With many schools returning to distance learning in the fall, plan your strategies for screen time, creating routines, designing school spaces, and working in regular weekly mental breaks.

Author: Mark Newcomer

July 19, 2020

For a lot of America (and much of the world), the battle with COVID-19 continues to wage and this fall many families and students are grappling with an unthinkable scenario – going back to school online.

Major metropolitan areas such as San Diego, Los Angeles and Atlanta have already made the call with families, communities, and the schools themselves trying to grapple with the implications. For some, this is a relief as the traditional school setting is feared by many to be unsafe without a vaccine and for others this is scenario that brings anxiety on how to continue a child’s education while working from home and being a newly deputized full-time teacher.

In fairness, a lot of lessons were learned and the school systems that remain in distance learning mode will return in the fall with a much better set of processes and methods for teaching. While the scenario will be better than the rapid and unplanned halt in the spring, it will still have its challenges.

As a parent of 3 kids (one in middle school and two in elementary), our personal situation is one of anxiety at the moment. However, whether we find a different solution to online learning or embrace it, we need to start thinking about how we transition from summer to fall and the inevitable return to some method of education.

There are a few things that we will be needing to address:

Creating a routine: For many, online learning was an opportunity to sleep in a little more and simply turn a device on and “get to school.” While this was probably a different scenario for many, a best practice for those used to working at home is to have a morning routine that ends with beginning the workday. This means having enough time to get up, eat, get dressed, and be prepared to get into the day. The same way we prepared for school prior to distance learning should be implemented again so that both parents and children get used to a more routine and ready-to-start stance for the day. The same hold true for ending the days as well.

Rethinking the role of screen time in the school and social setting: Prior to COVID-19, every family had their rules around device use. While no great standards have been published around what is too much versus too little, the need to be on a device for school most of the day and then as a primary way to socially connect is forcing parents to find a new balancing paradigm. That being said, while limiting screen time might not be as easy as before, understanding what your children our doing when not on school time is very important. With so much time online for social and entertainment reasons, many families have lost the governor that was primarily driven by limiting the amount of time on a device. While some level of fluidity is needed, parents must be ready to create new contracts with their children and be ready to constantly adjust. This also must account for what they are actually doing – watching videos, playing games, using social networks, etc. This is a time to really understand what your kids are doing online.

Designing the space: While not an easy solution given so many types of work/school from home settings, where possible create a space that feels unique to a learning environment. This will help children understand when they are there it’s time to focus. Don’t be afraid to try different set ups to avoid monotony and if available even try some outdoor spaces while weather may permit in the fall. Ideally, we will all be back to school by end of year, but think about this with at least a time horizon that takes you through the fall semester.

Planning the weekly mental breaks: While easier said than done, planning activities that break up the week is essential, but planning ahead is the key. The danger moment is when everyone asks “what should we do now?” With summer coming to a close, one strategy is to use the time to develop a list of activities (hiking, exploring an outdoor area like a college or university, finding a new park that is good for social distancing, setting up neighborhood treasure hunts, etc.) With a list of activities in hand and ideally those that expand on education, each week can have an activity to look forward to and the stress of planning in the moment can be pushed away.

Now that school is just around the corner, for those in areas that are going back online, now is a good time to start crafting your game plan for the fall. This year will certainly be a different experience and planning ahead can help reduce the anxiety, create new guide rails for screen time and help set up each day with the right routine.

Good luck to everyone in the fall and please check back with DFi for new resources to help here.

Keywords: online learning, distance learning, school environment, screen time, COVID-19

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