The number of summer days is dwindling and if anxiety about the new school year is creeping in, you’re not alone. We have all the feels but somehow, we have take a deep breath and set them aside because it’s more important than ever to help your child have a great virtual school year. Proactive parenting can help calm fears, maintain routines, and even create a bit of back to school excitement during this strange year. But where to start???
How to Help Your Child Have a Great Virtual School Year
Now that we’re starting to wrap our heads around what the start of school looks like for our kids, here are my back to school tips that can help your child have a great virtual school year. I’ve broken the list down into 6 things to do before school starts and 5 things to do as the year begins. So if you still have some summer left, read the first part of this post now and save the second half for later!
6 Thing to Do Before School Starts
Kids thrive on routines. Part of getting ready for the school year means revisiting these routines and establishing new ones. Working together as a family is an effective way to ensure kids of all ages take ownership of their spaces, pride in their learning, and become a bit more independent.
Acknowledge Their Feelings
Regardless of how old your child is and what grade they’re going into, every year is critical for our kids. Academic and social learning happens constantly, regardless if your child is just starting preschool or finishing their first year of college.
While younger kids might not be able to express what they’re sad about missing as the virtual school year approaches, older kids are all up in their feelings because they know exactly what they’re missing. Listening and acknowledging how your kids are feeling goes a long way. It shows them you’re in this together and how much you care.
Assess Their Workspace
Where did your kids work when schools closed in March? It’s time to revisit that space and talk about what worked and what didn’t.
The Teacher Guide to Online Learning by Michigan Virtual Learning Institute provides helpful suggestions to teachers about their online work environment. Their tips are just as applicable to our kids’ workspaces. They suggest setting up a space separate from family life. This space should allow for quiet and be designed to minimize distractions to help students maintain focus.
Michigan Virtual Learning Institute also recommends setting up your computer in an area with good light. A good light source illuminating their face will make it easier for their teacher to see them during online classes. Try directing lights toward the side of or behind your line of vision or sitting facing a window.
According to Merriam-Webster.com, ergonomics is the study of the design and arrangement of items people use and interact with most efficiently and safely. Scientists studying computer ergonomics work to find solutions to reduce strain, fatigue, and injuries caused by poor product design or arrangement. Their goal is to create a comfortable and relaxed environment.
Having an understanding of ergonomics can create a more comfortable environment for online learning. When your child sits down, look at their position at the desk or table they’ll be using.
Here are indicators of proper ergonomics:
- Arms rest at a 90 degree angle to the keyboard
- The chair supports their back in an upright, seated position. Use a comfortable, supportive chair since kids will be sitting for long periods of time.
- The monitor is positioned directly in front of you (at least 18 inches) and is at eye level.
- Feet are flat on the floor and legs are in a parallel position.
If you’re finding your child’s workspace doesn’t appear ergonomic, consider doing the following:
- Find kid-sized furniture to make long days on the computer more comfortable. If you have an Ikea nearby, they have a great selection of kid-friendly furniture that can be used for at home learning. Also consult your local Buy Nothing group to see if someone might have items to gift.
- Encourage good posture. Slumping or rounding your shoulders can cause fatigue to set in quickly.
- Adding a foot rest allows kids to push back into their chair for comfortable sitting. I love the memory foam ones but if you have a nursing stool hanging around the house, or know someone getting rid of one, that works too!
Re-Evaluate Their Technology
Last spring during crisis schooling, we did what we could to get by. We used what we had at home or or found in stock online. If what you used might have been a quick fix, be honest about if it worked well enough for your kids to keep using it.
Everyone has a list of tech needs and wants. Start by categorizing technology items into needs and wants.
Needs are the essentials. Think high speed internet service with antivirus and malware protection software to protect you and your family’s systems and Bark to keep an eye on what they’re doing on their devices.
Wants are the things that you COULD buy to make online learning better, easier, or more efficient but you don’t necessarily need to replace. My 6 Back to School Tech Upgrades for Virtual Learning picks are ones that will make virtual learning smoother this year. I even share how you can reduce your monthly cell bill so you can put the savings towards upgrading your tech!
If you know of a family who needs access to devices or the internet, check out Wide Open School. Powered by Common Sense Media, Wide Open School compiled a fabulous list of providers offering resources for free and low-cost internet and devices. Visit their site to learn what discounts are available and what providers offer service for your family or others that you know and please sure this great resource with your PTA, in parenting Facebook groups, etc!
Shop for Supplies
We may not need to shop for a new backpack, lunchbox, and other shared school supplies for classroom use but it’s still important to do some back to school shopping. This simple act helps to maintain the back to school routine, builds excitement, and encourages enthusiasm at the year ahead.
Start by figuring out what your child needs in their space to be a successful learner. Take stock of what they have, what you have around the house, and what they need. Consider everything from pens, pencils, dry erase markers and a whiteboard, paper (blank, lined & construction paper), better headphones, etc. Stock up now while those things are cheap and organize them in a way so they’re accessible during class times. I personally love this organizer!
Review the School Schedule
When the school schedule comes out, sit down as a family and look it over. Talking about what to do during breaks and what to do when the school day ends helps empower kids to take charge of their day to minimize distractions. Have a plan for:
- What you expect your kids to do during breaks. Younger kids might need a list posted near their workspace so they remember to go to the bathroom, grab a snack, refill their water, and stretch before it’s time to hop back on.
