Posted on September 02 2020
Going back to school is going to look a little different this year.
To be honest, we’re all a little nervous. If working remotely is difficult for us as adults, we can only imagine how our kids are feeling. No field trips? No recess? No classroom? Virtual learning has a steep learning curve and certainly takes some getting used to. “Every family’s needs are different,” explains Zeena CEO, Bayan Jondy. “When it comes to setting up my kid’s study area, I’m not going for a Pinterest-perfect look. It’s more important to have realistic expectations of what you can do. You have to figure out what’s best for your child and balance that with what’s possible in your situation -- mentally, physically and financially.”
Today on the blog, the Zeena team asked a group of parents and educators how they are preparing for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year. From how to organize your child’s weekly schedule, tips for creating a personalized learning zone, to planning extracurricular activities, this post is overflowing with useful information that will hopefully cast a ray of hope through these unpredictable times. Remember, we're all in this together!
“Let's talk about the three most important school supplies needed for this virtual school semester. You may be thinking about a device, headphones, and writing tools. Yes, those are important, but there are other tools that are needed much more – patience, flexibility and grace. We all know that these are unprecedented times. We need to be patient with each other. Patient with our kids, patience with our spouses, and patient with ourselves. There will be many hiccups along the way. The kids will miss some zoom sessions just like they missed the bus. You will forget to check the email messages from their teachers, just as you missed checking their backpacks yesterday. Be flexible...and treat each other with grace. When each family member feels appreciated and respected, it makes things run more smoothly.”
-- Lailaa J., MCPS educator & founding member of Tarbiyah Academy
Have a morning routine -- A consistent morning routine will help your entire family stay on track and make the most of the day. Eating healthy is a great place to start. "Starting your child’s day with as little sugar as possible gives them a better chance to have a productive day," writes Fatimah M., KNZI creative director. "Too much sugar in the morning increases the chances of crashing after the first two periods or becoming overly hyper and not being able to focus. If there is time after breakfast, take a quick walk around the neighborhood for some fresh air before school." Around the table, “take time for healthy conversation during breakfast," writes Ayesha H., IB Coordinator. "Get reconnected every morning with a smile. Share stories that are not about school, and truly enjoy your pancakes together!”
What about getting dressed for school? Can't they just wear pajamas? While the temptation is real to stay in those sweat pants, dressing for school helps teach students to respect themselves and the virtual classroom (plus...the cameras are on)! "My kids know that they have to wake up and get dressed before school starts," says Bayan. "Even though we're at home, they have to pack their lunches and water bottles the night before too."
Avoid the mid-day crash with a healthy breakfast that will 'stick to their ribs', just like grandma used to say!
Create a learning zone -- Study time and chill time are two different things, but sometimes the lines get blurred when you’re learning at home. “Minimize distractions by dedicating a quiet place in your home just for schoolwork,” writes Ayesha H. “This could be the kitchen table or a desk next to a sunny window that has all the items needed for a young learner to access their school materials. Have any related technology, gadgets, and supplies related to schoolwork within arm's reach.”
Make it personal -- Since the goal is to keep kids motivated, sometimes a little personalization goes a long way. "Make the work space fun and inviting!" writes Lailaa J. "Have pictures or drawings on the wall, a relatable quote, or even some abstract art. Decorate the work space with washi tape, stickers, and allow some acceptable ways for your kids to create a personalized space. Cover the table with white paper and allow the kids to have a doodle space while they are working or waiting for the teacher. Arrange their supplies by subject area and time of day."
A sunny window makes a perfect spot to setup a virtual learning classroom. Let your child have a say in how they organize their learning zone. After all, it's their responsibility to keep it neat and tidy during the school year! (Photo: North Shore Mums)
Bring a study buddy -- Virtual learning for our littlest students might seem very strange. Younger kids might feel especially lonely in an online classroom environment without being able to physically interact with teachers and peers. “Bringing a stuffed animal to class might help ease some of the stress for first time homeschoolers,” suggests Jamillah A. “My first-grader loves having his TY Beanie Babies all lined up in a row while he’s on-screen with his teacher. As long as it’s not a distraction (and his animal friends are ‘good students’), I think having a toy there gives him comfort and at least helps him stay in his chair!”
