What would you do as a parent if your district continues distance learning for another school year? It is possible. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that a vaccine for COVID-19 will not be ready for at least another 12-18 months. Because of that, some schools are considering canceling in-person classes until 2021.
Furthermore, according to Professor Neil Ferguson, a British epidemiologist who specializes in the patterns of spread of infectious disease in humans and animals, social distancing is needed until a vaccine is found:
If we want to open schools ... then we need to keep transmission [of COVID-19] down ... We will have to maintain some level of social distancing, a significant level of social distancing, probably indefinitely until we have a vaccine available.
Without a vaccine available, would you be willing to send your child back to school? My wife and I wouldn't. We asked our children if they would want to return to school without a vaccine, and they responded with a resounding, "NOPE!"
I don't think we are alone. I think many parents are just as concerned about this as we are.
I, like you, hope things get better before they get worse, but, just in case they don't, here are answers to two questions, followed by 10 tips to help you make the most of your child's education during this season of involuntary "homeschooling."
My wife and I have three children, and we have had our share of experience with public school, homeschool, and learning that is referred to as "distance."
What is Distance Learning?
Distance learning involves educating students who may not always be physically present at a school building (Kaplan and Haenlein 2016).
What are the Different Types of Distance Learning?
- Synchronous Distance Education - Synchronous comes from two Greek words ("syn"= same; "chronos" = time) literally means "at the same time," and it requires you to be on your computer at the same time as your teachers (and other classmates).
- Asynchronous ("a"= not; "syn" = same; "chronos"= time) Distance Education literally means "not at the same time," and does not require you to be logged into your computer at the same time as your teacher. Instead, you are usually given a set of weekly assignments and deadlines. You log in to your school's learning platform, review your assignments for the day, and you complete them one by one. If you have any questions, you can post them on bulletin boards.
- Hybrid (Mixed) Distance Education blends both synchronous and asynchronous learning. It gives you the flexibility to work at your own pace, and gives you set times for live, online meetings with your teachers. During social distancing, many teachers are using a hybrid model. They are giving your children assignments each morning (or at the beginning of the week) to complete by the end of the day or week (that's the asynchronous part). Teachers are also giving your children a chance to meet live (daily?) at a specific time via Zoom, Google Hangouts, or some other videoconferencing platform (that's the synchronous part).
- Open Schedule Online Courses is asynchronous, and involves you working at your own pace to complete all of your assignments by a set deadline, usually the end of a quarter or semester. My child is enrolled in Samuel Jackson's online Masterclass on acting. He is taking the course and completing the assignments at his own pace. I'll share more about this in a moment.
- Computer-Based Distance Education is synchronous, and involves students meeting at the same time each day/week, at a specific location, like a computer lab or classroom. In that room, they sit at computers and complete their assignments on a computer at the same time. For obvious reasons, not much of this type of learning is taking place during this period of social distancing.
- Fixed Time Online Courses are synchronous, and require you to log in to you school's online learning platform at a specific time, and participate in live chats.
What Are the Benefits of Distance Learning?
- It is more flexible, giving your child space to work at his or her own pace.
- You can schedule learning at times that are more convenient for you, especially if you have an irregular work schedule.
- Your child can complete assignments from anywhere.
- It provides accessibility for those with restricted mobility.
- It provides access for students who have family responsibilities.
- Saves time: you don't have to go through the daily routine of getting your children ready for school (packing lunches, walking them to/from bus stops, etc.).
- The ability to learn online research skills that will allow your child to find solutions to problems in life.
- It can help your child develop intrinsic motivation to self-start and self-discipline- skills needed to succeed in school, work, and life.
- It's safe: you don't have to worry about whether your child is safe at school.
- It gives your child one-to-one interaction with his or her teachers, if he or she needs extra help.
What are some Challenges to Distance Learning?
Peter DeWitt wrote a great blog post, entitled 6 Reason Why Students Aren't Showing Up for Virtual Learning. I won't repeat his points here, but I agree with much of what he shares. You can check his post out yourself if you're interested.
10 Distance Learning Tips for Parents
1. Let your children know how important their education is to you.
It is important for you to convey to your child/ren that you really value their education. Let them know that he/she will need a good education to succeed in life. how limited their opportunities will be without a good education.
