How to Help your Child Prepare for Distance Learning

Apr 15, 2020NCEA, Parent advice, Study Tips

As we prepare for the coming weeks of distance learning, it is more important than ever that students are taking a sense of ownership in their learning. However, as the phrase goes, it’s much easier said than done.

In navigating this period, there are many things we cannot predict. Knowing how to advise your child while they undergo distance learning can be a tricky feat. However, there are things you can do outside of this ever-changing situation which will be sure to help.

In this article, we will be sharing some of our advice for supporting your child through this period of distance learning.

School days won’t be the same

Besides the change in location, there will be various arrangements within each school about how they will structure their days, and what best suits them to continue to provide education for your child. These may include:

  • Online classes attended via video conferencing.
  • More reliance on worksheets and Google classroom to manage day-to-day learning.
  • Work typically done in-class may be expected to be completed independently (e.g., reading a set text or watching a film-study)

It is recognised that there will be varying levels of access to education at this time, and the government is working to ensure there will be at least one avenue available for students. These options include:

  • Increasing the number of students who have internet access and devices.
  • Delivering hard copy packs of materials for different year levels. These will be prioritised from year 13 down to other school levels.
  • Funding two television channels for educational content (one for English and one for Māori) including content that is targeted to Pasifika and other communities.
  • More online resources for parents, available through the Learning from Home and Ki te Ao Mārama websites, and fast-tracking ways to connect Learning Support Coordinators with families remotely.

Students across the country will be engaging with their learning in different ways through these various channels. 

It’s important that students not only understand what their schools are doing, but that they are aware of the other avenues they have available to them. Through this, they will be best equipped to take control of their own learning and seek out help where they can.

What you can do:

In helping your child maximise what they have available to them, we suggest:

  • Discussing with your child how their school will be running in general, before going into each subject they take, and what they will be doing in each of those.
  • Asking your child about the tools and resources they have available to them, and if there would be anything else they may need to make the most of distance learning (e.g., a webcam)
  • Redirecting your child to wider resources they may find helpful to their learning, such as StudyTime.

School days will be shorter 

One of the most notable changes to a students’ school day will be the amount of time they’re expected to spend attending lessons.

While teachers and schools are still confirming their courses, some have been warning their students in advance that their days will not be as long as they would be in a classroom. 

Talk to your child about any school updates they receive, and what this may mean for them when they’re back into it. It’s expected that there may be changes and adjustments once students are back, so staying up to date is critical in ensuring your child is on the right track.

What you can do:

To help your child manage their school days, you can:

  • Go through school emails and updates with your child, so you’re both on the same page and can ensure they understand their expectations going ahead.
  • Help write emails if your child isn’t sure of the best way to contact their teachers.
  • Create a rough daily plan that incorporates your child’s school commitments, as well as time for themselves and their own pursuits.
  • Talk to your child about how it’s okay if they’re not doing as much work.

Normal routines will be challenged

One of the biggest challenges people are facing right now is maintaining a regular schedule. Working from home presents a lot of potential distractions for students, as it’s typically seen as a ‘no-work’ space.

To counteract this mindset, keeping some kind of schedule is important. While it may not be the schedule students are accustomed to (e.g., wake up, travel to school, attend classes), help your child create a plan that they can follow.

The routine your child finds doesn’t have to replicate a school day. Instead, it can be used as an opportunity for your child to find their own workflow while incorporating their distance-learning lessons.

What you can do:

In maintaining a regular study schedule for your child, here are some tips:

  • Model good self-management such as to-do lists and time blocking. If age-appropriate, introduce them to ways of structuring their days themselves. 
  • Encourage the design of a functional study space, your child will be better able to juggle their studies and chill-out time.
  • Organise a short period of study, followed by regular breaks to better ensure consistency throughout their day.
  • If old enough, encourage independence and self-management by discussing with your child their own plans for productive study and goal-setting throughout this period. Provide guidance and facilitate them where you feel you can. 
  • Allow for shorter school days. The most important thing is that your child is maintaining some kind of regular work. Students’ school days may also be shorter with online lessons as well so they will have lighter workloads from class.
  • Prioritise time for social connection and relaxation. Encourage your child to spend time outside (where they can), talk to their friends, and take care of themselves, both mentally and physically.