Form an online study group -- Socializing is a huge part of what makes children good communicators…but when the down-time between classes no longer exists, make sure your child can still keep in touch with friends over the phone or online. “Reaching out to other parents in your kid’s class is also helpful,” says Bayan. “My eldest is in a group with two of her friends from school. Once a week, they review science concepts or work on strengthening their study habits.”
Stay organized -- A tidy workspace is no small feat when kids are involved. Keep a weekly schedule posted in plain sight that includes schoolwork, household chores, and a meal plan (if possible). “If everyone knows what is going on, there are less questions, less complaining, and hopefully more helping!” says Lailaa J. “Spread the jobs amongst all family members no matter how young they are. Even little ones can and like to help out. Older family members can supervise, be an accountability buddy, or can be the one who checks off on tasks completed.”
Afterschool activities -- Think 'inside' the box when planning a few extracurricular activities with your child. “Homeschooling gives you the opportunity to learn something you wouldn’t ordinarily learn. For example, 2020 could be the year that you master a new skill. Take an online cooking class, learn coding or painting,” suggests Saida R.
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Setup a charging station -- Encourage your kids to ‘unplug’ by allowing them to take responsibility for their devices. At the end of the day, a designated charging station will make sure your child’s device is all powered up for morning.
Watch those gamers -- Time between classes might seem like the perfect opportunity to slip into a video game…especially if your child is wearing headphones! Keep tabs on sneaky gaming habits by paying attention to your child’s schedule. “Parents who are working from home alongside their virtual learners should have a copy of the daily agenda on their desk too. Also, setting an alarm on your phone or using a kitchen timer will let you know when class is over,” says Abdul M, father of two.
What about all those ‘New Tabs’ being opened during class time? “Try to setup your workspace so you can see your kid’s screen too. Monitoring your child isn’t just about curbing gaming behaviors, it’s about staying safe online," Abdul explains.
We have multiple devices at home. What if my child wants to play a game after class? One word, separation. "For this virtual school year I plan to separate entertainment devices from educational devices," says Fatimah M. "I feel like this will help my children define the difference between school time and playtime, kind of like how sleep therapists advise not to have televisions in bedrooms!"
Make recess fun -- Let’s face it, online learning is sedentary. Sitting still for prolonged periods of time will make anyone restless. Stay active by joining in at recess or break. "Before lunch, try a high-intensity interval training routine (HIIT)," suggests Fatimah M. "Squats, push ups, jumping jacks, lunges and sit-ups, two sets each, will get the blood pumping!" After lunch, pop outside for a nature walk or a stroll around the neighborhood. The idea is to stay active!
Stock up on simple outdoor toys, such as jump ropes, bouncy balls, bubbles and sidewalk chalk. Safety cones will help you designate a space for playtime.
Any last words? Before we dive into the school year ahead, we asked our group of parents and educators for one last tip to summarize their feelings about virtual learning. Here's what they had to say:
“We are living through a pandemic. I’m going to put things in place to help my kids learn and stay motivated, but stressing myself out doesn’t help anyone. Kids are pretty resilient and it's important for us to make the most of the situation, stay positive, and send those vibes to our kids, they feed off our energy" -- Bayan Jondy, Zeena CEO
"Since my second grader will be attending school virtually this fall, one of the ways that I intend to promote her success is to show enthusiasm for her learning experiences. Just as most children do, she often observes the mood of the adults around her, then adjusts her own mood accordingly. I intend to wake her up in the morning with a bright smile and serve her breakfast with encouraging words. I know the upcoming months will be challenging, but I plan to exude optimism so that my daughter feels capable, intelligent, and hopeful!" -- Dr. Rabiah Khalil, Johns Hopkins University
"If everyone works together and stays on the same page, things will run more smoothly. At the same time, know that there will be challenges along the way and accept them for what they are, learn from them, and keep pushing forward. You are making and creating memories to pass on to future generations." -- Lailaa J., MCPS
“Remember to have lots of patience, love and a sense of humor! Learning is fun! Education and seeking knowledge for good is more than a routine, it’s a way of life!" -- Ayesha H., IB Coordinator
How are you preparing for the 2020-2021 school year? Share your helpful tips and ideas in the comments below. We'd love to hear how you're surviving this virtual learning experience!