Posted on: September 23, 2020
Supporting Our Children with Distance Learning
The school year has begun, and it is a brand new experience for many of us. While we were introduced to distance learning in the spring, it is set up differently now, and adding in a hybrid schedule makes it even more complicated. Teachers no longer have the advantage of preexisting relationships with their students or knowing how each one best learns. Parents may have less flexibility with their employment which can prevent them from being available to help their children when they are needed. And we are heavily reliant on technology to get us through this, but it may be unfamiliar to teachers, students, and parents. This is uncharted territory and we are all learning as we go along.
The most important thing that parents can do to help their children thrive is to work as a team with their children’s teachers. While teachers work very hard to meet the needs of each child, distance learning can impede their ability to get to know their students and fully understand their needs. It is up to parents to fill that gap by communicating with the teacher about achievements and struggles and to ask for ways to support the teacher’s objectives.
There are many difficulties that students may be facing right now. They can range from needing numerous modifications through an IEP, anxiety about attending school in person or learning online, trouble paying attention to online learning, or even just difficulty speaking up when help is needed. Parents of students with an IEP or 504 plan need to make sure that their plans are being followed and to communicate with the school when what is being provided isn’t enough. The schools have a legal obligation to meet those students’ needs, but distance learning complicates the implementation of the modifications. If your child has not been previously diagnosed but you suspect a possible learning disability, talk to your child’s teacher about your concerns and the possible need to have your child evaluated. There are many other struggling students who do not qualify for special help, but difficulties that they may have previously had are now amplified by distance learning.
So where do we begin? Most of us are not trained educators, and while we do not have the knowledge and training of our children’s teachers, it does not mean that there is nothing that we can do. Many parents are uncertain about how to help their children or even monitor their progress because they do not know how to use the technology utilized by the schools. Thankfully, there are many technology tutorials available to introduce parents to these programs. It can also be helpful to know tools available to use on your child’s computer to make modifications to meet their needs, such as Chrome Extensions for Struggling Students and Special Needs.
Some students struggle because they lack basic skills, become easily frustrated, or are just not interested in what they are learning. There are many websites that allow students to practice skills or that introduce information in a novel way that may pique their interest. Here are some examples of resources to try:
Distance learning places a lot more responsibility on students to manage their work and schedules. This can be difficult for younger students who may not be proficient in the technology they need to use or be developmentally ready to deal with learning online. Older students have to juggle schedules of different teachers and classes. They need to have strong executive functioning skills, which include planning, organizing, time management, and self-assessment. Adults control much of this for younger children, but all students need to be taught executive functioning skills so that they can be independent and successful. Parents can help by assisting their children in come up with organizational systems and schedules. They can ask their children questions about their progress, the effectiveness of their strategies, and what problems they are having. This would encourage self-reflection and increase awareness of what they are doing well and where they need help. These are all skills that need to be taught, but for those to whom they do not come easily, training in executive functioning skills can have a major impact on their academic success.
It is important to remember that academics are not the only concern right now. Social and emotional development are a crucial part of every child’s education, especially now in this time of isolation, anxiety, and civil unrest. Social-emotional learning addresses self awareness, self management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making, which are all necessary for a child to be successful as a student and as a member of society. These are skills that are often implicitly taught within the classroom and we need to make sure that students have access to that support when learning remotely. Many schools are including social-emotional learning in their plans for the current school year, and counselors may be available to help students who need additional support. The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning has created a roadmap for school for implementing social-emotional learning. It contains many resources that can also be used by families within the home as well.
Our children need our help in supporting their education more than ever right now. Get involved as much as you can and be aware of what and how your child is doing. Have regular talks with them to check in and see how they are doing academically and emotionally. And when your child needs help in any of these areas, reach out to the school and their teachers, who share our goal of supporting and educating our students. We are all in this together.