Is distance learning going to crash and burn like it did in the fall? The meltdowns, the freak outs, the technological break downs. It was a mess. Teachers and parents agree.
Today is the first day of school for Los Angeles Unified School District, and it's a day many have long awaited and dreaded at the same time. I have to say, I'm relieved it's here, because people will finally have some real answers in their hands: the schedule, the timelines, the teachers, the tech.
It's a terrifying time frought with worry about having the right stuff, not having access to a teacher on the daily, and missing the peers that make school what it is. You're not alone in your worry. In fact, I've been talking to parents and teachers on the daily and there are 5 major things you'll need to tackle to feel SUPER confident about the new normal of home learning.
I always roll my eyes at mindset, but whenever, I give it the time it deserves, transformation follows. Do you have a growth or fixed mindset? How about your child?
A Growth Mindset is the idea that with effort comes results. People who believe they can grow their ability by working hard don't get stuck on failures, they use them as learning opportunities. The meltdowns are met with understanding that yes, I didn't get it right now, but next time, I'm armed knowing with knowing what went wrong.
A Fixed Mindset is the idea that you are already born being "good" or "bad" at things. You have innate abilities and that if you fail, it must mean you're not skilled in that area. I have to admit, I always say, "I'm bad at hair." But when it comes down to it, how much time do I spend trying to learn more about my hair or how to style it. The answer is ZERO.
Our kids will take on mindsets based on what we model for them, and also, from how they hear other people speak about ability. If we constantly share with them that they're smart or so good at math, what does that mean for when they make a mistake? Are they failures if they get the answers wrong?
Change the narrative. Instead of talking about ability as natural and as a "gift," talk about the effort, time, and motivation it took to get those abilities. Share specifically, "I noticed you got all the answers write on your math assignment. That's fabulous that all the time we spent playing number games and practicing number facts helped that information really stick in your brain!"
Do you often get into a tizzy when your child is doing something that they're definitely not supposed to? I do, but a lot of those times, I can't really expect them to "know better" if I haven't specifically set out expectations for the activity. I mean, they should know not to paint on the tablecloth, but did I really tell them?
Setting expectations will lead to success in home learning because it'll help you be on the same page with your child.
Expectations should be :
clear and concise
stated right before you begin the activity
telling your child what TO do instead of what NOT TO do
Right before a school activity, tell your child what is it that they're going to be doing? Is it an independent assignment? Purposeful play? A partner assignment? Zoom meeting?
Explain what success in that activity looks like:
What is the right way to communicate? Raising hand or talking out loud?
What's the expected way to move around the room? Should they be seated, standing, moving?
How can they get help? Can they come and find you or do they need to try to solve the problem on their own first?
Imagine the stress that would happen if you had to go to work but you had no idea what was on the agenda each day? Kids find a sense of comfort and predictability in having a schedule that they can access.
For smaller children who cannot read, make sure the schedule you choose is a visual schedule, which means it has words and pictures so they can access the material independently. Older kids can also benefit from a visual schedule, but they can also use a checklist or to-do list that they make.
Lots of classrooms have visual schedules and Amazon has a great one that comes with pre-made cards for pretty cheap.
Having a visual schedule will give your home learning environment more of a classroom feel and imagine what it would feel like if instead of asking you what they're doing next, they could just walk up to the schedule and figure it out themselves. Um, hello! No brainer!
Anything that teaches my child some independence is something I want to do, and it makes them feel empowered to be able to know what's coming next. It's also a wonderful way to remind them that their favorite activities are going to happen, their needs will be met with meals and breaks, and that their non-preferred tasks have an ending.
Create A Learning Space
The space for pencil to paper tasks and online meetings with teacher is a key factor in learning success. When talking with teachers, they said that the kids who had the hardest time in the spring of 2020 were those who had a chaotic learning environment. The big takeaways were that kids need a clean, uncluttered area to work free of distracting noise like TV, radio, and other working members of the household.
Kids will need a well lit space where they can see the screen during the online portion of their studies, preferably with their own headphones, especially if multiple kids are learning together. No, you don't need a desk for every child. That might be 5 desks in some households! A dining room space is great, especially since you'll need a chair for you to sit right there and help your kiddo through different tasks.
Some things you might not think to have are a trash bin nearby, a caddy for easy access to supplies, and a way to personalize their desk space. The goal here is to create a "classroom" environment so your child feels like this part of the day is clearly for school.
Dealing with Meltdowns
The meltdown is natural. Everyone's kids have meltdowns from time to time, even those with many years of teaching and child rearing experience under their belts. You're not alone.
The important thing is what we do with the meltdown. It's a sign of a need being unmet by our child, and it hurts. It is painful to watch them in emotional agony, and it makes us feel helpless, especially since many of us have never turned in our parent hat for a teacher hat before. How can we guide our little ones through these challenges?
When dealing with meltdowns, ask yourself this question: What triggered the meltdown? What happened right before? Then think, what need is being met by the meltdown? Are they getting needed attention, a break, help with something hard?
My daughter melted down during a Zoom meeting with her classmates last March. I thought she would be so happy to see them. She was an emotional wreck. The Zoom meeting triggered it, but what did that mean? She calmed down once I gave her lots of attention and love, and a friend reached out to check on her after seeing her leave the meeting. Analyzing what triggered and what calmed her, I could see that for her, seeing all those friends was thrilling but overwhelming at the same time. She would have done better if eased into this social situation so that she could have checked in with the friends individually instead of being muted so that the kids could hear the teacher.
Meltdowns are a sign that our kids are trying to tell us what they need but just don't know how. The meltdown is almost like a mystery for us to solve. Once we solve the mystery, we can offer our child support before triggers cause the emotional breakdown or we can teach them how to get those needs met by asking for help in more functional ways.
Teach your kid like a teacher...
I've taken all these principles and expanded them in a way that ensures parents can have success this school year. In a parent workshop called Your Teacher's Toolbox, I guide parents through ALL 5 of these strategies:
-5 video lessons only 15 min each
-lots of printable goodies to make it EASY to
implement these strategies in your home
-access to me for any and all questions
-support community of parents
-mind-blowing transformation- you feel like a
I make sure you've got all the tools to implement these strategies for success so you can breathe easy knowing your child WILL learn this year under your guidance. And you're not alone! Parents in this group have a private Facebook community where we share questions and help each other through challenges. I'm right there to help you as you face this year alone, but together.
Check out Your Teacher's Toolbox to learn more.