Remote Learning Success Tips

August 12, 2020

By Marianne Croonquist M.S., MFT

The reality of needing to be at home, helping my grandchildren with school this fall, is sobering. Maybe you feel the same way about the unexpected need that now faces you—making sure your children (or grandchildren) will really learn something during online schooling.

I confess the pit of my stomach churns with a thousand questions and a flood of self-doubt. Like all of us, I had assumed the pandemic would be in check by now and we really would return to what used to be normal. 

Last Spring, I began my first day of teaching Trent and Ellie with delight and hope. Complete with a Mary Poppins bag filled with crafts, flashcards and many classic books from my “kiddie lit” collection, I knocked at their door and they gleefully welcomed me, “Grandma!”

The first week went well enough, expanding my role to that of teacher, though they made it clear they like Grandma better than Ms. Marianne! There were moments of eager learning as we did life lessons of sewing on buttons, counting money, and scavenger hunts during our neighborhood walks. There were precious times of reading aloud many chapter books as we snuggled on the couch. 

Fast forward two months later—the gleeful welcome at their front door had changed to groans and rolling eyes, “Do we have to do schoolwork?” By this point, their school teachers had established clear guidelines and focus points, weekly remote check-ins with classmates and daily computer-based assignments. The pressure to accomplish the lists and charts was daunting. By that last official day of school, we each welcomed Summer.

Facing Fall (Still) at Home

This month, all will suit up, stay home and be prepared for a more rigorous school year. Different than the stop gap, do whatever you can of last Spring …

now it is, “Here are the state standards for the grade, you’re on!”

Some Tips for Hybrid Learning

  • Remember the teachers are the teachers, we are their helpers and follow their lead.
  • Ask for help when needed from the teacher or others who are good at Math, Science etc…
  • Reading is the essential skill to keep reinforcing. If all else fails, read together and separately as much as you can.
  • Breaks for recess restore all involved, as do stretching and healthy snacks.
  • Make it fun! Optimism is contagious. Make some great memories while you accomplish what is required.

Essential Parallel Tracks

Wearing my professional therapist hat, I can clearly identify two parallel tracks to keep the school in a pandemic train moving.

All children thrive when there is a predictable rhythm. Structure to the day’s schedule empowers learning and creativity. Children are thrown off balance when there is too much flexing, self-initiative or freedom. It takes kids a lot of energy to respond to changes, and that energy is best resourced for learning. Eliminate any chaos you can by having established blocks of time for school and homework, as well as an organized physical space. 

I gave structure to my grandchildren’s day by posting a weekly schedule with remote classroom, seatwork, meal and break times visually clear for each of them. Trent loved being the enforcer of the schedule and clock watcher, especially for snack and outside times. Creating a work station for Ellie and Trent that accommodated their electronic device and “desk items” helped with personal space and organization. Ellie likes order and school supplies. She straightened up and replenished items in the study stations as her daily role.

Attunement to the emotional needs of your children is the other track needed. We are the parents, not just the at home teacher’s assistant. Our role is to love these children, especially as we actively help with their hybrid schooling. To pay attention to the emotional needs throughout a day is both a privilege and necessity. Hurt feelings, excitement, loneliness, frustration, exhaustion and boredom (the list can be endless) will sabotage any learning if not noticed. To ignore these is like trying to fill a bathtub without a stopper.   

Simply acknowledging and validating a big feeling will help. “I see you are struggling a lot writing this paragraph.” “It is hard to sit and focus when you’d rather play.” “It isn’t fair that your sister doesn’t have as much work to do.” Equipping Ellie and Trent with feeling charts to help them identify and own their feelings expands their ability to self-regulate and to empathize. And when the melt downs happen, I gratefully contain and respond with love better than their classroom teacher ever could. 

As Grandma, these parallel tracks can become nice textbook theory when there are tech difficulties, orange juice spills, math is difficult, and emotions go off the rails. Like tipped dominoes, frustration and aggravation set each one of us careening into one another. Sometimes it’s a scramble to regain healthy footing. Ellie and Trent are known to sweetly suggest when one of us is amping up, “Grandma, this sounds like something we need to pray about!” Wholeheartedly I agree with them and we collectively stop and pray, adding our deep breaths in and deep breaths out to assist the calming of the troops.

Perspective Givers

  • Stay grounded in your faith. Remember, the Lord is your foundation, pandemic or not.   
  • Make relationships your priority. Seize this opportunity to reinforce healthy communication and character issues with your children.
  • Keep in mind that this is an unexpected season and it is a privilege to witness your children grasp new and master old concepts.
  • Establishing predictable structure and safe emotional space has immediate and life-long benefits.
  • Practice communicating: speaking clearly, listening for details, noticing emotions.
  • Create opportunities to increase confidence (giving a speech to you and their toys) and manners, as these will open doors in their future.
  • Model a zeal for lifelong-learning. It is a means to marvel and wonder at the varied aspects of God’s creation together.

As the countdown to the first day of school begins, it is a battle to not have fear and dread overwhelm me. Join me as I cling to 2 Corinthians 12:9.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 

What a joy to know God is alive and well in our weaknesses, as well as the astounding truth that His grace is enough, always.

Marianne Croonquist is in private practice as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, located in San Dimas, California. She delights in spending time with her two grandchildren and their mother.