Parents in several parts of the country whose kids are moving from in-school instruction to remote learning from home as of Monday face a potentially steep learning curve.
“Online learning is a completely different ballgame,” says Puja Amin, an entrepreneur in Mississauga whose two children, ages eight and 11, have been doing online learning since March.
The Globe and Mail spoke to educators as well as parents whose children have been doing remote learning throughout this school year and asked them to share their advice on how to make that learning curve a little less steep.
Brandyn Van Sant, teacher in the blended learning program and vice-principal at Jessie Lee Elementary, part of Surrey Schools, the largest school district in B.C.
One of the thing we’ve asked our parents is just be present with the kid. I know some parents are working, but just communicate with the teacher to say ‘Is there anything I can do from my end?’ Depending on the age of the kid, you’re going to have some new kids who are going into online learning that have never done it. It’s going to be super exciting and they’re going to be trying to figure out the tools, and sometimes they’ll be muting the teacher.
This is new for all of us … for parents, just slow down, it’s okay. Just take it day by day and ask questions. We’re all new to this.
With my kids, what’s worked best is that the kids have their own space to work. Just be nearby if the kid needs help or the teacher wants to ask the parent a question or maybe the child is having issues with tech.
The main goal of the teacher and the parent is to make sure the child is happy and learning.
Nancy Wilson-Blackley, Grade 4 teacher at Central Public School in the Halton District School Board in Ontario
The key thing is to have a really good spot to sit and to learn. If you’re a family that has several kids, then you might really benefit from a quiet spot. If they can sit separately, great, and if they have headphones that they can block out all the other sounds. And we always say to be sitting in a chair at a table or a desk or something so you feel like you’re in school as opposed to lounging around.
If they are working from a spot like a bedroom, it’s good to remove the toys from that space just so they don’t have any additional distractions.
Everything I provide to my kids can be done online. They don’t need to use paper and pen if they don’t want to. Everything I create, they can do online. But sometimes it’s nice to have a paper and a pencil and some crayons … or even a whiteboard from the dollar store with markers, because that is great for math.
The other thing I would say that’s really important is not to get frustrated with technology or WiFi. Because my kids will tell you all the time “Oh my internet is lagging or my computer is lagging. I’m just going to hop off and leave” and they send me a little note in the chat. They just reset their computer and come back and it’s fine. Don’t get stressed or worked up. If the tech isn’t working, just ask the teacher, because we can share our screen with the students and show them step by step exactly what they need to do.
Naomi Pahl, a stay-at-home mother of four children, ages 6, 9, 11 and 12, who lives in Edmonton
Just trying to find a spot for everybody was a hard part, somewhere they could be off alone and be on the call with their classmates but not have to wear headphones necessarily. Over the course of a few months we ended up setting up little classrooms in different areas of our house. We have one in the bedroom, one in the kitchen, one in the dining room and one in the living room. One of my children is diagnosed with ADHD and he was the one that, right off the bat, he had to have his own space because of the level of distraction. We knew we had to have him focused, faced toward the wall with things that would encourage him to do his work. He has fidget toys. And we just made sure that he was away from everybody else. And we also got him a spinny chair so that even though he’s sitting for most of the day he can still wiggle his body.
Theresa Powell, a dental hygienist and mother of two kids, ages 9 and 11, who lives in Toronto
Absolutely have a designated workspace. They have their own office. My one daughter is in the front living room. We’ve surrendered to that for the year. It’s her office. The other one is in a different room. And when school is over, it’s over. The desk closes up, you don’t go back in that room. So that they actually go somewhere for school and then they leave it. Just to mentally compartmentalize. You have your down time, your home time and your school time.
The morning routine is really important just to get the adrenaline going. We get up, you eat your breakfast, you brush your teeth and then we go for a walk around our neighbourhood. We would be racing to get to the school, now we’re racing to get home for school on time. You have to get them outside. During the shorter recesses, sometimes I’ll sit on the porch and they run around the block and I time them. They have to beat their time from the day before.
Puja Amin, artistic director and founder of a dance and fitness studio and mother of two children, ages 8 and 11, who lives in Mississauga
Make sure you have your laptops and all electronic devices charged the night before. Have a desk in a lit-up room. I would compulsory make my kids step out on their breaks and they weren’t allowed to come inside the house. I’d say, “I don’t care if you’re not done your assignments, you need to go outside.” I taught them how to set alarms before their breaks ended.
Setting alarms helped a lot because their breaks were at different times, so my daughter would always be a few minutes late. She has a timer. Every time she has a break she has to set the alarm before she gets up for break. All their alarms are set for five minutes before sign-in time because sign-in can sometimes take a little longer or you can have internet issues.
Have a sit-down conversation with your kids about how expectations for online school are not the same as live school. It’s not the end of the world if you’re late a little bit. Your teacher can be informed. People understand electronic discrepancies and kids don’t have to get stressed about that. They have to be as organized as they can and communicate effectively with their teachers. If my kids are late I tell them “Type in the chat what happened so the teacher knows.”
Ryan Watts, a swimming coach and mother of four children, ages 3, 6, 8 and 11, who lives in Toronto
My son has a severe learning disability. He’s dyslexic. … For the most part I’ve had a good experience with the teachers. I definitely choose my battles. If it’s something that you’re really concerned about I would definitely reach out to the teachers. The teachers have been phenomenal. With my son, I’ve brought up what he’s not able to do and what he is able to do, and his teacher has been very good with that. My other son often doesn’t understand what the expectation is for a task because the teacher isn’t clear, so I have e-mailed her a couple of times about making sure she is clear about the expectations of a task. I always try not to point fingers. You don’t want your child to be affected by the concerns that you bring up to your school.
Maninder Chauhan, who works in marketing and is a father of two children, ages 6 and 9, who lives in Mississauga
Break time is 100-per-cent no-screen time. In the fall we’d go outside every day and play basketball. My daughter has a lot of screen time. My son gets a lot of breaks throughout the day. He’s supposed to have learning time that’s not on the screen. We’re pretty regimented about it. We’ll have him go do some colouring or other activity.
In my son’s class, probably 80 per cent of parents are within earshot. Generally, everyone remains quiet. But sometimes you get parents who just kind of chime in in front of the class and it’s like, “What are you doing?” That’s a key tip for a lot of parents: You’re not supposed to be in school.
It’s your job as a parent to keep your kids hydrated and fed. Even when I work from home, sometimes I don’t eat. Having a good meal plan is important. We used to prep our kids’ lunches the night before. We don’t do that anymore. Food structure is something you might easily take for granted.
CAROLINE ALPHONSO, EDUCATION REPORTER
The Globe and Mail, January 4, 2021