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How to Create a Smart Remote Learning Environment

Child with headphones learning in front of a tablet
Education may look different during COVID-19 but there are steps you can take to stay focused and safe.

During COVID-19 quarantines, distance learning and remote classrooms are becoming very common — in fact 39 of the 50 largest school districts in the country have some remote learning in place as of the start of September. To set up your own home’s learning environment, you’ll need to keep in mind that what may seem like a great home office for adults, could backfire as an effective home classroom for kids. Here are some tips on creating a great learning space while kids are going to school remotely.


1. Create a dedicated “school spot” at home & establish a routine.

Instead of letting kids decide that they can learn from the couch (which is probably better for watching TV or napping), make them a learning spot. This doesn’t mean you have to make a classroom at home (though that’s a possibility), but you can even just declare certain seats at your dining room table are for school time. This way, you start to ingrain a mental cue that when they’re sitting in this particular spot, it’s time to be “at school.” If you need that space later on — like dinner time — clear out all books and materials, and transform it into a family after-school zone.

  • Watch for distractions, which for kids might mean just about anything! Toys, bedrooms, and even lots of noise can be bad news when it comes to focusing.
  • Create a space that works for the way your child needs to learn. If a young child is doing crafts, don’t make their work space your expensive antique roll-top desk. If a teen needs to focus on an online test, don’t let them take it while the TV is blaring in the same room.
  • Check the security settings on their laptop, and use security measures to make sure that they’re staying safe online. You can create a kids-only account on the computer, restrict access to adult content on sites like YouTube or use parental control software, and even ensure that they stay organized with their own desktop view, digital folders, and places that they can call their own without getting muddled in your own household files on the computer. Above all, be an engaged supervisor of your kids’ time online to make sure they’re not getting in over their heads.


2. Take breaks… lots of breaks!

Adults don’t do well with a whole day of Zoom video meetings, so we shouldn’t expect kids — who have even shorter attention spans — to deal well with it either. Keep video sessions short and intersperse them with time to get up, move around, and learn in different ways. Try some of these educational “brain breaks” suggested by teachers to give your kids’ some time away from the rigors of online learning. With a lack of formal recess and playing with other kids in person, your child might need some time to just be a kid and run around. If you can create an indoor space for exercise or encourage some backyard play time while the weather is good, you can give them opportunities to get some exercise and use up some of that seemingly unlimited childhood energy, too.


3. Teachers need your support.

As school years get started, and plans shift rapidly, take a breath before you push send on a frustrated email to your child’s teacher or administrator. Lesson plans are getting scrapped faster than they’re being written. If you are seeing something that isn’t working for your child, make a note of it and think about what could be adjusted to make it better and take some notes. Teachers may be asking for feedback from parents and caregivers in a structured way, so make sure you’re choosing a productive method of communication, not leaving angry voicemails on their cell phone.


4. Ask for help or changes based on how your child is coping with online learning.

Sal Khan, founder of the online learning program, Khan Academy, notes in a recent Washington Post article that parents do have options when it comes to remote learning.

“Step one is try to understand as well as possible what the school is asking of your child and yourself,” he said. “Try to do what they’re asking, and understand it, but really keep a good check on how well it’s working for you and your child. And if you feel like this is not a sustainable thing, definitely make it known.”

You might see that your school age children aren’t doing so great in electives where they’re not engaging as well as they should be. You can talk to the teacher about moving a class to pass/fail instead of a letter-grade, or removing a few electives so your child has some longer breaks during the day. Everyone is learning to be more flexible during the coronavirus, even teachers and schools.


5. Take time for your whole family’s mental health & practice self-care.

You should check in with your child, as well as yourself on how you’re coping with remote learning. Salt Lake City-based Child Psychologist Dr. Annie Deming notes that breaks are more important than ever when it comes to remote learning environments.

“Take breaks when you need too. Do lots of self-care, get lots of support from friends and family, making sure you are taking care of yourself is so important,” Deming said. “Just do those little breaks throughout the day, rather than feeling like I have to set aside hours for self-care.”

Take time, too, for mental health checks. If you find yourself or your child acting differently than normal, it might be due to stress and anxiety either due to remote learning, or the stress of the coronavirus. And stress comes on in ways we might not expect, from insomnia to grumpiness.

“Really be very conscientious of your own stress and anxiety level,” Khan notes. “It’s like a frog in boiling water. Stress and anxiety hit you before you know it. If you’re starting to get easily triggered by your kids, if you’re stressed, it’s just going to create a really hard environment to learn in at home. It’s not good for you as the parent or educator, and it’s really not good for the kids. Try to be mindful, try to not put too much on your plate, and try to be very open, communicating with others about your boundaries.”

Some helpful links for mental health tools for parents and remote learners include:

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