How parents can better support remote learning

Whether you’re proficient at remote learning or still struggling, these tips will help

For the first time in the history of New Hampshire public education, students and teachers have transitioned from classroom learning to remote instruction.

This move from in-person to online instruction, to help slow down the spread of COVID-19, has required teachers and students to learn new skills and new technologies, leaving parents with questions about their roles in the process and best practices.

In mid-March, Gov. Chris Sununu asked schools to move to remote instruction for two weeks, before extending it another five weeks through at least May 4.

On April 16, the Governor announced kids would not be returning to school at all this school year.

To help parents navigate through this new model, the University of New Hampshire’s Alumni Association tapped alumni education experts to provide tips and resources for families.

UNH alumni Angela Curtis, M.Ed., Ed. S., a school psychologist in the Triton Regional School District in Massachusetts; and Maggierose Bennion, M.Ed., a first-grade teacher in the Epping School District, delivered a webinar that included suggestions on ways to approach academics and foster emotional well-being.

“With my perspective as a school psychologist and Maggierose’s perspective as a teacher, we decided that focusing on routine, working through frustrations, and (providing) various resources to keep children engaged would be particularly helpful to support families,” Curtis said.

Set a routine that includes flexibility

Students should follow a predictable routine. Younger children particularly benefit from following a visual daily schedule. Bennion said it allows them to better understand how they can expect to spend their day. It also helps them gain a sense of control and can decrease anxiety.

She also suggests parents give their children some choices related to how they will spend parts of their day — like what they want to eat for lunch and whether they should color or paint. For those kids who hate tackling a particular subject, it’s a good idea for parents to alternate preferred activities with non-preferred activities.

“If your kid doesn’t love math, sandwich that between two really engaging times so they are motivated to get that work done and move to the next task,” Bennion said.

Expect frustration to intensify in a remote learning format. Parents need to figure out when students are challenged and when they are apt to do no work and shut down, Bennion said.

Some tips and tricks for getting through those frustrations include:

  • Setting a timer
  • Providing ample transition time between activities
  • Working with your child to determine when in the daily schedule he or she will tackle more challenging subjects or activities

“The more successful your child feels, that will snowball, and they are going to be excited to keep trying new things,” Bennion said. “Remember to be flexible, it’s a hard time for everyone, adults and kids.”

Make use of academic resources

In addition to following the lesson plans provided by your child’s teachers, there are plenty of online resources available to parents that address academic subject areas, fine motor activities, gross motor activities, and social skill development, Curtis said.

Not only are there websites that give tips and practice in the areas of math, science, social studies, reading and writing, but parents can visit other sites that virtually transport their children to zoos, national parks, and even The Great Wall of China. For children under 12, these types of websites can help create visual experiences that young students are apt to remember, Curtis said.

“These (websites) allow us as educators and parents at home to connect with what the teacher is sending home and provide ideas that our children can choose from to keep them engaged as well,” Curtis said.

For children in the lower grades, it’s just as important to practice fine and gross motor skills as it is to tackle math problems. Fine motor skills, such as the tripod grasp, are what help students hold a pencil correctly, Curtis said. There are activities parents can do with their children to keep these skills sharp, including:

  • Creating collages
  • Painting/ coloring
  • Cutting/ gluing
  • Using stickers
  • Playing with kinetic sand, sticky putty, or slime
  • Scrapbooking
  • Sewing
  • Jewelry making or beading
  • Cooking

Parents can also incorporate math into some of these activities, such as cooking, Curtis said.

“If you are doubling recipe that calls for a one-half cup, but you are baking two batches of cookies, have your child determine how much is a half of a cup times two,” she said. “The visual is also a wonderful way get your child involved as well.”

And while your child may not be attending gym class, they should activate their muscles with movements that focus on strength, agility, and cardiovascular fitness.

Parents can be creative if they lack ample space for traditional gym activities. For example, kids can go on indoor and outdoor scavenger hunts that ask them to find objects on checklists. Other out-of-the-box physical activities such as obstacle courses, online yoga, races, bike riding, nature walks, and games like tag and Duck, Duck, Goose can also keep kids active and engaged, Curtis said. Interspersing activity in between academics can pay dividends, too.

“On GoNoodle com, kids can choose what activity they want to do.” Curtis said. It’s a quick brain break.”

While social distancing, keep building social skills

When kids are bored, games can encourage problem-solving,
perspective taking and leadership, according to Curtis. Games give kids the opportunity to show their leadership skills and focus on planning and organizing — executive functioning skills that require kids to think ahead. You may be able to incorporate math concepts without your child knowing.

Some game ideas include:

  • Playing cards
  • Hide and seek
  • Follow the leader
  • Simon Says
  • I Spy
  • Memory
  • Board games like checkers, chess, Battleship and others

“Games are wonderful for math,” said Bennion. “There’s logical thinking, addition. It can be as simple as using a set of dice or a set of cards. Anything with numbers involved is great for math sense, no matter what the grade.”

Parents should make time to integrate creativity and play into their remote learning curricula, too. Curtis said. Building with Legos, for example, is not only fun, but it calls upon visual skills, spatial skills, and hand-eye coordination. Other suggestions include building forts, creating puppet shows, working with Play-Doh or clay, and storytelling.

Forts are not only fun to build, but they can also serve as your child’s own study or decompression space. Similarly, puppet shows can help them process what’s going on in their lives.

“The research has really shown that storytelling helps them with their own sense of sequential memory, going through the process of a math problem, for example — what happens first, what happens next, what happens then?” Curtis said.

Check in on your child’s emotional well-being

Parents can expect to see more temper tantrums and tears than usual even if their child is progressing through academic subjects without a problem. It’s important to help them understand how they are feeling and label those emotions so they can be internalized,
Curtis said.

“In play, you may see some different themes — therapeutic play, themes of illness, doctor visits, and isolation play. This is helpful for these children, because play is cathartic. It’s how they process their world and it’s how they problem-solve,” Curtis said.

To help give kids perspective, parents can encourage them to keep a gratitude journal and list three things that they are thankful for each day. It can help them think of their time at home more positively, Curtis said. Parents should not shy away from letting their kids use technology to connect to people they miss and make social distancing more tolerable.

“A wonderful thing about this time that this is happening in our society and in the world is that we do have access to technology. Giving your child the ability to make that phone call to grandma or to a friend and having a visual video session is wonderful for them,” Curtis said. “They can really continue to feel connected with anyone really meaningful to them in their life.”

Talking to your children about COVID-19 and social distancing continues to be important, Curtis said. PBS.org provides developmentally appropriate resources that can help them better understand the disease, help them navigate through scary stories, and teach them how to deal with tragic events in the news.

Finally, with all of the COVID-19 news out there, parents should try to limit their child’s exposure to potentially frightening news. It can be daunting and overwhelming for children, and also make them feel unsafe — triggering unnecessary fear and anxiety.

“We are being bombarded with information from the media; and that can be a good thing to keep us up to date, but it also can be extremely overwhelming,” Curtis said. “Your own self-care and coping strategies might look completely different for you as they do for your child, which is why giving them choices about how they can decompress is going to be very useful as well.”

Krysten Godfrey Maddocks is a frequent contributor to ParentingNH.

Categories: COVID-19, Education

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