With COVID-19 causing widespread school closures, children across the country are being given alternate resources, some online, to study outside of the classroom. Temporary solutions being devised for remote education range from online classroom tools like Google Classroom, to Zoom and podcasts by teachers. While parents are adjusting to this new scenario, during this time it’s also important to help kids stay focused on learning and avoid overuse of games, social media, and videos.
“This is a stressful, unpredictable time for everyone, including families, parents and children. You can help your children by providing them with a structure and routine, and being a positive force in their education,” says Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra, President of Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development.
With that in mind, Children and Screens has put together ten tips for families as they adjust to the new reality of learning at home.
1. DIGITAL QUARANTINE
Consider limiting your children’s cell phones and tablets until their schoolwork is done satisfactorily, so that it can receive their undivided attention. Apps, games, and messaging features are fun, but they can also prove distracting. It may not be an option for everybody, but ideally, try to give your kids a dedicated device such as a school laptop for maximum online learning.
2. MAKE SPACE FOR LEARNING
Your children will achieve their best work in a quiet, comfortable, and dedicated space devoted to learning. Ideally, this will be a different set-up than where they normally play games or watch television. Keep in mind that children will be in this space for many hours each day, and parents should watch out for any orthopedic issues that may arise related to comfort and posture.
3. MONITOR THE (COMPUTER) MONITOR
In this new learning milieu, you can help by monitoring your children’s levels of interest and engagement in adapting to their new schedule and at-home materials. The simplest way to do this? Observation. Look at your child’s eyes to see if they’re following along with the screen. Check if they’re taking notes or zoning out. Ask questions at the end of a lesson. While this may require taking an hour off from work or stepping out for an early lunch, it’s important to confirm that your children are indeed learning. If you find that your child is not engaging with the lessons, don’t be afraid to contact the school district or teachers to better explore the issue. Sometimes, easily remedied technical problems such as bad audio, poor connection, or an unhelpful camera angle can make all the difference.
4. DIGITAL RECESS
Make sure that your children take plenty of breaks in order to get physical activity and time away from screens. Set alarms similar to those they would encounter at school and encourage them to get up, get some fresh air, go for a walk or bike ride, or have a snack so that they are not sedentary for the entire day.
In-person interaction is ideal for kids, but until it’s safe for them to return to school, encourage your children to video chat or text message rather than simply scrolling through social media. You don’t want your children to feel socially isolated, but at the same time, you want to protect them from becoming wholly reliant upon their devices. Sit your children down for face-to-face conversations about screen time. In order to give them agency, discuss how much time they think is reasonable to spend online and make a “contract,” committing to goals for on-screen vs. off-screen hours.
6. KEEP IT OLD SCHOOL
Overuse of screen time can have adverse impacts on young brains, so it’s essential in these special circumstances to be extra careful when it comes to the littlest ones. As much as possible, parents should encourage print and book reading. If available, request textbooks from your child’s school along with other print materials in order to offset the amount of online learning they will be doing. Studies show that remote education can be challenging for all ages, but especially young kids, so do whatever you can and always err on the side of caution. Stimulate self-expression by having discussions with your children about what they are doing, and also encourage creative writing and imaginative story telling.
7. WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER
Remember that you’re not alone in this journey. Check in with other parents to see what they’ve found effective or to ask if they need help. Share your concerns and useful hints. If you need contact information for other parents or resources, reach out to the PTA or your child’s school. It is important that we all work together as a community for the good of our children and families.
8. PLAN YOUR WORK AND WORK YOUR PLAN
Good planning can relieve stress for both children and parents. Check in with your kids about their plans and help them develop a written schedule not only for the day, but for the week as a whole. Help them prioritize and learn to create goals, tasks, and deadlines, just like adults do when they go to work. Tasks that may not have been difficult for them while attending school in person can become more challenging when learning from home, so it’s important to reinforce boundaries and offer incentives for healthy behaviors. To avoid disruption, some after-school activities may be offered via online video apps, Facetime, or Skype.
9. THIS AIN’T NO VACATION
Even though staying home from school might feel like a holiday, remind your kids that they’re not on vacation. Assignments, grades, requirements, and tests like state exams, SATs, and ACTs aren’t going away just because classes have moved online.
10. DON’T FORGET TO HAVE FUN
Plan off-screen activities for the whole family. Between school and work obligations, it’s rare for parents and children to have this much time together, so turn it into an opportunity for bonding. Write predictions for a TV show that the whole family watches. Organize a tournament, family card games, charades, or chess, or get outside for a hike or walk together after school. Follow your community’s guidelines about safe behavior and events, of course, but make sure you still find time for fun with your kids.
Without a doubt, this is a challenging time for parents, teachers, and children alike. Studies show that screen time can have both positive and adverse impacts on kids, and the shift to online education will only increase your child’s time with their devices.
“Hopefully these common sense practices can help you and your family navigate this new terrain and make the most out of at-home learning,” says Dr. Hurst-Della Pietra. You can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any problems or suggestions that were not covered in this article.”
About Children and Screens
Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development is a 501C(3) national non-profit organization founded by Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra. Children and Screens advances interdisciplinary research, supports human capital in the field, informs and educates the public, and advocates for sound public policy for child health and wellness.