How to balance working from home with at-home learning, tips for remote learning, and how local parents are handling at-home learning.
Get family activities sent to you
It was a shock when remote school commenced in early March, but this fall we are more prepared for at-home learning—or are we? While it’s not our first rodeo, it’s still an enormous challenge to have school-age kids going to school at home during the day. Teachers and tutors can help, but the majority of the burden falls to parents, most of whom have no experience as educators. So how can parents navigate this journey—whether their kids are 100-percent remote or learning from home a few days a week?
P.S. To make the back-to-school season a little more fun, NYMetroParents is hosting a First Day of School Photo Contest! We want to see what your child’s first day of school looks like, whether he’s learning remotely full time, she’s participating in a blended learning model, or you’re a home schooling family. Three winners will each receive a Chromebook—so enter now!
Balancing At-Home Learning and Working from Home
The remote school setup requires parents to be more hands-on than many have the time for. So, how do you create a better balance so all the work gets done and nobody loses their mind?
Talk to your partner (or yourself) about your work responsibilities and schedule.
If you’re in a two-parent household, it’s important to talk to your partner about how at-home learning will work, says Craig Selinger, owner of Themba Tutors and Brooklyn Letters, both in the NYC area. Does one parent need to work remotely with no distractions for part of the day? Is one parent more flexible? Scheduling your days as a family needs to start with the caregiver(s) carving out time to work, helping your kids, and everything else that comes family life. If you’re a single parent, have this conversation with yourself: When do you need to work, and when can you take some time to help the kids learn? When can you take time for yourself?
Set clear boundaries with your kids.
Boundaries are especially important if parents and kids are sharing a small space, Selinger says. He suggests parents wear a “working shirt” during office hours so kids know Mom or Dad should not be interrupted. Karen Aronian, Ed.D., a former NYC public school teacher likes to use signs—for example, one could read: “break in 30 minutes”—which can be taped on a wall where both kids and grown-ups are at work.
Encourage independence in older kids.
The last thing you want is your kids interrupting a conference call to ask for a snack. Talia Kovacs, CEO of LitLife, a global literacy firm in Brooklyn, suggests parents teach their kids how to get by without them as much as possible—including snacks, chores, cooking, and where to find help. “Ask Three Before Me” (i.e. ask three other people before you ask me) is a philosophy she uses to help her kids become more independent. Make sure your child knows about other resources they can use before running to ask you a question.
Don’t be afraid to use incentives.
Kids need to know they have something to look forward to—especially during this tough time when socializing with friends is limited. “Say, ‘Hey listen when you finish your homework you get to go play Minecraft’,” suggests Michelle Dell’Aquila, director of Parenting Coach Online and a New York state-certified teacher based in Long Island.
Another strategy, when weather permits, is to take frequent breaks outside. “Staying cooped up at home can make anyone feel irritable. Fresh air, sunlight, and exercise are essential for adults and kids alike,” notes Olivia Bergeron, LCSW, psychotherapist, parenting coach, and founder of Mommy Groove, located in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Relieve stress—in yourself and your kids.
Stress is contagious, Dell’Aquila says, and it’s important to be aware of it affecting everyone. “I would say to parents first, please take care of yourself,” she says. Find some mindful activities that can help you—even if it’s just for 5 minutes—because that stress will inevitably trickle down.
“Parents need alone time without any distractions,” Selinger agrees. “No phones, no kids, no interruptions. Get outside as much as possible, even if it’s for a short break.”
Communicate with everyone involved.
There are several factors involved in making learning at home a success: your work, your child, and their school. First and foremost, “let your workplace know about your current situation with children at home. If you set realistic expectations from the outset, you won’t set yourself up for failure,” Bergeron advises. And loop in coworkers, saying something like: “I know you have a family. I have a family. You can do Tuesdays and I’ll do Thursdays,” Dell’Aquilla suggests.
