Virtual Learning: 5 Tips for Working ParentsAug. 11, 2020 - Katie McCallum
As a parent, you've always tried to stay engaged with your child's education and school life. You ask how his or her day went. You help with homework. You keep an eye on your child's grades. You stay in touch with his or her teachers.
What may be new to you, however, is the level of engagement required to keep your child's education on track during the COVID-19 pandemic, which seems to come with extra responsibility these days if your child is participating in virtual learning.
Every parent's situation is different, and the logistics surrounding how best to manage your child's online education while still getting all of your own work done will vary depending on:
- Your child's age
- Whether or not you have the flexibility to work from home
- Whether you have a support system you can tap into
- How long your child will be learning online
And with many Houston-area schools resuming in August 100% online, many parents are gearing up to tackle this challenge. Here are five tips that may help:
Keep a structured routine
Your child is used to having a routine when it comes to school. Even though it may seem like virtual learning lends itself well to adding in some extra flexibility, a set schedule and structure will help your child stay on track — hopefully limiting the unexpected distractions you encounter as you get your own work done.
When it comes to planning your family's virtual school routine, stick to the basics.
Schedule designated times for:
- Waking up and eating breakfast
- Being "ready to go"
- Logging on
- Breaking for lunch
- Working on offline work
- Resting, relaxing or playtime
- Completing homework
Once a virtual school routine is set, make sure your child knows what he or she needs to be doing — and when. One way to do this is to write the schedule on posterboard and place it near where he or she will be doing schoolwork. If your child has a smartphone, set reminders or send text messages to make sure he or she is keeping up with the schedule.
A structured routine can also help you understand what parts of your workday may need to work around your child's schedule — especially if your child is young and requires more hands-on help. For instance, if your child needs to be logged in at 9 a.m. every morning, consider blocking your work calendar for the 15 minutes before and after so you can be available to help if needed.
Preparation is key, but interruptions will still happen
When it comes to having your child at home all day, interruptions are bound to happen. You already know it's not your child's fault for needing help, but, in the heat of the moment, it's easy for compassion fall by the wayside and let frustration take over instead. The best way to handle and limit interruptions is to accept that they are inevitable and plan ahead as much as you can.
To help limit interruptions during your workday, try the following:
- Set up a dedicated learning space with all the supplies and equipment your child needs
- Make sure your Wi-Fi can handle the extra demand of virtual learning, especially if you also plan to take conference calls
- Make sure your child knows how to log on
- Know how/when attendance is counted and when your child will be offline
- Prepare snacks and lunches ahead of time
- Help your child understand which questions or roadblocks warrant an interruption, and which ones don't
- Check in on your child during your scheduled work breaks (you should be taking breaks anyway!)
- Do a practice run before the first day of virtual learning
Even the best laid plans can fall short when it comes to weeks or months of facilitating virtual learning.
When interruptions absolutely need to be limited, or eliminated altogether, you may benefit from putting a "no interruption zone" in place, such as moving into a room, closing the door and asking your child to slip a note under the door or text you if he or she needs something urgently.
And remember, it's okay to be frustrated by interruptions — but try to limit showing your frustration. You may find that taking a long, deep breath is just enough time to instead shift your mindset to how great it feels to be needed by your child.
Leverage your support system if you can
Asking for help is never easy, but now is the time to call in those favors or invest in planning tools.
If you're parenting in a two-parent household and you're both working from home, divvy up your workday. Maybe you are "on call" to help your kid in the mornings, and your partner takes over after lunch. The best support system is the one that lives under your roof — so make sure you're talking about how to effectively coparent while your child is virtual learning.
If you live in a multigenerational household or have an older child or another family member willing to help out, consider taking him or her up on it. Whether he or she can help facilitate virtual learning, make snacks and lunches or get household chores done so there's one less thing for you to do after work, any amount of support will likely relieve stress. A word of caution, however, some people are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others, and people outside of your immediate household may not be being as safe as your family is during this pandemic.
Lastly, take advantage of planning tools and technology when and where you can. Many of the online learning platforms being used by schools allow you to sync your children's schedules with your own calendar, which can help you know when they're learning online and when they're doing offline work. It's also a great way to know what they're doing each day so you can ask about whether the material came across clearly.
A computer or tablet and decent Wi-Fi connection will be a key component in your child's virtual learning plan, so make sure you have access to these. Many schools are able to issue loaner laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots to families who do not have access to these resources at home.
Be upfront with your manager
If you're concerned about managing both your work and facilitating your child's online learning program, let your boss know. Explain the new challenges you're facing, how long you expect to be facing them and what your plan is for managing your workload in addition to these new responsibilities.
If you're currently going into the office, ask your boss if you can work from home while your child is participating in virtual learning. If working from home isn't an option, ask your boss if accommodations can be made to your work schedule, such as flexible hours.
Every parent's situation will be different, so don't assume your boss knows and understands your specific challenges. Being upfront about your concerns and maintaining an open dialogue throughout your child's virtual learning experience can help set realistic expectation and reduce stress.
Take care of you, too
Your child's education and happiness are huge priorities, but so is your own mental health and wellness. While your instinct may be to throw yourself completely into your child's new virtual school routine, don't let your own work and personal needs suffer.
Remember, your child still has a dedicated teacher and will be spending several hours online with him or her. And while you may need to be there for support, teachers and school systems have been working tirelessly for months to make virtual learning as successful as possible. It's never a bad idea to ask your child how he or she is feeling about the virtual learning experience, but trust that teachers are doing everything they can to help your child learn effectively at home.
Lastly, set aside time to relax, reward yourself for somehow handling it all, and make sure to find quality time to spend with your family that's not just all about school.
Parenting is a tough job, and COVID-19 certainly hasn't made it any easier. But with a decent plan and a lot of patience, love and self-care, you can get through it.