School is going to look different this year for many families. Some cities are planning to delay the start of the school year. Others are beginning with remote learning and a plan to transition to on-site education later in the school year. Many school districts are testing a hybrid learning plan, where students work from home a few days a week and go to school for a few days.
No matter how your area has been affected by the pandemic, you can expect extra challenges as your kids re-enter school for the coming year.
Remote learning can be productive, plus, help to keep your kids safe. More parents will want to take every possible step to make this experience productive and beneficial to your kids. It’s not just younger kids; every grade level from college down will likely have some amount of home schooling in their learning plan for the coming school year.
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With that in mind, here are some simple and effective tips for homeschooling during the pandemic:
1. Prepare the “Classroom”
Create a dedicated space for home learning. It should be comfortable, well-lit, and free from too many unwanted distractions. Kids can have a hard time focusing on their studies in the best of times, and studying from home will be extra hard for many of them. A quiet room away from high-traffic areas might help them stay on task when in an online classroom.
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Dedicate some table or desk space to specific areas of study and help your students stay organized. A lot of the learning will be done on a computer or tablet, but for physical projects, ensure each area of study has its own dedicated space, or at least a separate file folder for projects and papers.
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Try to set a firm boundary, so the learning space is separate from areas of relaxation or play. If your kids step away for “recess” or your older kids take a break between classes, make that break a clean separation from their workspace. Encourage them to get up, move around and physically step away from their home classroom.
2. Set a Firm Schedule
In addition to clearly delineated physical spaces, make study time clearly delineated as well. Enforce a prompt start to every day—this is an essential life skill, and you have an opportunity to create a healthy habit for life by ensuring every school day starts on time.
Give the day a structure, with segments for different classes and projects. Students are more likely to get burned out or bored if one class drags on too long, so set timers to encourage them to take breaks, get on their feet, and switch from one subject to another on a set schedule. If your kids’ school provides online environments for learning, they should take the lead on the school day’s schedule.
More Resources: Tips for Teaching Financial Literacy at Home
3. Limit Access to Non-educational Software and Websites
Use parental controls on your kids’ devices (if your school hasn’t already enabled that feature) to ensure there isn’t access to non-educational games or any social media during school hours. Older kids should create a second user account on their device if possible, and stay signed out of social media while trying to do schoolwork. Just like creating a physical space for school, they should create a virtual space on their computer or tablet to stay focused on schoolwork.
It’s helpful to keep any tempting bookmarks off of the web browsers your kids use—if their toolbar cries out to them that they have a notification on social media, they will be drawn to distraction too easily. After the school day is done, then they can switch to their normal user account and check in on their regular online activities.
4. Get Ahead of the Technical Requirements
Make sure your devices are up to date with the latest software updates. Make sure your network connection is consistent and stable—call technical support for your device if you think there are issues you need to address. You’ll want to be sure the devices are free from malware and the network settings are optimized for the best possible connection. If your wi-fi isn’t stable, consider running an ethernet cable to the computer your kids will use—they will be online for hours every day, so do this troubleshooting ahead of time so they’re ready for the school year to begin.
Gather a list of phone numbers—tech support for your device and operating system, tech support for your internet service provider, the support number for the educational institution (most will offer a Virtual Private Network (VPN) secure connection, so they will have to have a help desk available for people having trouble getting connected), and if you have specialized software, the support number for those software companies. Verify this list and rely on it—many tech support scams will flash a fake number on your device, and calling them can cause you great harm. Stick to the verified numbers you have written down in advance, not the number that flashes in the pop-up window on your device.
5. Maintain the Space
Part of your kids’ regular school day should be maintaining their workspace. Set aside scheduled time for them to tidy up the area they study in, reorganize their learning materials, and keep their area clean and ready for the next school day.
If you think about the work school custodians do at your kids’ school buildings, now you’re responsible for that work. Vacuuming/mopping, cleaning bathrooms, watering plants, and every other maintenance task that your kids and their teachers rarely have to think about are handled by a dedicated staff. Think about whether your home-schooling setup will add to those tasks, and how you’ll handle that. Are your kids old enough to help out with the additional workload? Can you assign a list of regular cleaning and maintenance tasks to the whole family?
6. Preserve Your Work Day at Home
If you’re working from home due to the pandemic and now your kids are studying from home, you will have some extra challenges. Take some steps to keep your workday productive and in sync with your kids’ school day:
Post some signage.
Create a written schedule that can be displayed on the office door or wall. Make it clear what time is dedicated to each task, like worktime, lunches, and the end of the workday. If you have a conference call or your kids have a test, add that to the posted schedule so everyone can see where they’re supposed to be and when. You can even create a sign that lets the kids know if you shouldn’t be interrupted; put a big red stop sign on one side and a yield sign on the other to let kids know it’s safe to knock on your door.
Follow the rules you set.
Taking breaks, getting up and moving at least every half hour, keeping a consistent schedule; these practices are as important for you as they are for your student. Keep a schedule of your own and keep clear boundaries so your kids understand when you’re available to them and when they should only interrupt you if there’s a problem.
Meal prep the night before.
Whenever you can, get everything ready for tomorrow’s breakfast and lunch tonight. You want your family’s lunch break to be healthy and quick, so don’t make too much extra work for yourself during a busy day. Get things ready the night before so you can get food on the table and get everyone back to their workstations on schedule.
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Think about distractions.
Some people will need things as quiet as possible to focus on their work. But that will be a difficult thing to achieve with kids home studying. You might see if some source of noise—innocuous background music, an educational cable TV channel, or even a white noise machine—helps you drown out other background distractions while you and your kids work.
Network with other parents.
Create a support system you can rely on to compare notes and share advice about how to balance your work-from-home schedule with your kids’ at-home education. Check with your school, workplace, or social media circles to see if you can start or join an online community and share expert tips and advice.
This is a tough year for parents and schools everywhere, but together we can make the best of it and give our kids a special development opportunity. They will get to see what it’s like to be self-sufficient and learn from your example. Take every opportunity to make the learning process better and easier for your kids.
We offer some free educational resources on our downloads page, including the “Raising a Money-Smart Child” workbook. And we have debt coaches standing by for one-on-one budgeting sessions to help you take control of your personal finances.