A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

Helping Kids Thrive While Distance Learning

Fall’s here, and school’s open. Most of our kids are trying to settle into learning – at least in part – virtually. I am seeing lots of kids in the office now for checkups, and I ask them all how distance learning is going.

I’m hearing that some kids like learning from home, but many don’t and are struggling. To understand how parents can help improve the experience of distance learning, I connected with my colleague Dr. Matt Holve, a child and adolescent psychiatrist.

He started by sharing some general advice:

  • Take some time to reflect on what kind of learner your child is. Are they more independently motivated and organized or are they a bit more “relaxed”? Are they feeling stressed by the change in learning or are they generally calm? Try to see where the stresses are coming from so you can learn how to address them.
  • Be easy with yourself by not expecting perfection from yourself or your kids. Distance learning is stressful for parents too!
  •  Education is important but know there’ll be time to catch up. Learning how to learn remotely is for all of us an experiment and may take some trial and error to get it right.

Dr. Holve followed up this advice with some practical suggestions in 3 categories: structure, incentives and supervision.

Structure the day

  • Design a daily schedule as if they are actually going to school – include breakfast, snack-time, lunch and recess.
  • Go over the schedule and ask what they need to be ready each morning. Think of it like packing their backpack to go off to in-person school!
  • Post age-appropriate schedules where kids can check them.
  • Use a timer or set alarms. Daily schedules will be more effective if they outline specific tasks and the amount of time allotted to them.
  • Set up a dedicated study space – and involve your child to figure out how it can be improved. Is it free of distractions? What supplies do they need?
  • Investigate online resources that teachers may not have recommended, like audiobooks, podcasts, or cooking shows that capture your child’s interest.

Motivate with incentives

  • Start by asking kids “Why do you go to school?”
  • Maximize their free time to do creative projects and have physical activity.
  • Set clear daily goals – usually 4 to 6 per day. Write them down together before the day starts. Then at the end of the day, follow up to see if the goals were met. Most children will feel motivated by seeing themselves meet these goals.
  • Give praise but remember “rewards” should start with their own sense of accomplishment.

Supervise them

  •  Start by checking in and asking how things are going? If you get the answer “fine,” don’t stop there. You can say “I’m guessing that fine means some things are going well, and some aren’t. What is working for you? What isn’t?”
  • Stay connected with their teacher. Don’t wait for the teacher to connect with you. Reach out directly to them to ask if your child is staying connected in class.
  • Remove distractions by putting phones put away and setting rules about what your child is not allowed to do on the computer during school hours.

Finally, Dr. Holve asked us all to appreciate the gift of time and flexibility distance learning can offer. In my own practice, lots of the kids I have asked are appreciating this too, despite the other challenges. They have told me they like the ability to focus on getting their work done and having extra time left over. And many kids have told me they’re enjoying having more time with their families.

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