As the summer days grow shorter, students are getting ready to return to classrooms, many of which will remain remote.
Though remote or virtual learning may have been a challenge for students and teachers alike in the spring, with a few months of virtual instruction under their belts, teachers have been spending the summer brainstorming how to make the most of the fall.
“Remote learning was not fantastic, but we’re not giving up on it. I’m already planning on things to do better,” says Caitlin Palumbo, a fourth grade teacher in Brooklyn, New York. “I will make it better so that it’s more substantial and meaningful. I don’t want people to throw it out the window.”
While teachers are working hard to start the school year strong, the unique environment does require some additional effort on parents’ ends. Lots of parents have been feeling pressure to take on the role of the teacher entirely, but that’s not necessary. Instead, according to these teachers, parents and educators will need to work as a team to meet a shared goal of educating the next generation in the midst of a global pandemic.
“It’s a partnership, and when I talk to parents, I always want them to know that I don’t expect them to do my job,” says Palumbo. “Anything parents do at home is already unbelievable. This has brought on so much stress for parents. I want them to know that I’ll do whatever I can to help.”
While much of remote learning revolves around screens and technology, we talked to teachers to get their take on strategies and tools that parents can deploy to set their students up for a successful semester.
How to set up a virtual classroom
When boundaries between home, work and school have deteriorated, routine is paramount. “Consistency is key,” says Adriane Musacchio, a tenth grade global history teacher from Brooklyn, New York. “If possible, try to make your child a schedule and have them stick to it.”
While scheduling work time is important, it’s equally important to schedule break times, which are, in fact, helpful to preventing burnout. “Allow for breaks. Many breaks,” says Musacchio. “Adults can’t even sit down for hours straight without a break. Breaks are healthy and will allow for deeper and more meaningful learning to happen. Allow for snack breaks, movement breaks, meditation breaks.”
Here are our picks for products to help you set a schedule and stick to it.
Klutz Best Year Ever! Planner & Gratitude Journal for Kids ($16.99; amazon.com)
Get your student started on learning to time-manage early with this fun planner.
Global Datebooks Dated Middle School or High School Student Planner (starting at $12.95; amazon.com)
Structure days and don’t skimp on stickers.
Sweetzer & Orange To-Do List Notepad ($6.99; amazon.com)
This to-do list pad also features a magnet.
Atonki Kitchen Timer, 2-Pack ($9.97, originally $12.99; amazon.com)
Space out your breaks and make sure you work in short, productive periods instead of sitting in front of a screen for hours on end.
Elehot Projection Alarm Clock Radio ($24.99, originally $30.99; amazon.com)
Waking up at the same time each morning instead of rolling out of bed to the computer is helpful to get the day started on the right foot.
Jall Wake-Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock for Kids ($37.99; amazon.com)
This alarm clock mimics the sunrise to aid with a more natural wake-up and decrease grogginess.
Beats Solo Pro Wireless Noise-Canceling On-Ear Headphones ($229.95, originally $299.95; amazon.com)
Noise-canceling headphones can provide focus and block out noise, even if there’s no music playing. Check out our full review on noise-canceling headphones.
Keep in mind that teachers are also doing all they can to make virtual learning as fun and interactive as possible.
However, physical space too. While it’s not necessary to have a full office space, here are our top picks to transform your space of any size into a productive environment.
Lockways Magnetic Dry Erase Board (starting at $29.89; amazon.com)
Helpful for working out math and science problems, or brainstorming, this dry erase board is available in various sizes. If you want to DIY a whiteboard, a teacher gave us a tip: You can just put a white piece of paper inside a jumbo Ziploc bag and write away.
U Brands Low Odor Magnetic Double-Ended Dry Erase Markers With Erasers ($4.83, originally $7.99; amazon.com)
A wide variety of colors to help students color-code their subjects and workstreams.
Quartet Cork Board Bulletin Board (starting at $26.86; amazon.com)
Important announcements and to-do lists still exist at home!
AmazonBasics Push Pins Tacks, 100-Pack ($3.02; amazon.com)
One hundred push pins to fasten material to bulletin boards.
How to set up a Bitmoji classroom
Many teachers have been getting creative through Bitmoji classrooms by downloading the Bitmoji app and creating virtual replicas of their in-person classrooms via Google Classroom. Each student would be represented by a Bitmoji of their choosing, which would resemble them.
This is a (frankly) pretty cute way to help visualize students in a classroom, which may end up helping them focus. You can watch a tutorial on how to make one here.
Engage students in real-world learning opportunities
Just because students aren’t in classrooms doesn’t mean that households aren’t rife with learning opportunities. You don’t need your teaching license to engage with your student about academic subjects in meaningful ways.
Palumbo advises parents to ask their kids about their reading rather than try to teach their kids to read.
“Lots of kids can read but haven’t stopped to process it,” says Palumbo. “Parents who ask their kids beyond the differential things are the ones who have kids who are excited about the story. Kids who just read it in their heads come in kind of confused. You don’t even have to read the book. You can ask the teacher what to ask. Ask about character traits. Was the character determined? Was the character courageous?”
While parents might not be able to teach their child every single thing they would learn at school, they have plenty of life skills that translate to educational experiences. Identifying these opportunities will not only strengthen your bond with your child but also teach them a new real-world skill.
“You can teach them to measure and add while you’re cooking. When talking about half a cup of rice and half a cup of water, you can use that as an opportunity to talk about ratios. If you hear a song on the radio, talk about themes,” says Palumbo. “Have a plant in your house? In fourth grade, you learn about the stages of a plant. Talk about it when you’re gardening and teach them what you know. Maybe it’s not scripted curriculum, but it’s also a life skill that they’ll use forever.”
Keep an eye on their mental health
With Covid-19 still being relatively new to our society, it’s impossible to know the long-term effect of the pandemic on kids’ mental health. We do know that in the US, the population is more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and children are no exception.
“I can’t tell you how many students suffer from really bad depression and anxiety and weren’t able to complete any of the work they were given because their anxiety was so crippling,” says Alex Hajjar, a high school English teacher in Brooklyn, New York. “I had students messaging me telling me they couldn’t wake up in the morning, they can’t handle being caged in their rooms and they didn’t know the virus was ending.”
While the popularization of telehealth has made therapy more accessible, there are also apps such as Talkspace that offer therapy through a mobile app. Meditation software like Headspace and Calm can also be found in app stores.
“Teenagers can be really secretive and private about their lives,” says Hajjar. “They aren’t going directly to their parents. The best piece of advice I can give parents is to take your kid’s emotional pulse, see if they are doing OK and, when necessary, or even when your kid is doing well, invest in therapy.”
If therapy is not accessible to your family, we also recommend journaling, exercise and setting aside relaxation time to mitigate heightened anxiety.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed prices at the time of publication.