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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Not into Being Your Kids’ Teacher? Be Their Academic Coach, Instead

By Tanni Haas

Kids are headed back to online schools. How can parents support their kids’ education during these new and unprecedented circumstances? Here’s what the experts say.

Dedicate a quiet learning space. The first and most important thing is to dedicate a quiet space to learning instead of letting kids work in different places around the house. This way, kids will come to associate that space with doing schoolwork and won’t be distracted by unrelated activities. Steve Bentley of Method Schools, a large chain of online schools, says that the space should be large enough to have room for their computer and the other things that they need during a regular school day, such as pens, pencils, notepads, and a calculator.

Create an effective routine. Since they’re doing their work from home, it’s important that they have a well-functioning routine and structure that mirrors what they’re used to from their regular school. Experts agree that kids should wake up at the same time as they would on an ordinary school-day morning, follow the same routine (taking a shower, getting dressed, eating breakfast), and start their school day at a consistent time. “Following a normal weekday schedule will be reassuring and set the expectation of what’s to follow,” says Edith Adams and Carolyn Nelson, counselors at Macmillan Education, an educational consultancy. Dr. Corinn Cross, a physician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, adds that the daily schedule should be posted on the refrigerator or another place in the house where everyone in the family can clearly see it.

Become an educational coach. So, what role should parents play in helping their kids accomplish all the things they have to do during the school day? Adams and Nelson suggest that parents should think of themselves as their kids’ educational coaches: “Your children’s teachers will be providing the content to be studied, so your role is more of a coach [who] facilitate[s] the completion of that work.” Just like real educational coaches, parents should help their kids set specific goals and develop plans (including tasks and timelines) for meeting those goals.

Know how they best learn. You can best help your kids meet their goals if you know their learning style. For example, says Dr. Linda Carling, an expert on online learning, if your kids’ teachers give them a choice on how to study certain material, find out whether they learn the best synchronously (when the teacher explains the material to them in real time) or asynchronously (when they engage with the material themselves and in their own time). Have your kids focus on the most difficult material when they’re most alert, and leave the easier material for another time during the day. Finally, encourage your kids to slow down instead of rushing through their school work. It’s not how much time they spend studying that matters but how much they learn.

Give them lots of praise—and breaks. Online learning can be tough for kids, even with all of your support. Give them lots of praise throughout the day, and compliment them on their final products as well as on their ability to keep their focus on difficult assignments. Praise is important, but so are lots of breaks during the day. Adams and Nelson say that kids should spend no more than 3 minutes multiplied by their age in front of a computer screen doing schoolwork in any one sitting. For a 10-year-old this would be 30 minutes, while a 15-year-old should be able to focus for 45 minutes at a time.

Encourage interaction with peers. It may be tempting to insist that your kids be offline during their breaks, but that’s not necessarily the best rule. One of the things kids miss the most from their regular school day is the opportunity to interact socially with classmates. Since they’re at home, let them call and text their friends and interact with them through social media. As Dr. Chelsea Hyde, an educational psychologist, says, “give them a chance to connect with peers during their breaks, like they would during recess and lunch at school.”

Remember that you’re not alone. Finally, remember that you’re not alone. Parents across the country are dealing with the exact same issues that you are. Windy Lopez-Aflitto of Learning Heroes, a well-respected education think tank, reminds parents to “stay in touch with teachers and other parents to work through it together.” Most importantly, she says, “don’t be afraid to ask for help.” 

Tanni Haas, Ph.D., is a college communications professor.