When you, as a parent, care about your child's education, and you make that clear to them, he/she will care more about education. Put another way, if you don't care about your child's education, then s/he probably won’t care about it either. If you don’t make it a priority, you child won’t make it one either.
2. Create a learning environment that is conducive to their flourishing.
Because their education is so important to you, create a space where your child can study without interruptions. It should be a learning environment that is quiet (free from television, ringing phones, loud conversations, etc.).
Also, if your child has access to the internet and a computer, he or she will probably need to connect with his or her teachers through video conferencing (on Zoom or some other virtual learning platform).
A quiet place like a kitchen table or a small desk in the corner of the room might be helpful for you.
Just make sure the space is free from distraction so your child can focus. I recommend you sit at the same table as your child so be ready to help her if, while you are doing your own work, she needs help. Keep in mind: if your child is in elementary school, then he or she is going to need more help than if he or she is in middle school or high school.
3. Help your child complete assignments, and check their work.
In most cases, you do not need (or get) to select the subjects or learning materials that your child will learn because your school district has already selected what they think your child should learn. Therefore, your primary job as a parent is to make sure your child understands his/her assignments and knows how to do the work.
Some teachers are using Google Classroom to educate their students. Our children's district is using multiple platforms (which has been a hassle to navigate).
Whatever platform your school is using, log in and get familiar with it so you can track your child's learning.
My wife logs in daily to monitor our children's grades and assignments. If something has not been completed, a teacher usually emails us about it, or we can see online that our child has not turned in an assignment.
Also, when your child is starting a new assignment or subject, have them read their instructions out loud. If he/she doesn't understand something, explain it for him/her until he/she understands it.
I recommend you give your child a time limit to complete each assignment (usually 30 minutes depending on the assignment and your child's age). Also encourage your child to ask you for help if he or she is having a hard time figuring something out on their own.
4. Ask teachers for help if you do not understand something.
Many teachers have office hours and can point you to learning resources that can help you. If you don't understand something, don't hesitate to ask teachers for help.
5. Communicate your concerns to your child’s teacher/s.
If you have any concerns about something your teacher has assigned, or something your child is having a problem with, don't hesitate to communicate those concerns to your child's teacher.
This is especially true if you have a child who does not have internet access, or who is dealing with circumstances that are not conducive to learning.
Having said that, be sure to give the teachers some grace as well, because this is new to them, too, and they are trying their best to adapt to this new time, just as much as you are. For most teachers in public schools, their professional development up to this point has not really focused on how to educate children from afar. So be kind while expressing your concerns, please.
For example, just this week, I communicated some of my concerns to one of my child's teachers, and we are now working together to come up with a sustainable distance education model that works for them, our child, and us. I'm hopeful things will work out.
6. Tell teachers you appreciate them.
If you think teaching your one child is hard, imagine how hard it must be for teachers who have to teach 20-40 kids per class, 6-7 classes per day, 180 days per year! Teachers have to plan, design, upload, review, and grade all those assignments. So, as you share concerns with them, please take a moment to also express your sympathy and appreciation for them.
7. Stick to a daily schedule/routine.
One of the most important things you can do for student learning is to create a weekday schedule and stick to it. The cost of freedom is discipline. The more disciplined your children are, the more free they can become in life.
When I was a child, I didn't have much structure or discipline, and my grades (and life) suffered as a result. However, my wife had a set, daily schedule growing up, and it helped her become an excellent student.
Help your child succeed later by giving him or her a schedule now. Teach your child self-discipline now. Give him or her structure now. Of course, you can have some flexibility within that schedule, but not too much.
Taking from my wife's example, our children know that:
- we expect them to wake themselves up at 6:30 AM.
- we expect them to start school at 7 AM.
- we expect them to give their best every single day.
Now, after five years, we don't even have to work to hard to get them back on task. They already know what to do because they have internalized their schedules.
Sticking to a schedule can also be good for your mental health. Knowing that you will be finished with school by a certain time every day can help you make it through your rough days, among other things (For a detailed, sample daily schedule that has worked for our family, check out the free download at the bottom of this blog post.).
