Preparing for Virtual Learning
August 18, 2020
As students gear up to return to school this fall, many will be engaging with their teacher and classmates in a virtual manner. Due to the pandemic, many districts have opted to offer a fully virtual program and others have offered parents/guardians a choice as to whether to have their student attend in person or virtually.
In order to help students prepare for the experience of attending school virtually, we offer the following tips:
- Create and maintain a regular schedule, including consistent times to go to bed and to wake up. While attending school virtually takes away the need to travel to school, students should not roll out of bed just in time to log in. Students still benefit by maintaining a regular schedule both at night and in the morning. Be sure to allow enough time to wake up, refresh themselves by washing their face and brushing their teeth, showering (if they normally do that in the morning), getting dressed, and having breakfast. Students may also benefit from having a little free time to play, read, or do something they enjoy before beginning their academic day, but be sure to be on time to class. Based on their individual schedules, plan meals, snacks and breaks at consistent times so that the student can get into a routine. If possible, include some activities that are not screen-based. Perhaps they can run around outside for 15 minutes or draw/color or have a dance break-something that gives them a break from the screen and a chance to be creative or let out some energy. The same goes for evening routines and maintaining a regular bedtime to help students adjust to a new normal and perform at their physical and mental best.
- Have a designated area for school work. For students, having a designated area means fewer distractions and getting into a “school mindset” when in that area. This can be a spare room, a corner in a room, or a small table somewhere in the house. This area should be designated as only used for school. If possible, try to set this area up in a room that is quiet or in a place that has a door that can be closed to allow the student the ability to shut out any outside distractions while working with teachers or doing independent work.
- Set your student’s area up so that they are comfortable and have enough supplies. Designate a simple table/desk and chair for your student to set up and if possible, try to get something that allows you to adjust the height. Ensure that your student can sit up straight with their feet flat on the ground and be sure that the student’s monitor is set up a the right height so that they can sit in a comfortable position with good posture and avoid slouching. While a desk or some kind of tabletop and a comfortable chair is necessary, it can be helpful to have another seating area that is more comfortable and cozy. Beanbags, a plush oversize pillow on the floor, or some kind of cushioned seating paired with a clipboard can allow a student to relax and take a break from sitting in front of the screen while reading, drawing, or working on a written assignment. Be sure that there is enough light, and provide enough school supplies like pens, pencils, markers/crayons, paper, notebooks, a ruler, etc. for your student to use.
- Find ways to support your student and help them develop the skills needed to be successful in a virtual environment. Part of being successful in a virtual environment involves students taking ownership for their own learning. While some of the teaching and learning will be led by the teacher, a big part of it involves students completing work on their own. This dynamic allows for a lot of flexibility but also requires students to manage their time really well. As a parent/guardian, you can help your student by helping them set goals and establishing check-in times to see how they are progressing towards those goals. Again, a regular schedule helps and putting in blocks of work time with breaks and snacks will help the student use their time wisely.
- Be sure to encourage your student to participate in class and interact with their teacher, both during their class sessions and outside of class. Class participation is a key element of success in any classroom, especially virtual classrooms. Students can participate in many ways, including speaking during class, commenting on threads in class discussions, and asking questions. Many teachers may set up time during the week to check in with each student individually and students should be sure to take advantage of that time to share their needs with their teacher. It is also ok to request additional support any time a student needs it and keep in regular contact with teachers. One of the drawbacks of virtual learning is that the actual time that students and teachers spend interacting with each other is far less than it would be in a classroom so there are not as many opportunities to have a quick conversation. Use things like email and chat to create those opportunities, even if it is just to say hi and share something unrelated to school. Building relationships is just as important to student success in a virtual environment as in a face-to-face and can be a source of motivation for both student and teachers.
- Create ways for your student to interact with peers, both virtually and in person (if it’s safe to do so). Students learn best from each other and it is important that they find ways to continue to engage with each other even if they are not physically in the same place. Help your student set up some times to meet with classmates to work on homework together or to talk through what they learned. Most of the virtual learning platforms have this type of feature that allows for a virtual meeting space. Set up social time too so that students can take 15-20 minutes to just chat with their friends. Building these types of activities into the student schedule gives students some social interactions and something to look forward to. If it is safe, try to arrange some in-person meetings with a friend or two so that they can meet at a park for a little while, ride bikes, or go for a walk. If possible and if it is safe, plan some kind of activity so that kids can meet in a way that allows them to stay safe by wearing masks and staying far enough apart but also allows them to have social contact with friends. You may also be able to team up with another parent/guardian so that you can share supervision duties and one of you can have a break while the other watches the students and vice-versa.