Education is going to look very different this fall. For many of us, back to school means back to the chaos and frustration of distance learning.
While spring was haphazard and thrown together, now know what to expect. Distance learning will look a bit different for every family and every child. We can ease the burden by getting organized now.
Remember those color-coded COVID schedule that popped up in March?
Did they ever work for you?
Does it still haunt you?
If your house is anything like mine, taping it to the wall just accentuated my inadequacies and perceived failure.
- Figure out what works for your children and your own schedule. Maybe they need outdoor time first thing in the morning. Maybe you need to work first think in the morning. Create something that is doable for you.
- Communicate your situation with your teachers. As the school year starts, something that the team thought would work might not, everyone needs to tweak and be flexible.
- Utilize visuals. Visuals are such a useful tool for all children. Create a schedule that uses them. See if the school can assist with an interactive schedule to help navigate the school day at home.
DEFINE A DESIGNATED WORKSPACE
If at all possible, try to separate your school space from your living space. This can help when it comes time to focus; it also helps when school is over for the day (or moment) and we want home to feel like home again. This doesn’t have to be an entire room. Look at your layout and see what is possible:
- If your child is ready for a desk, is there room in their bedroom? Your office? A corner in the living room or basement?
- For a younger child, move a kids table to a space that makes helping them easier.
- Consider emptying a closet and setting up a work station in it, where it can be closed off and forgotten when not in use.
- A bedroom or couch works just as well. There are plenty of laptop desks that literally go over your lap. Children can have their class meetings from the comfort of their own bed. Then fold and stow the contraption underneath when not in use.
- Kitchen tables or islands are also great spots. A rolling cart or a backpack can be used to store items when you need those spaces for living instead of working.
- Create a reading nook with books and a bunch of pillows so your child(ren) can retreat to peace and quiet away from school work. This will feel like an escape, but they’ll still be learning. This is stressful for them too, after all.
There is no reason to spend a ton of money on what we hope will be a somewhat temporary situation. There are so many options out there.
- Repurpose. Assess what you have and what new purpose it can serve. Can you move a table or coffee table? Do you have a sturdy box that can be used for storage? Search google for makeshift plywood desks and options are endless.
- Nudge your neighbors and friends. Reach out to folks with older children, perhaps they have something they want to get rid or sell because their kids have outgrown it or are moving out.
- Get thrifty! Second hand stores, craigslist, Facebook marketplace, freecycle. There are so many places selling or giving away used items. Some of it is in great condition. Even if it needs a little TLC, it will save big bucks. A hammer, nails, and paint can transform in a flash.
- Get creative. Look at craft stores for simple, plastic laptop desks with compartments for pencils and paper. Use fabric markers to customize your own circle time rug. Look around your home to see what can be used for learning and transform where you can.
We’re spending more time at home than ever before, which means making the space as much of a sanctuary as possible is harder, but also necessary, especially as we add teaching into the mix again on top of EVERYTHING else.
- Most of us don’t have time to “Marie Kondo” our homes; pulling everything apart only to put it all back again. If that works for you, great. But using one simple part of her method can help tremendously. When looking at an item that is not a necessity, ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” If not, donate it or trash it.
- Go through that junk drawer and get rid of the junk. Make space for pencils and other school tools.
- Organize the school supplies you have. Toss the dried-out markers and glue sticks. Ask yourself if you’re ever going to actually make heart shaped crayons out of the broken crayon pieces and toss those too.
- Sort through last year’s papers. The school will be sending more soon enough. Are you really going to use the untouched workbook from 3 years ago if you haven’t already? Donate it. Clear the space. You are about to be bombarded.
- Toss aside the guilt while you’re at it. These are tough times. It’s natural to feel bad that you’ve never used something. Whether it’s a failed chore chart or flashcards or a slant board- if they weren’t right for you, box them up, get them out of the house, and forget about it it. Free up that space in your mind too!
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Think about what you and your child need to make this work. These tools will look very different for all of us. Some ideas include:
- Noise cancelling headphones for children and caregivers.
- Ear plugs, perhaps more for parents
- White noise machine or fan
- Calming music
- Proper lighting (dim or bright depending on preference)
- Reward chart
- Visual schedules
- Pencil sharpener (an electric one is a game changer)
- Stylus for chromebook, iPad, etc
- Timer (This is important for so many reason. A big one is to remind us all to take a movement break and look away from our screens)
- Blue light blocker. Some devices allow us to turn the blue light off or down, otherwise look into glasses or screen filters.
ADAPT AND MODIFY
We are constantly adding adaptations and modifications to our child’s IEP. Now’s the time to look around and see what we need at home. Depending on the student this can include:
- Fidget tools such as spinners or stretchy noodles
- Stress balls
- Kinetic sand
- Communication devices
- Standing desks
- Bean bag chairs
- Stretch bands
- Movement breaks
- Incentives created by teacher and caregiver
Look at ways to make distance learning as palatable as possible for your child(ren). If you know that virtual music instruction doesn’t work for your child, then don’t do it. If disorganized class meetings cause your child to shut down, communicate with your teacher.
- Identify triggers for your child and yourself and work to prevent them.
- If something isn’t effective or possible in distance learning, inform the team and put it on pause for now.
- If therapy isn’t speak up. The therapist can try new strategies, consult with colleagues, or you can collaborate on a new action plan.
- If your child is not doing their schoolwork and you find yourself doing it just so it is marked as done – STOP!!! This means more modification is needed in you must inform the IEP team. Doing your child’s work does nothing for them, is a waste of your time and precious energy, and leads teachers to believe everything is fine when it is not.
PRESERVE THE IEP
The services and delivery should be modified to reflect the IEP, not the other way around. If your IEP team asks your to alter the IEP solely to reflect distance learning, that should be a red flag. If physical therapy isn’t working for you in a distance learning model, so be it. You do not need to remove PT from the IEP. It is still a necessary service. It’s the school’s job to figure out how to make it work and explore how to make up for what is lost during these times.
At the same time, it’s up to us to be reasonable. This is all unprecedented. It is messy. We need to have empathy for the IEP team and work together for our children. Educators are grappling with drastically changing how they’ve taught for centuries on the fly. In many cases, providing every service as written in the IEP won’t be possible, nor will be catching up on every hour lost because of this pandemic. We need to work with the IEP team and figure out what is best for the students as we work through this.
QUESTIONS OR GUIDANCE?
If you have questions about how to get ready for distance learning or simply need someone to talk to who will listen, the Center for Family Involvement is here. Contact our helpline and someone will be in touch within 24 hours.