But this year isn’t typical. There will be fewer familiar back-to-school routines and traditions, and lots of new distractions that come with distance learning. And because of that, keeping kids focused on and motivated to do their schoolwork may seem like a second or third job in itself. But with the right strategies, your child’s distance learning woes can turn into home-school triumphs:
Set clear expectations up front. At school, your child has a lot of structure: A schedule that shows which subjects come next and how long they have in each period, a code of conduct that guides their behavior, a weekly breakfast and lunch menu to know what will be served, and so much more. At home should be no different. Start each week off by creating and walking through a schedule with your child(ren) that maps out how they will experience “school at home”. Visual aids like charts and graphics are great for this and can make the process fun for all. Give your at-home-school a cool name like Hogwarts and have your child decorate their work-space to reflect it!
Every great endeavor starts with a goal. If you know your child struggles with independence or staying motivated, set a goal with them that aims for the behavior you’d like to see improved. For example, one goal may be for your child to work through their school assignment without any help for a full half hour. The key is to get them to reflect on and name the goal they need to work on themselves. A goal they create on their own, rather than one you insist on, increases the likelihood of them accomplishing it. Once the goal is met, you can increase the rigor by adding a little more time to it or setting a new goal towards a new target behavior.
Give feedback often. To start, these new expectations and goals may not be easy for your child but coaching them throughout the day may be just the motivation they need to churn out a few more minutes of sustained work-time. So plan for small breaks in your schedule to check-in with them to review their work, point out where they are doing great and where they can improve. This lets them know that you are holding them accountable, and in return, they’ll continue to work hard.
Reward their efforts. We know that students can be intrinsically and extrinsically motivated, but everyone can use a little bit of extra-ness right now. When your child achieves a weekly or even a daily goal, it’s a big deal. Create a box of fun ideas together so that when they achieve a goal, they can pull from it in suspense. Mix in some big ones and some small ones (family time at the park, making a sweet treat for after dinner, etc.) and some device or device-free ones (30 minutes of Mario Kart, a family puzzle race, etc.), but whatever you do, make it fun because these are the things they’ll most be looking forward to!
Trust but verify. With kids on screens constantly for school, it’s easy for them to wander down the wrong internet pathway and into the never-ending playground of YouTube. Have them sit where it’s easy to see what they are doing online. During their virtual class, are they actually engaging, or are they playing a “math game” that seems to involve very little math? Why are we looking at photos of baby animals again? Make it easy to ask and answer these kinds of questions.
Make staying motivated a family affair. If you have multiple students, consider having them work together in the same room, rather than separately in their rooms (unless you know your kids tend to distract each other!). One’s passion to work and learn may rub off on their other. One child? Maybe they can work from Zoom with a friend or cousin to keep each other grounded. Get family members to write notes and words of encouragement that can be posted around their workspace (nothing gets you going like a note from grandma telling you how awesome this school year will be!).
Need some inspiration? Here’s a photo from one of our Navigators who surrounded her children’s workspace with motivational quotes.
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It’s time to think about summer again—yes, already. Should kids be in school? And if not, what else should they be doing?