Let’s face it, even if you haven’t chosen fully remote learning for your children for fall, most likely some form of remote teaching will still be required by the school. In most scenarios, classes will be smaller for social distancing and resources will be stretched. And to make that work, many schools are scheduling either shorter school weeks or shorter school days with students making up the difference online. So, having the right setup at home will still be important for your child’s success.
We were all in emergency mode as of last March, but that experience can still give parents some insight into what’s to come for fall. For one thing, by now you probably have a sense of your children’s equipment and space needs for studying at home. And, hopefully, they’re already comfortable with using the software and programs that are supported by their school.
In my case, because of our children’s range in ages and grades (4th-9th), it was definitely a mixed bag of resources for us, and it’s looking much the same for fall. But you don’t have to get bogged down with knowing how everything works—unless you have really young children, of course. For my crew, beyond the technological needs, they just needed some clear guidance and organization. That’s why, whether you have students studying fully online at home, or going to school part-time, there are some preparations that can help to keep all of your stress levels low.
For starters, preparing a school prep checklist can help you to see everything that you need to get done. And as you check off items that you’ve completed, you may feel some of the weight of this pandemic madness beginning to lift. Having the right systems and tools in place at home will be key, especially if you’re in a hybrid model now and there’s an unexpected shift to fully online learning later (you never know—fingers crossed).
So, here are five quick tips that can help you to get started and prepped for fall:
Understand your children’s technology needs at home, including upgrades: I should be an expert on school software by now, but I’m not, and I’m not trying to be, quite honestly. We definitely used a variety in our household. But I didn’t try to master everything. For one thing, I’m no tech genius. I did make sure, however, that they had the technology that they needed to get their work done. For instance, the twins used a mix of Google classroom and Zoom for classes. Fortunately, the Chromebooks that their school provided could handle those demands. My youngest, in contrast, needed a loaner laptop (translation: mine) to get work done.
We also all used wi-fi throughout the day, so reliable service was a must. At one point, my husband was working at home along with the five of us, so our wi-fi demand was intense; we had to make sure our signal and connections were strong. There were still a couple of lost signal incidents, but they were short-lived. So, you may need to upgrade your wi-fi and make your Internet faster if your wi-fi demands increase. Clear and reliable wi-fi? Check.
Consider your personal technology needs also, especially if you will #wfh: When in-person classes ended, our 4th grader initially used printed packets, and then he progressed to online assignments, including Google classroom for core classes. It was a quick but fairly smooth transition. The challenge for me was that I was often prepping to teach my own classes while my own kids were still in class. And since we were sharing a laptop, it became a major balancing act. On the days that I had to teach via Zoom, I had to juggle our usage. There were even a couple of close calls when it looked like his session was running late, which would have made me late. It was getting a little stressful. After that, I ordered a used desktop computer and an attachable webcam for my own use. It made a major difference. Equipment problems solved? Check.
Know their weaknesses…and provide backup as needed: Now, our oldest, who already had a laptop, was fine with his technological needs, including using Zoom for live class sessions. His challenge was just remembering to check his school email and the school message site regularly. If he forgot, that could mean missed assignments or updates. And I found that he would get overwhelmed easily if he didn’t stay on a schedule. I do think that having a regular schedule is critical for students who are studying at home. So, my job became reminding him to look for work in the right places, regularly. I was the little birdie on his shoulder, making sure that he kept up to date.
Other than that, he and the other three all seemed to have a handle on the basics. I just made sure that they stayed on schedule and had up-to-date software as needed. And having a quiet, mostly-clutter-free space for them to study in was also a plus. Adequate support, space and scheduling? Check.
Keep track of login details and start times, especially for younger students: Fortunately for me, my now-ten-year-old is fiercely independent. But that doesn’t mean that he knows everything or can keep track of all of his work alone. I realized early on in the process that there were things that I should keep track of to avoid slip-ups like missed assignments or even missed online class sessions. So, I saved all passwords and important links in a special document and made sure that he was logged on to his Google classroom sessions on time. That meant having several alarms set on my cell phone so that I could keep track. It was great to see him taking ownership by having his own links saved and joining class sessions independently as time progressed. Login usernames, passwords and site links saved? Check.
Let them take (or at least share) the responsibility by giving it to them: While it’s our job as parents and caregivers to make sure that our children are getting the work done, it’s not our responsibility to do it for them. Yes, that’s pretty basic, I know. But part of getting it done is taking the initiative to review assignments and deadlines in advance and planning ahead. That shouldn’t be our job alone. Our young students at home need to know that their education is their future and they have to share in the responsibility of checking assignments in order to get the most out of it. As the saying goes, they will thank you later.
Finally, just make sure that your young scholars have any special supplies that they may need this school year. Supply lists could be a little different this time around: extra masks in baggies, anti-bacterial/hand sanitizer spray, face shields, etc. Helping them to feel well prepared could ease away any anxieties that they may be bottling up as the first day of school approaches. And whatever your schedule is looking like today, here’s to a safe and virus-free school year, for all of us. Have any tips we haven’t shared? Add them in the comments below.
Regina Cash-Clark is a wife and mother of four (twins plus two) who lives in Somerset, Franklin Township. She teaches writing as a full-time faculty member at Ramapo College of New Jersey.