Distance Learning in this New Era: Advice from Stratford School
Suddenly, with school closures and shelter-in-place orders, educators and parents are tasked with providing distance learning—a remote education model typically reserved for students under special circumstances—to all students, Preschool through College. With little advance notice or training, parents have become surrogate teachers, assisted from afar by their children’s educators. Many are working parents, now doing their jobs at home. Many educators are also parents, now juggling their redefined jobs and their own children’s learning at home.
“It’s stretching and testing us—as educators, as parents, as families,” acknowledges Melissa Sidebotham, Stratford School Morgan Hill principal and mother of three. “But we’re coming together to make it work and innovating new opportunities for learning.”
Sidebotham and three colleagues, all educators and working moms, offer these tips for successful distance learning.
Create a learning-friendly environment in your home.
Set up a dedicated space with a desk or table and all the necessary books, writing materials, technology tools, and other learning materials nearby. Choose an area of your home where your children can focus on assignments with minimal distractions and you can guide and monitor them. You might also create a time-alone nook, a private space where your child they can read, write, draw, listen to music, watch movies or videos, enjoy gaming or online chats with friends, or simply relax.
Set a daily schedule.
Create a list of activities for each day of the week, allotting time to both learning and life activities. Keep in mind that distance learning need not, and cannot, replicate classroom learning. At school, a daily lesson plan is followed with little deviation. At home, distance learning co-exists with chores, caring for young children, and various other matters to attend to—including jobs. Allow sufficient time for your child to complete assignments as well as to play and recharge. Schedule learning time for when you can be present and accessible.
Make art and physical education part of daily learning.
Creative expression and intentional movement not only make children feel better emotionally and physically, they also enhance the brain’s ability to learn. Most children benefit from more creative and movement learning than they usually get at school. Take this opportunity to include art and physical education in your daily learning plans and to integrate the arts and movement into core academic learning.
Incorporate engaging and fun learning into your daily life.
Make a list of things that interest you and your child, and then come up with a list of things you both like to do that could be transformed into enjoyable learning experiences. Baking bread? Sprinkle in some math or chemistry. Planting a vegetable garden? Dig into botany or nutrition. Driving around town? Explore its history or architecture. Even just watching a movie or the history channel or nature channel, or reading a book, and then discussing it, can be an enjoyable way to learn something together.
Tap into technology and other learning resources.
Many schools utilize technology—such as Zoom (live video-conferencing), YouTube (prerecorded videos), and email—to deliver distance learning content. Some are giving or loaning devices, such as Google Chromebooks, to their students. For children who don’t have computers, mobile devices, and/or internet access at home, educators are staying connected with parents and students by phone and mail. You can find a wealth of remote-learning ideas, games, materials, and programs online, using the keywords distance learning, virtual learning, e-learning or online classes. You can also ask your child’s teacher for resources to facilitate distance-learning for your child.
Communicate with your child’s educators.
One of the challenges and opportunities of distance learning is that it requires an open line of communication between parents and educators. Stay in touch with your child’s school, read notices and newsletters, visit the website or Facebook page. Talk with your child’s teacher as often as needed. Share your concerns and ideas, and solicit theirs. Ask for help, and ask how you can help.
Tend to your child’s emotional and social needs.
Being stuck at home—away from their friends and extended family, their “normal” activities, and yes, their teachers and schools—can be upsetting and depressing. Many children are confused and anxious about the changes and restrictions in their lives, and older students may be sad and worried about the pandemic’s impact on their families and their own futures. As parents, we need to be mindful of and guardians of our children’s emotional and social well-being.
If your child seems out of sorts, spend some down time together. Address their concerns or complaints. If your child gets stumped or frustrated with an assignment, take a breather, try a different learning approach later, and get help if you need it.
Enable your child to interact with friends, grandparents, and other important people in their lives. For younger children, arrange virtual play dates, Facetime chats, and online gaming sessions. Give older children time and space to socialize by whatever means are safe and accessible—texting, Facetime, social media, online video gaming, making and sharing videos online. Encourage your child to pursue their hobbies and interests or take up a new one, and join in when you can.
Guide your child through the learning process.
Provide a level of support appropriate to your child’s age and individual needs. Older, more self-directed children may need you to check in, answer questions, talk things out, and help them work through challenges. Younger and less self-directed children may need more direction, supervision, and assistance. As important, your accessibility, encouragement, and praise will help motivate and facilitate their learning.
Be gentle with your child and with yourself. You really can’t do this wrong, and you are not alone. We’re all in this together, doing our best in the interests of children, and that is enough. What your children will remember from this challenging time is not all the worksheets and videos you made them do and watch. They’ll remember the quiet moments of building a connection with one another and learning together.
About Stratford School
We believe high expectations yield extraordinary results. Our advanced, innovative, intentionally balanced curriculum challenges students, accelerates their achievement, and prepares them for the future. Learn more at stratfordschools.com.
Melissa Sidebotham. Mother of three, Principal of Stratford School Morgan Hill, Educator, Cofounder of EDUtable, a resource where parents and educators collaborate for the betterment of the children.
Michelle Argel. Mother of three, Director of Admissions at Stratford School Santa Clara Pomeroy, former teacher.
Annissa Mason Doumitt. Mother of one, Regional Marketing Manager at Stratford School SoCal.
Allison Wilson. Mother of two, Senior Director of Curriculum and Innovation at Stratford School.