Before I share my “expertise” on prepping my home for virtual learning during what is arguably the worst year of most of our lives, I want to make something clear. I haven’t the slightest of clue exactly what I’m doing. I am not the have-it-all-together-Pinterest-pinning-look-how-put-together-I-am Mama. I simply used trial and error, a few (dozen) bouts of crying in my closet, and some glasses of water (in a wine glass…a self-administered placebo if you will) and started testing things out since June. YES. June. That’s when the horrifying reality that my children would be home during the new school year finally set in. But so far, we have survived and, surprisingly, actually thrived. Here’s how I made that happen.
THEIR LEARNING SPACE IS THEIR LEARNING SPACE AND ONLY THEIR LEARNING SPACE
So, if you’re reading this, your children may not be in a classroom at the start of the school year. It may be temporary; it may be for the unforeseeable future. However long you’ll be playing teacher, it is important to set up your kiddos for success. For us, this meant sacrificing one room in our home in order to create a space for virtual learning. We decided to completely re-do their playroom (and even considered giving up our bedroom) and moved all toys to the family room in an attempt keep their virtual learning space free from any distractions. Educational boardgames, blocks, and a handful of other toys were allowed to stay. Everything else was out. This limits the temptation to run over to those action figures when you’re supposed to be doing your math work. No matter what space you choose, make it “learning zone only.” We made an the exception with breakfast/lunch and EARNED tv time.
Bonus tips for learning space: hook up a laptop to a TV with an HDMI cord – or however you can – so your children can see their teacher on a big screen. It was miraculous to see how much better my little guys focused. Change their seating if possible. We use saucer chairs during early morning lessons, then move them to their desk chairs, and finally, put them on bouncy yoga balls shortly after lunch when they need to expend their energy/are getting “bored.” Kids aren’t meant to sit still in front of a small screen all day. If they start fidgeting or staring at anything but their screen, it’s time to move them around.
ESTABLISH A ROUTINE & GIVE THEM “JOBS”
Routines and consistency are your best friend right now. Name your next two pets after them (raise your hand if you cracked and got a new pet in the past few months). We are not in normal times. But we all need to feel a sense of normalcy and establishing a consistent routine gives us that. Additionally, giving your child designated responsibilities attached to your routine will make them feel like they have some control at a time when things don’t quite make sense to them. Print out a schedule they can see and make a job chart with rotating tasks for each child each day. It only took a week for my kids to understand how our day is meant to go. And here is the awesome part: once that happens, you’ll find yourself able to go about doing other things (like working from home) without needing to hover over them to make sure things are running smoothly. But stick to the routine. Consistency is crucial.
MAKE A SNACK BOX
Have you noticed your kids wanting to constantly snack all day? If you haven’t yet, tell me your secret. What I found is that having a Snack Box that they can access at a designated time gave my kids something to work for. Did they sit and pay attention during their lesson? Great! They can choose their own snack from the Snack Box at 1pm. Did they not listen or maintain focus? Mama gets to choose the snack (raisins anyone?) This predetermined agreement is just another way to help keep things interesting and fun and helps keep small children motivated.
…AND A WEEKLY TREASURE CHEST
Kids need to feel that their efforts will be rewarded. The whole “What’s in it for me?” mentality is their motivation. So, let them work for a treasure chest toy. I got lucky and found a simple reward chart that allows me to customize what tasks my boys will need to complete for the entire week before gaining access to the treasure chest. You can make your own or print one out. Make tasks age appropriate and not impossible to complete. We included: brushing teeth, changing clothes and updating calendar (one task); paying attention in class and completing work; finished jobs from job chart; and being kind all day. If all tasks are completed daily for a week, they get a treasure chest toy on Friday. Take a trip to a dollar store. Ten bucks worth of fun treats or toys will set you up for two months.
CONSIDER HAVING THEM WEAR UNIFORMS
My children’s school does not require uniforms. But in my home, I do. Why? Simply put, they act as an on/off switch. When the uniform is on, my kiddos understand that it’s time to adjust their focus. No, you cannot play video games. No, you cannot go down to play with the puppy (again, raise your hand if you got a new puppy – sigh). Once the uniform comes off after their final video session, they get into comfy clothes and can go about doing all the things loud, energetic darling children do. Also, I’m sure many of you can relate to this: for a house full of people who do not go anywhere, we sure do a lot of laundry. Rotating three sets of uniforms during the week has helped keep laundry piles down.
I’ve been in enough social media parent group discussions to understand that most of us are scared as hell. To me, that’s a good thing. If you’re frequenting parent groups or blogs, or googling “surviving virtual learning” you’re already off to a fantastic start. You want your kids to do well. But don’t let it ruin your peace of mind. Don’t let the anxiety of the unknown distract you from the fact that this is all new territory for most parents. Give yourself (and our hero educators) some grace – YOU are the star student right now, learning as you go. Kid’s are resilient and having a concerned parent like you puts them halfway through the battle.
I have several other tips to share and intentionally limited this to my top tips. Follow me on instagram @thewaldonkids or @stephchristine22 where I share some more tips and tricks for surviving life with twins.