- What your kids should do when the school day ends. Since the school day probably ends earlier than your work day, make a checklist of age appropriate things they can do on their own. Younger kids can tackle homework they can complete independently, sit down to read a book for pleasure, enjoy some outside time and complete chores like putting clothes away. Older kids can take the dog for a walk and help with dinner prep. You might want to task your teens with making dinner once a week!
We want our kids to be independent, but we also want them to know they can get us when they need us so develop a system for that too. Hang a sign on your door when you’re on a Zoom meeting or on an important call that can’t be interrupted. For little kids who aren’t quite reading yet would do best with an image based graphic as a reminder while older kids can read a note scrawled on a Post-It.
5 Things to Do as School Year Starts
You’ve assessed your child’s workspace, gotten the supplies they need, and developed systems for them to be more independent and successful. You’ve done a lot of prep work to help your child have a great virtual school year. As school starts, revisit these back to school tips for virtual learning to ensure you’re supporting your child and their teacher so the year continues to go well.
Practice Logging In & Muting/Unmuting
Once you know what learning platforms your kids will be learning, sit down with younger kids and have them practice logging in. While you’re at it, have them mute and unmute themselves!
Kids get good at logging in to the online learning system but will need time to try. You can also bookmark the learning platform and other sites to help them get online and access the sites they need quickly.
Communicate with their Teacher(s)
We have to push forward regardless of how we’re feeling during a time we have all the feels! I know back to school feels really overwhelming this year but remember- your child’s teacher didn’t make the schedule!
Teachers want to be in school as much as your children do and are working their hardest to provide engaging learning opportunities for our students.
Since back to school nights aren’t likely to be in person, reach out to your child’s teacher(s) early on via email. A friendly email goes a long way, even to middle and high school teachers!
It lets them know you’re willing to be a partner in your child’s education and you care. Also, by establishing open lines of communication early, it’s much easier to have a conversation when you have concerns later in the year.
Every kid is different. As a teacher, I saw kids who were moderately engaged in class come to every Zoom I held and turn assignments in early. At the same time, students who had been motivated and did well during face to face learning ghosted me!
As a parent, you have to know your kids. Not every child learns in the same way. Get to know the root of their resistance. Is it something having to do with the subject, the way your child is learning, the content, or their workspace?
If it’s the subject and content, have a conversation with your child’s teacher. Fortunately, you’ve already sent that beginning of the year friendly email to establish lines of communication so you don’t come off as a Nervous Nellie or Helicopter Parent!
Your child’s teacher is skilled at handling resistant learners in the classroom and will have some new strategies they can try during virtual class or things to do at home. There could be some offline activities they could suggest with manipulatives or interactive sites with games or video that would help explain content in a different way. It may take some extra work on your part but you want to find ways to motivate your child, not turn them off to learning.
Maybe it’s the ergonomics of their workspace. Perhaps their headphones are uncomfortable and they need over the ear headphones instead of earbuds. Their desk chair could be too small or their computer screen should be raised to make things more comfortable.
Figuring out the root of the problem and engaging your child’s teacher can be extremely helpful in maintaining motivation throughout the year.
Recognize Tech Fatigue
This spring Zoom was fun when it was novel and then after awhile, Zoom fatigue set in! Staring at a screen is exhausting for adults and kids alike! There’s a lot of mental energy to required to learn through Zoom which is different from face to face learning and then there’s overall tech fatigue.
If you’ve felt tired or experienced sore eyes, headaches, and trouble focusing at any time over the past few months, chances are these symptoms are because of digital eye strain. Digital eye strain is caused by the blue light from screens that enters the eye and is defocused in front of the retina.A short-term effect of blue light is its ability to suppress melatonin production, which can make it difficult to fall asleep.
Regulating screen time has always been a way to minimize blue light and reduce digital eye strain but this is hard to do with virtual learning. Instead encourage kids to:
- Maintain digital distance from their screen (ideally 18 inches)
- Lower screen brightness
- Observe the 20/20/20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds to give your eyes a rest.
For more information about blue light and eye strain, read my past posts:
- What Parents Need to Know About Blue Light
- 5 Ways to Help Reduce Your Child’s Exposure to Blue Light from Digital Devices
Even though the schedule may say that your kids need to be on during set hours, have a conversation with the teacher early on via email about your concerns, their expectations, etc. Remember- they didn’t set the schedule and teachers need breaks as much as your kids do!
Even though your child’s teacher might be required to take attendance, they might be building in breaks or modifying the schedule as they see kids getting tired. Find ways to work with your child’s teacher.
Physical breaks definitely help during the day and you’ll might also find that your kids might want to unplug more after being on Zoom all day. Encourage this by engaging in the things they love whether it’s an after dinner walk or bike ride, puzzles, family game time, etc. Building these things into your family schedule can help all members of the family focus on digital wellbeing.
For more tips on managing your digital life and digital wellbeing, visit these following posts that feature free tools and strategies:
- How to Teach Your Kids to Unplug in Favor of Digital Wellbeing
- How to Talk About Digital Wellbeing With Your Teens
- 10 Tools That Will Help You Take Charge of Your Digital Life
- 8 Ways to Manage Daily tech use to Regain Control of Your Digital Life
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