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During the pandemic, my kids became accustomed to having me right by their sides while they do their work. They bring everything to me! They actually prefer this setup to being in school. They don't want to go back. But I need them to go back and I know it's better for them. How do I make it happen?

Connected in Connecticut

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Victoria Paulino

Before joining EdNavigator, Victoria Paulino worked as a 7th and 8th grade English and social studies teacher, a 6th grade summer school teacher, a camp counselor, and a youth group leader. Now, she navigates for families in Greater Boston.

Dear Connected,

I guess this is the flip side of struggling with remote learning...it sounds like remote learning is going a little too well in your house! Just kidding—it’s great that the pandemic hasn’t presented major barriers to your children’s learning! At the same time, I hear your concern about helping your kids make a smooth transition back to learning in person. One place to start might be by reflecting on what they—and you—are getting from having you “right by their sides”? Are they enjoying the regular affirmations? Do they feel secure knowing you’ll help them anytime they get stuck? Do you feel a sense of awareness of what they’re learning that you don’t have when they’re in school in person? Thinking through some of what might be underpinning your current dynamic could be helpful for moving beyond it. (You might want to flag some of these things to their teachers, too, so they can help with the transition back.)

To start making the transition now, even while they’re still learning at home, try making school-at-home feel more like school-at-school.

Start by resetting some boundaries for the school day. Just like when they’re in a school building, school time should feel different from home time. Parents aren’t available all the time, just like teachers aren’t! Of course, what this looks like will depend on your children—their ages and their strengths and challenges, and neurodiverse kids and those with other exceptionalities will need different accommodations, just like at school. But push yourselves. This might make you all feel a little uncomfortable at first, and that’s okay. Start by talking through the day’s routine and schedule in advance, using a visual calendar. Establish what length of time you’ll be “unavailable.” You might make yourself unavailable for 30 minutes a time, during an entire lesson, or for a whole morning up until lunch. The length of time should feel appropriate for your kids, but still push them beyond what they’re doing right now. For younger kids, setting a timer might be helpful.

Next, establish clear expectations for their independent time, and set up whatever tools they’ll need to meet those expectations. If they’ll need to use school supplies, have them available and ready to go. (Don’t forget the seemingly small stuff that might trip them up, like making sure devices are charged, pencils are sharp or a sharpener is available, and so on.) Collaborate with your kids to come up with a list of problem-solving questions they should ask themselves before they ask you for help. (Think things like, “What is stopping me from doing my work right now?” “Can I get the item I need for myself?” and “Can I skip this part of my assignment and come back to it later?“)

Set up a system so they can ask for help when they really do need it. You might want to try some kind of green/yellow/red stoplight system, which we’ve recommended in our hacks in the past. (For example, use colored sheets construction paper on the back of their chair—green for “I’m good to go,” yellow for “I need something but it can wait,” and red for “I’m absolutely stuck and need help right now!“). Let them know that even if they’re stuck on red, they should still do something productive until you can help them, and brainstorm a list of approved activities to fill this time—like reading a book or using an educational app.

Make home feel more like school. In the classroom, your children’s teachers probably change the displays or décor to go with different seasons, themes, or topics they’re learning about. So it might help home feel more “school-like” if you also change some things up in their physical space along with the school calendar. For example, use a new semester or quarter as an excuse to refresh a bulletin board that displays their work, or change their tablet or laptop background to match a theme they’re currently learning about.

Leave them alone. Put a closed door between you and the kids, as much as is possible in your space. (If there’s no door available, can you fashion a barrier of some kind? A curtain, hanging sheet, or folding screen between their learning space and the rest of your home?) As long as they’re physically safe, separate yourself from them and let them try—and try again—to work independently.

Praise them when it goes well. If they’re using their stoplight system well, working independently without assistance, or using some of the alternative strategies you’ve brainstormed together before asking you for her—let them know you’ve noticed and you’re proud.

Finally, have an end-of-day routine. When the kids come home from in-person school, they probably have a routine of some kind, Maybe they grab a snack, play outside, do homework, play, or have some screen time. Figure out a routine—whatever it looks like—that creates a line between the school day and the rest of the day. Don’t forget things like putting away school stuff, charging devices, etc., as well as something fun and refreshing for everyone. This is also a good time to reflect on how the day went and talk through anything you’d like to do differently or better tomorrow.

“To start making the transition now, even while they’re still learning at home, try making school-at-home feel more like school-at-school.”