Parents should also communicate with their child’s teachers. Ask them for help as much as possible, Kovacs says. For example, does your child need more independent work? More instructions on how to complete work? Make sure the teacher knows what’s not working for you and your child.
And for those moments when you just can’t do it yourself, don’t be afraid to seek support. Learning apps, like classtechtips.com and scholasticeducation.com, allow you to work while your child is being educated online, Kovacs says. They are especially useful for younger kids who have fewer actual assignments. Dell’Aquila also urges parents to reach out to online counseling centers and/or online tutors to help them through the rough spots.
Try to be a little more flexible during this unique time.
You may have to rearrange your working hours or tweak your schedule daily—and don’t try to be perfect, say Deborah Notis and Marilyn Rifkin, co-owners of Gamechangernow.com, a free referral service connecting families to highly qualified tutors.
And make sure to do what works for your family, not what doesn’t, suggests Kristen Glosserman, an executive and life coach in NYC. “When we couldn’t access the Schoology app,” she recalls, “I called a recess so my first-grader could go outside and jump on the trampoline. Don’t allow this uncertain time to stress you out—do stay flexible because things are changing every day.”
Bergeron also wants parents to remember that it will not always be perfect: “Your family is adjusting to a vastly different routine. Expect push back from children as they adapt. Keep a positive attitude and don’t take it personally.”
Tips for Successful At-Home Learning
Whether your child is learning remotely full-time or is participating in a blended learning model, this is how you can your child is successful in this unique learning environment.
Determine a schedule that works for the whole family.
After you’ve taken stock of your work-from-home schedule with your partner, establish a schedule with your kids’ school day included. “Make it together, make a big poster, and color it and put glitter on it,” Dell’Aquila says. And because you know your child better than anyone, tailor it specifically to him if possible.
Daily schedules should also factor in meals, chores, free time, outdoor opportunities, mindfulness time—whatever will help the kids get through the day, Dr. Aronian says.
Ideally, parents and kids should be on aligned schedules—taking breaks and working online at the same times. And don’t forget that it’s okay and even necessary for the schedule to change daily to accommodate specific events. “Have a quick family meeting every morning to hammer out what the day will look like,” Bergeron recommends.
Get things to do with your kids
Delivered right to your inbox
It’s also helpful to include a designated time for homework help, Notis and Rifkin say. “Do not help your children during school hours,” they say. Instead guide them when they are working on out-of-classroom assignments.
Establish a routine.
Before you begin at-home learning, establish a routine that includes getting up around the same time each day, getting dressed, and eating a good breakfast, Selinger says. If kids have to get dressed in real clothes, parents can’t stay in pajamas all day either.
Make sure your kids get a good night’s sleep.
Social distancing is not an excuse to let the kids stay up late, especially on a school night. “Sleep is crucial for learning. Even if a child loses an hour of sleep…you’re compromising their ability to learn,” Selinger says. “Sleep is also crucial for attention, memory, emotional regulation. Do not compromise your child’s sleep.”
Create an ideal learning environment.
“It’s important to establish a designated school area, outside of your child’s bedroom if possible, to distinguish between school time and free time,” Notis and Rifkin say. But keep in mind, kids can work in many different places and ways: inside alone, outside with friends, sitting at a desk, or on the floor, Dr. Aronian says. The setting should be COVID-safe, but it could be a patio, closet, hideaway, yard, or hallway—or it could be a combination of spaces. In fact, studies prove that changing locations throughout the day will help kids reset and remember information.
Dr. Aronian says kids should have a hand in personalizing the space—which can be done with paintings, murals, wallpaper, pictures, photos, and decor. Another useful decoration: academic visuals—ask your kids’ teachers for specifics about the curriculum and then hang up learning tools like multiplication tables or word lists.
Also, make sure your child has adequate lighting, including as much natural light as possible. Dr. Aronian recommends an open window or air purifiers to make sure the room is well ventilated.
Don’t be afraid to get help from the pros.
