Across the country and the world, educators are preparing for a back-to-school season that will resemble nothing they, or their students, have ever experienced. Schools are planning a range of scenarios, such as social distancing, staggered classes, even a continuation of the remote learning that was almost universal in the spring.
If students are unable to be on their school campus, they will likely be learning at home, often sharing working and studying space with family members. Parents may be concerned about how to best support their child academically and emotionally during this time, and many schools offer academic support and counseling resources to students and their families.
Margaret van Baaren, director of Northfield Mount Hermon’s Center for Academic Strategies and Achievement, is part of NMH’s support system. “Students have the power to achieve at a higher level if they know what strategies to put in place and if they maintain a positive, open mindset,” she says. “Academic success is about developing goals, setting a plan, connecting with teachers, and maintaining tenacity.”
Along with Sarah Warren, NMH’s academic dean and director of studies, and Johanna Callard, LICSW, director of counseling at NMH’s O’Connor Health and Wellness Center, van Baaren offers five accessible strategies for parents to use in supporting their children during remote learning.
1. Help your child set up their space and structures.
Help your child create a space that facilitates learning by reducing distractions and clutter. This might require creativity and imagination given that many students must figure out how to share space with their families. Have fun with it.
Work with your child to set a routine for meals, homework, and exercise that allows your child to complete work before bed and follow a regular sleep schedule. If possible, include outdoor time as well.
Equip your child with a paper planner for tracking homework assignments, other commitments, and even chores. “When we write things out, our brains process more deeply,” van Baaren says. A large wall calendar is a good idea, too.
Silence cell phones while engaged in academic work, and if possible, keep them away from the study space.
2. Support your child’s ability to manage their time and tasks.
Encourage your child to review their planner before starting classes or school work, look over assignments, and create a “to do” list to set their priorities for the day.
It can be helpful to break large tasks into smaller pieces that can be done during pockets of free time throughout the day.
It’s a good idea for students to try to complete one thing at a time, and do their best to finish before starting the next thing. Crossing items off a list as they are completed can be motivating.
Breaks can make study time more efficient. A good rule of thumb is a one- to two-minute brain break for every 20–25 minutes of working. (Push-ups are a great brain break; social media is not.)
“Academic success is about developing goals, setting a plan, connecting with teachers, and maintaining tenacity.”
—Margaret van Baaren, director of CASA
Honor the independence your child has learned at school and include them in creating structures and systems at home. Ask them to share stories with you about their experiences on their school campus, such as the schedule, what study hall is like, what they learned, and what they miss. Give them responsibility and leadership in the household.
3. Be the coach, and let your student do the work.
Check in with your child about the types of support that are allowed on individual assignments before you offer help or edit their work.
Be a guide. Focus on asking questions that help your child reach the answer on their own.
Warren says, “Rather than correcting a grammatical error, circle the issue and ask them how they might fix that portion of the sentence to make it grammatically correct. In math, ask the student to walk you through their thinking process. Students can learn so much when they teach the material to someone else.”
Help your child develop self-advocacy skills by encouraging them to reach out to their advisor or teachers. They can attend their teachers’ office hours and any extra help sessions; they can email their teacher directly to ask questions, too.
Celebrate your student’s successes, no matter how small.
4. Encourage your child to maintain healthy habits.
Eating well at regular times during the day and getting a good night’s sleep will benefit your child’s overall wellness.
Regular exercise is not only good for the body, but also the brain. Encourage your child to spend time outside every day if possible. If it isn’t possible, there are many online workouts that can be done indoors.
Encourage your child to set specific times to check in with friends and maintain close connections with people who are important to them.
Offer time to check in together. Let your child know you are available and want to support them. And let them do the talking.
Callard says, “Listen for what matters to them right now, whether it’s a sport, a new friend, or a show on Netflix — and ask to join them once in a while. The more you listen, the more they will feel seen.”
Laugh together — balance the serious stuff with levity.
5. Don’t forget to take care of yourself.
Modeling self-care will show your child that it’s important. In tough situations, give yourself the space to think and respond rather than react. Your whole family will benefit when you, as a parent, make time for yourself.