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  • Writer's pictureCarolee Jackson

Turning Distractions into Diamonds: Managing Virtual Learning, Even When You're Not at Home

As students have been getting used to going to school completely virtually or in a hybrid model, I've heard from many parents about the struggle of managing the near-constant access to distractions at home during school time. Whether it's failing grades, incomplete or missing work, or constant communication from teachers, distractions during virtual learning impact the whole family! For many of us, especially those working outside the home, providing constant supervision for virtual learning during school hours is not at all feasible. So, what's to be done when your child's grades, attendance, and learning are being impacted by distractions? Here are five steps to start your family back on the road to sanity by getting home-learning distractions under control and building accountability and independence for your child.

1. Remove as many physical distractions as possible. This may mean putting away toys, devices, video games controllers/consoles, TV remotes, etc. For really crafty kids, you may have to put them in your car or another secure place when you go to work to ensure they can't sneak them while you're out!

2. Designate separate live/work spaces. As a working adult who is new to the world of working from home, I have quickly learned how important it is for me to separate my working space from my bedroom or other lounging areas to ensure productivity. Kids are no different! Ensure that they have a quiet, clean work area where they can be most productive. Even if this is the kitchen table, they can benefit from having a storage box or cubby to keep their materials organized. One of the fastest ways to become distracted is to have to take a trip around the house looking for materials.

3. Post a routine for them to follow. Even when you're not there to manage it, ensuring your child has a visual routine to refer to, can help them know how to manage their time. If they miss class meetings or forget to sign on for lessons, use an alarm or the alerts on their google calendar to remind them when it's time to get back online.

4. Limit online distractions. Even if you remove physical distractions from your home during the school day, we all know that every kid can easily get sucked into the online vortex of YouTube videos, online games, social media, etc. For many parents who have to leave their child at home to go to work, they only feel comfortable doing so if they leave a phone for emergencies. Set parental controls on the browsers on all of these devices, including their school Chromebook or laptop to restrict access to their frequently-visited sites during the school day. Some devices and browsers allow you to set parental controls for particular websites and certain hours of the day. For example, if you know that your child needs to use YouTube for school during Technology class, set the hours to limit access except for that class period.

5. Hold them accountable! This is the most important step on this list! Nothing is more exhausting than coming home from a long day at work to find an email from your child's teacher notifying you of missed assignments, missed classes, and other evidence of their distractibility during the day. However, if you want this to change, you can't ignore it. Regardless of their age, your child needs to be held accountable to your expectations for what their engagement in school should look like when you're at work or unable to supervise them. If these expectations aren't clear - make them so! Post them in your home and refer to them often. Develop incentive and consequence systems with your child to help motivate them. Are they desperate for time on YouTube or social media? Do they love doing sports? You know they love Dairy Queen? Make them work for it! While making rewards and consequences contingent on grades alone can be challenging to enforce because of delays in grades posting, many districts are implementing software that allows you to see a daily report of your child's device usage. If that's not available, you can reach out to your child's teacher(s) to ask for a daily or weekly report of their overall attendance, participation, and work completion to help you hold them accountable. (You'd be amazed at how much kids will start changing things when they know their parents and teachers are on the same page and communicating about expectations frequently!) Of special note: while consequences are absolutely necessary if one of your expectations is breached, I am a very strong proponent of rewards too. Research shows that most children are much more motivated by positive rewards than consequences, especially over time. So if you find yourself constantly threatening to take away the phone or grounding them - let's be honest we're all basically grounded right now! - try switching it up and offering a motivating reward for them to work towards first!

As parents, our toolbox of tricks has definitely been stretched by this pandemic and the changes in our normal routine. However, it has also provided some amazing opportunities to shine a light on behaviors we need to address with our children, growing our own skills as parents, and developing our resiliency as families. While families are being put through enormous stress and pressure right now, it is these parenting choices, big and small, that will decide if that pressure reduces us to mush or forges us into diamonds!

For many parents, taking these first steps - and then following through on them! - can be really challenging to sustain. That's where I come in - through consultation and coaching with families, we are able to partner together to problem-solve some of these school-home stressors! Contact me today to see if my services might be just the help you need to make diamonds a reality in your world too. Subscribe below to receive notifications of updates and new posts!

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