unhelpful camera angle can make all the difference.

4. Digital recess

Make sure your kids take plenty of breaks in order to get physical activity and time away from screens. Set alarms similar to those they would encounter at school and encourage them to get up, get some fresh air, go for a walk or bike ride, or have a snack so that they are not sedentary for the entire day.

5. FaceTime

In-person interaction is ideal for kids, but until it’s safe for them to return to school, encourage your children to video chat or text message rather than simply scrolling through social media. You don’t want your children to feel socially isolated, but at the same time, you want to protect them from becoming wholly reliant upon their devices.

Sit your children down for face-to-face conversations about screen time. To give them ownership, discuss how much time they think is reasonable to spend online and make a “contract” committing to goals for on-screen vs. off-screen hours.

6. Keep it old school

Overuse of screens can have adverse impacts on young brains, so it’s essential in these special circumstances to be extra careful when it comes to the littlest ones.

As much as possible, parents should encourage print and book reading. If available, request textbooks from your child’s school along with other print materials in order to offset the amount of online learning they will be doing.

Studies show that remote education can be challenging for all ages, but especially young kids — so do whatever you can and always err on the side of caution. Stimulate self-expression by having discussions with your children about what they are doing, and also encourage creative writing and imaginative story telling.

7. We’re all in this together

Remember that you’re not alone in this journey. Check in with other parents to see what they’ve found effective or to ask if they need help. Share your concerns and useful hints. If you need contact information for other parents or resources, reach out to the PTA or your child’s school. It is important that we all work together as a community for the good of our children and families.

8. Plan your work and work your plan

Good planning can relieve stress for both children and parents. Check in with your kids about their plans and help them develop a written schedule not only for the day, but for the week as a whole. Help them prioritize and learn to create goals, tasks and deadlines, just like adults do when they go to work.

Tasks that may not have been difficult for them while attending school in person can become more challenging when learning from home, so it’s important to reinforce boundaries and offer incentives for healthy behaviors. To avoid disruption, some after-school activities may be offered via online video apps, FaceTime or Skype.

9. This ain’t no vacation

Even though staying home from school might feel like a holiday, remind your kids that they’re not on vacation. Assignments, grades, requirements and tests like state exams, SATs and ACTs aren’t going away just because classes have moved online.

10. Don’t forget to have fun

Plan off-screen activities for the whole family. Between school and work obligations, it’s rare for parents and children to have this much time together, so turn it into an opportunity for bonding.

Write predictions for a TV show that the whole family watches. Organize a tournament, family card games, charades or chess, or get outside for a hike or walk together after school. Follow your community’s guidelines about safe behavior and events, of course, but make sure you still find time for fun with your kids.

Keep in mind

Without a doubt, this is a challenging time for parents, teachers and children alike. Studies show that screen time can have both positive and adverse impacts on kids, and the shift to online education will only increase your child’s time with their devices.

“Hopefully these commonsense practices can help you and your family navigate this new terrain and make the most out of at-home learning,” Hurst-Della Pietra says.

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