Since the start of the lockdown, I have been busy rearranging furniture and cleaning the whole house as part of my efforts to make our home a calm and relaxing place for everyone. My husband and I tried our best to make the kids feel that it was still a fun summer break despite being cooped up at home. Like many families, we installed a temporary pool for the kids to swim in every afternoon. We also signed them up for online classes to keep them active since they spend the most of the time watching shows or playing games on their tablets.
While the kids were enjoying their summer break, I was stressing over the online distance learning setup we were in for this school year. Nights were spent thinking about how to prepare the kids (and me) with this new normal of education. Imagine, more than four months of fun at home, how can I make them feel that, despite being at home, there will be times (and days) that they need to get serious with school? How do we make sure that our children do not despise being at home because they need to study?
This is the third week of school for our two boys ages 11 and 7 years old, and the first week of school for our five-year-old daughter. Evaluating our past three weeks of schooling, I think we’re doing pretty well with this virtual classroom setup. Here are 10 tips that might help you and your family adjust to this new scenario we’re all in.
- Pick a designated study space.
Realistically, most families do not have a spare room to convert into a study room. So find a corner of the house that you can use as a “classroom.” In our case, since all three kids still sleep with us, we turned our daughter’s room into the kids’ classroom. Why the need? Having an assigned study space can help switch the children from play to study mode. This can also lessen whining from kids when it’s time to report to class.
- Make it conducive to learning.
I started with my non-negotiables such as keeping the study area clean and organized, well-lit with good airflow, and quiet. I then add the basic equipment needed like tables and chairs. I asked the kids to sit on their chairs a few weeks before school started, because I wanted to make sure they were comfortable with the furniture. If not, then we adjust. Test the seat and make sure that the computer screen is at their eye-level. If the table and chair are too high where your child’s feet are dangling and not touching the floor, provide a foot stool to reduce back tensions and improve blood circulation.
- Decorate to make it their own.
Like going to school for the past years, I made the kids choose their notebooks and school supplies, and even label their things. I let them lead in terms of arranging their school stuff for easy access (all just a few steps away), but guide them when needed. We also get them involved in choosing the preferred equipment such as headphones or earphones, and eyeglasses with blue light protection (harmful rays emitted by computer screens that can cause eye strain). This helps in getting them excited for the coming school year.
- Do test runs.
Last summer, we had the kids enrolled in advanced subjects online. It was our way of “breaking in” everyone before school starts. The kids got to familiarize themselves with the new setup and navigate through new apps and softwares, and I also learned my way around them so we all don’t get frantic when school starts. This was also a good way to check on the internet speed and connection, and the computer or tablets to be used.
In our case, the internet connection was weak in the room so we had time to buy repeaters to boost the signal. It is also good to consider that younger children are not used to typing yet with the keyboard, so tablets or laptops with touch-screen feature works best for them.
- Stick to a routine and establish rules.
Studying at home doesn’t mean there is no routine anymore. We still put the kids to sleep early, and we still give them a semblance that they are off to school by wearing the proper clothes (and sporting the correct hairstyles). A desk calendar also helps in planning for days ahead. The school also sends a weekly schedule so we print those out and stick it by the wall across them. Despite us going online, it still helps to print materials and have something tangible for the children to refer to rather than searching online and opening so many tabs that will get you all confused. These simple things help in psyching them that it’s study time.
Your husband and household help should also be on board to assist you and work around the children’s schedule. This way, they can help you in other preparations including meal preps and cleaning of the area.
- Discuss your game plan with your children.
Our kids were all excited when we told them that we would be converting one room into their study space. They kept asking me when it would be ready. As soon as we placed the tables and chairs, they joined us in installing the computers and testing the equipment. Letting them participate gives them a sense of ownership.
- Keep yourself updated with school activities.
Schools always send out reminders for the next week, so I check my mail every day to make sure I keep abreast. I read up on them over the weekend and print what’s needed for the coming week so I don’t get stressed out every day on what’s needed. For this school year, we talked to our eldest son who’s 11 years old that we wouldn’t be hovering as much over him when it comes to his assignments, but I still do check on him from time to time.
8. Take breaks and eat healthy snacks.
Our schools included health breaks in between classes, and the initial challenge we faced in the first week of school is that our children wanted to play with their gadgets. I had to put my foot down and explain to them why it was important for them to rest from screen time. Their eyes need to rest, and they also need to move around. I’ve also set another rule that they should go outside the house after dismissal to play and get active.
Aside from school books and supplies that are within reach, I’ve prepared a mobile shelf for their snacks. The top part serves as their table where they eat, as I don’t want them eating (while studying) on their school desks. Not only does this get them moving, this strategy also teaches them that there is a time for everything, including having their meals.
9. Observe, evaluate, and improve.
For the first week, I was just in their study room on standby for “technical support.” I also wanted to observe how they were adapting and if they were adjusting well to this new set up. Lately, I go to my own work area but take breaks by checking on them. This is also to give them their personal space to grow and learn. They also know where I am so they go out of the room to call me for help, which is rarely the case.
At the end of each school session, or sometimes at the end of the day before we sleep, I always ask them how they feel they fared in school for that day. If they have any concerns, we improve on them for the next day. If they feel that they did a good job, I congratulate them for doing great. Small efforts but big impact to get them through another day.
10. It’s okay to ask for help.
Don’t pressure yourself and the kids too much. Remember that this is a different school year for all of us, and we’re all learning to adjust. Even the teachers are new to this. In case you need to verify some assignments, don’t be afraid to ask questions and communicate with your children’s teachers, co-parents, and, if ever you have one, the tutor. What’s important is that our children can adapt to these changes and enjoy learning this school year.
Illustrations by Ariana Maralit