“Most parents are not educators and you’re not expected to turn into one,” says Erica Maltz, the founder and CEO of WhizKidz Tutoring. “Utilize resources from your schools, online educational websites and apps, tutors, and any other education professionals who can help guide you. You’re not in this alone.”
Many families are forming pods (small groups of kids that can learn together) either online or with the help of a hired teacher. “Pods are an effective way to re-enforce everything that students learned in online classes,” Notis and Rifkin say. “Also your child feels a personal connection and has someone who can break down concepts and can answer specific questions and concerns.” Plus, as Selinger points out, it’s nice for kids to have some company. “Humans are social creatures, and learning is social.
Teachers are also a good resource. Notis and Rifkin urge parents to email their kids’ teachers and introduce themselves as soon as they are assigned. “Tell your teachers your concerns upfront. Discuss your learning style and how you have been impacted by remote learning. Ask your teacher how he or she plans to accommodate for remote learning.”
Give your kids opportunities to connect with friends every day.
“It’s really important that every day, children and parents are connecting with others, whether it’s family or peers,” Selinger says. “If they can visually connect with others through video chat, and it becomes a routine, it creates a connection and decreases anxiety. Now is a good time to pick up the phone and talk to people.”
If you need more resources for navigating at home learning, InsideSchools, a website providing insight to the NYC education scene, is offering a free online class for families called “How to Support Online Learning at Home.” The course helps families navigate the online learning process in NYC schools, with everything from your goals and online learning in NYC schools to the challenges of online learning and creating a learning schedule.
How Local Parents Handle At-Home Learning
For many of us, at-home learning became an unexpected challenge during the coronavirus quarantine. It may be one of our toughest assignments yet as parents—navigating online and often confusing classwork, interpreting teacher comments, trying to force a restless kid to sit long enough in his chair to watch one more learning video. Plus, many of us are trying to balance working from home with this new responsibility of learning at home. How do we stay sane while facing these challenges? We asked a few of our favorite New York parenting influencers how they managed the at-home learning challenges brought forth by COVID-19 in the spring. Here is what they told us.
“My one trick for staying sane while my kids home school is definitely staying organized. There is an obscene amount of books, folders, and printable material we are dealing with on a daily basis and it can get overwhelming. Knowing organization is key, we file every piece of paper in its proper folder immediately after each use. It makes it so much easier to find your science handouts when they are actually in the science folder!”
—Geanine Cilenti-Petraglia, @geaninecilenti, Bronx
“My trick for keeping my sanity is exercise. You will now find a stationary bike placed in the middle of our in our living room—while taking up valuable space (and looking quite unsightly) it is the only thing that is keeping my sanity!
—Beth Beckman, @littlekidnyc, Manhattan
“I’m continuing what my son’s teacher does in class by having a “Super Star Jar.” Each day, if they behave and do their schoolwork, their names go in the jar. On Sunday night (after dinner so I can squeeze out a little more decorum), I pick a name. The winner gets to pick anything they want that’s less than $10 from Amazon. Then the name goes in a second Super Super Star Jar. Once this is all over, I’ll pick a name from that jar, and the winner gets to pick whatever they want for $25.”
—Stacey Gish Wallenstein, @themintchipmama, Long Island
“I plan the night before and make sure I understand the lessons and have all materials ready. It also helps to have a clean space for the kids to do their work. I home-schooled my kids for 3 years while we traveled, and this is a tactic that I brought back into our lives. Also…if things aren’t working out, change it up or take a break. And after all the work is done, take a moment for yourself. Whether that means eating ice cream alone or drinking a glass of scotch, have a moment of alone time.”
—Jason Greene, @thejasongreene, Manhattan
“The one thing that is keeping me sane during this crazy time is waking up before my children and getting in a quick workout of yoga or hopping on my new mini elliptical I just purchased, having a cup of coffee in silence, and then I’m ready for the day!”
—Brianne Manz, @strollerinthecity, Manhattan