8. Use this time to give your child new learning opportunities.
One of the best things about distance learning is the opportunity it gives you to teach your child new things, to give your child new experiences. What do you want your child to learn that school is not teaching her/him? By the time your child turns 18, what do you hope he or she learns, does, or becomes?
Why not use this time to teach those things to your children? You can help them learn a foreign language, like Spanish, Mandarin, or Arabic. You can have your child watch webinars and learn new skills.
Watch the video on this post to get some ideas about the kinds of things you could teach your child (or learn with your child).
9. Give yourself and your children grace.
You probably didn’t train to be a teacher, haven’t taken any education classes. Because of that, teaching your own children can be very difficult, discouraging, and frustrating. There are going to be times when you feel like giving up! During those times, don't feel guilty for needing a break. So don’t be too hard on yourself. Do your best.
10. Believe in yourself!
You can never behave for long in a way that is incompatible with your self-image. People cannot outperform their self-concept. So one of the most important things you can do as a parent is SEE yourself—that is, imaging yourself—succeeding at distance learning.
See yourself waking up early.
See yourself being a great teacher.
See your child succeeding in school.
See yourself having a great day.
See yourself making great memories with your child.
Why is that so important? Because if you can SEE it in your head, and BELIEVE it in your heart, you can ACHIEVE it in real life. So, friend, make sure to close your eyes and see yourself doing well during these unprecedented times.
Download these 10 Tips along with our weekday schedule (at the bottom of this page)
- They will help your child develop into a more well-rounded student and human being.
- Your district might continue distance learning for another school year.
- Distance learning involves educating students who may not always be physically present at a school building.
- There are different types of distance education.
- There are several benefits of distance education.
- You can make the most of this time following these tips for parents.
Take it from me—a guy who earned a 0.6 in high school and who was a high-school dropout, but who now has three children who are flourishing in school and in life. All of our children are scoring at high levels because of some of the things I shared in this post. Mom, you can do this! Dad, you can do this. Take it one day at a time; assess what's working for you and what's not. Then make the adjustments that need to be made.
I hope these tips bring you and your family closer together, and that you will be able to look back at these times one day and give thanks for them.
These are unprecedented, tough times, but growing up in very humble beginnings, I learned that, in hard times: (1) you learn about what really matters: food, water, a safe, warm place to sleep; (2) you get really creative, finding ways to stretch your resources; and, (3), you become stronger if you don't quit.
Friend, don't quit! We will make it through this!
Thanks for reading!
P.S. Why keep this to yourself? Please share it with parents who might need encouragement.
Distance Learning Resources
- Bauer, Susan Wise, and Jessie Wise. 2016. The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home. 4 edition. W. W. Norton & Company.
- Bortins, Leigh A. 2010. CORE. 1 edition. New York: Griffin.
- Gutek, Gerald L. 1994. A History of the Western Educational Experience. 2 Sub edition. Prospect Heights, Ill: Waveland Press.
- Khan, Salman. 2012. The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined. Twelve.
- Reynolds, Glenn Harlan. 2014. The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself. New York: Encounter Books.. New York: Encounter Books.
- Rupp, Rebecca. 2000. Home Learning Year by Year: How to Design a Homeschool Curriculum from Preschool Through High School. 1 edition. New York: Three Rivers Press.
- Rupp, Rebecca. 1998. The Complete Home Learning Source Book: The Essential Resource Guide for Homeschoolers, Parents, and Educators Covering Every Subject from Arithmetic to Zoology. 1 edition. New York: Three Rivers Press.
- Kaplan, Andreas M.; Haenlein, Michael (2016). "Higher education and the digital revolution: About MOOCs, SPOCs, social media, and the Cookie Monster". Business Horizons. 59 (4): 441–50.
- “Here’s a Realistic Timeline for a Coronavirus Vaccine.” 2020. Orange County Register (blog). March 24, 2020. https://www.ocregister.com/heres-a-realistic-timeline-for-a-coronavirus-vaccine.
- "Universities begin considering the possibility of canceling in-person classes until 2021" https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/14/us/university-may-cancel-classes-fall-2021-trnd/index.html