Keeping a regular schedule is incredibly helpful in continuing our days as constructively as possible. Without the typical morning commute to shift us into our day, setting up a space for work and study is a good way to help transition from an at-home mindset to a productivity mindset.

Finding a routine your child can stick to will help them stay on top of the things that are important, keep their learning present in their mind and aid in their knowledge retention, consolidation, and confidence in their studies.

Your child will have less support from their school

As students have less contact with teachers and their peers, they will inherently lose some of the support they would typically receive. 

It can be difficult to know the best things to ask your child, to really understand what they have on their plate. Often, people draw a blank when asked general questions (e.g., how are you?) because they have to sift through a lot of information, and could give a myriad of responses. 

What you can do:

Check-in

Asking specific questions can get you to the crux of things much easier. 

Here are some questions you could ask your child:

  • What topics have you been doing in your ____ class recently?
  • Are there any specific things you’ve been struggling with?
  • Do you have a clear idea of the kind of work you should be doing for your classes?
  • How have you been studying for your classes?
  • Do you have everything you need to keep up in class?
  • What assessments do you have coming up after the holidays?

You don’t have to have all of the answers

When talking with your child about how they’re going, you don’t have to be an expert in the specific content they may be having a hard time with. 

Instead, help them find strategies to overcome the things that are challenging them. For example, if they are having trouble with understanding what they’re course structure will look like, help them find online resources (e.g, the NZQA website, or StudyTime). 

Getting the problem-solving wheel going in your child’s mind is an incredibly useful tool. By this, they can begin to think about how to tackle their challenges and further use what they know for the future.

Encourage your child to discuss their learning with you so that you can help them through the challenges they face. It will help in preventing their studies from becoming stagnant and will provide an extra support channel through this confusing time.

Keep communication channels open

There is a lot of information flying about at the moment, from businesses, social media, and the community. With this, it can be difficult to know who to prioritise your communication channels.

To stay up to date with your child learning, and what is happening with schools, here are some places to look towards:

  • Daily video live stream updates from the government
  • Your child’s teachers (typically available via email)
  • Your child’s school’s social media pages (for specific school updates)

By having regular contact with schools and announcements, you will have a good understanding of where your child should be at and the types of classes they will be attending. 

You will also be in a better position to explain the situation to your child, and how it will impact them.

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best 

While there will be at least 2 weeks of online classes, you should prepare your child to work from home for longer. As this timeframe is the current minimum, preparing for a longer stint will ensure your child is ready for whatever happens.

In a bulletin released on the 9th of April, we were told not to anticipate schools to open as soon as the lockdown period is over: “We are looking at various scenarios and they will be based on health considerations and requirements under Level 3, particularly managing physical distancing. A hybrid model of both distance learning and on-site learning is very likely at least in the early stages of Level 3.  The Public Health requirements will affect each school differently.”

Therefore, while preparing for this distance-learning, it’s important to prepare for the long haul, just in case. 

There is a danger in having our hearts set on normalcy as soon as this lockdown period is over. Firstly, we cannot anticipate how long it will last. Secondly, our attention is best spent making the most of this period and accessing what we have available to us. 

What you can do:

Encouraging your child to think ahead and take all future possibilities into account will underpin their motivation and willingness to persevere. Here are some focusses to help instil a positive mindset during this time: 

        • Forget about the “future”, focus on today.
        • Forget about your difficulties, focus on your progress.
        • Forget about what’s missing; focus on what’s available.
        • Forget what you can’t do; focus on what you can do.

Our mindset over this time will underpin our ability to get through and stay as productive as possible. Thinking ahead for the long-term will put our minds in the best place to plan and think ahead. Regardless of what happens.

Concluding thoughts and advice

As students have just begun to adjust for the year, they’ve been hit with a confusing period that has many students worried that their school year has been brought to a complete halt.

Guiding your child through this time, and using what you have available to you to advise the next steps your child takes is one of the best ways to get through this time. Unfortunately, no one knows for sure how this time will play out, so we need to focus on the things that we can control.

Kia kaha, and best of luck.

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