Tips For Distance Learning

Motherhood Unfolding

Today we are talking about all things distance learning. If you are looking for advice and support, you came to the right place! This is an overwhelming and confusing time for everyone. You are not alone in this. Leaning on one another for strength and advice in times of uncertainty is what makes us all better mothers.

Since my children are not yet of school age, I am giving a voice to a mama who does have distance learners at home. I am pleased to share her candid perspective and I will also be giving a glimpse into the teacher’s perspective of distance learning a little later in this post.

For now, let me introduce you to Kari Selby, a spunky Southern California mama of three. She is a stay at home mom or as I like to call it, a work at home mom! In her spare time, she loves to DIY, bake, and craft. She runs a side custom cake business and they are the most beautiful and creative cakes you’ve ever seen think Cake Boss style!

Kari is navigating two distance learners, one in high school and one in elementary school. She is also mothering a toddler amongst all of it. She gives a voice to all the mamas across the distance-learning spectrum from senior year of high school down to the potty training days. Her days are not always easy but through it, she has learned valuable advice to share.

Real Talk: A Mother’s Perspective on Distance Learning

Kari, let’s start with my favorite two questions to ask fellow mamas before diving into distance learning!

What is your favorite thing about motherhood?

My favorite part besides kisses and hugs is watching each child develop their personality, sense of humor, and character. They are all raised in the same home but are all so different and I love that!

What is one thing that has surprised you about motherhood?

How much it has defined who I am and shown me the love I am truly capable of giving. Also how you find yourself saying sentences you never thought in a million years you would ever say to anyone like, "please stop putting your toes in your sister's ear, she doesn't like it.” My kiddos always keep me laughing!

What advice would you give to the mom who feels overwhelmed about distance learning and feels like she needs to be supermom and super teacher all at once?

Distance learning is hard. It takes a lot of effort on everyone’s part and it’s something new we’re all navigating. Some days will be smooth and other days you will be pushed to the edge. At some point, there will probably be tears and arguments. That's ok; remember you are doing the best you can. Being there and trying is what makes you the best supermom/teacher ever. Every day will be different but even imperfect actions are better than no action at all.

What supplies and set up do you need for distance learning?

Every set up will be different according to grade level but the basics everyone needs is an Internet connection, a device for online instruction, and space for your kid to work. As far as specific supplies, if you would put it in their backpack to send them to school with, then you will need it at home for distance learning.

What type of organization or routine have you found to be helpful for distance learning?

Each morning we get up, get dressed, brush our teeth, and eat breakfast just like we would on any other school day, just no drive. As my daughter, Layla gets ready I set up her desk and get the computer running. Layla and I go over her 3rd-grade class page so she can have a heads up for the day’s tasks.

I try to have Layla open up the browser and links herself so she can be more independent with this as time goes on. We have her set up and waiting to be let into the class meeting at least 5 mins before school is supposed to start. Doing this helps minimize tech glitches so she can start on time.

I also set up a chart on her door with the day broken down in time chunks of what she needs to be doing and when she has online time with the teacher. The chart has reminders of how we act in class and a poem I came up with last year that used to sit on her desk at school. It goes like this:

“Open ears and closed lips is the way to sit. Recess and lunch run and have fun. In class get work done! You can have a great day! Love Mom”

Keeping her workspace organized and similar to what she had in school helps her to stay focused on schoolwork. We have a smaller house so my husband built a desk on her door that can be easily set up and taken down. I also have a file holder so all of her papers, folders, and assignments are in one place and always at arm's reach.

Because the desk gets put up and down every day, I use a tote bag to store our Chromebook, pencil box, file holder, and all other school supplies. I set it by my craft table at the end of each day so it can be easily found. If you are short on space like me, this is a great way to keep things organized.

I also got a room divider to put around her school area that folds up and stores next to her door. We use the room divider when she is in a class meeting so she and the other students are not distracted when I need to walk by to get my toddler who is currently potty training too and from the bathroom. The kitchen is also right next to her workspace and my son, being 2 ½, is always looking for snacks! The divider also helps keep him from bugging her and accidentally being in her video chat.

Do you have any tips for how to keep a toddler occupied when your distance learner needs help with assignments?

I have a drawer set up for Hunter with his own "school supplies" so he can feel included and have access to various activities when mommy is needed elsewhere. Included are paper, crayons, stickers, play-doh, water paints, books, and a workbook with his own “homework pages.”

I also utilize TV time when needed. Sometimes Peppa pig and Blaze and the Monster Machines are my biggest saviors. You can't feel guilty about what works, we are doing the best we can. Sometimes I’m helping Layla with my right hand while my toddler is on my left hip and that's just real life.

Any helpful mindset tips for mommy, kiddo, or both?

It’s going to take time to find a groove, don’t be too hard on yourself. What works for others may not work for you and that’s ok. Finding what feels right for your situation, creating a routine, and taking deep breaths is what is going to get you through the day.

Good day or bad, don't forget to end the day with love. At the end of the day, we talk about what needs to be done tomorrow and then I always end it with what she did great that day.

Have you run into any problems with motivation or behavior related to learning at home? If so, how do you deal with it?

We definitely have had some hard days! There have been meltdowns, crying, not paying attention, clicking around to see the other kids in the chat, etc. Recently one morning, Layla didn't want to go to school. She was crying on the couch overwhelmed. I reminded her that I'm here to help. We use a meditation app for kids called Strong Minds, it helps identify feelings and how to work through them. There are also breathing exercises that we find helpful. Most of the time, this works to calm her down.

Sometimes I just have to remind her that although we are at home, it’s school time and we’ve got to show up and participate. I remind her to focus and not sing or hum while also listening to the teacher. I tell her that however she would normally act in class is how she needs to act during her lessons at home.

For us, I’ve found that headphones don’t work. I need to be able to hear what the teacher is saying so I can go over it later with her. I don't stand over her shoulder but I peek over now and then to make sure she is on task.

If her online class time is over and I can tell she is over it, I let her take an extra-long break before finishing the days’ assignments. Playing outside really helps to break things up and get out her wiggles before finishing up the school day.

Any additional tips or advice?

Every age group is going to have difficulties. Take breaks, try new things and when school is done for the day, pack it up and close the door. Clear the table so kids can feel like school is over and it’s home time. Having that separation will help everyone. Remember you are doing the best you can and that is all that is needed!
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Now shifting gears a little bit, let’s take a glimpse into what it’s like for the teacher. Without giving it much thought, it can be easy to assume that the burden falls heaviest on the parents of distance learners. While it is a lot for us to adjust to, teachers are also going through major upheaval and it’s important to remember that.

Some of them are even wearing dual hats of teaching their classes and navigating their own children’s distance learning. Let us remember that teachers although they may have some nice perks, they work long hours and the expectations put on them are never-ending. Grace on every end of this wild situation we have found ourselves in is what will be most beneficial for everyone.

Real Talk: A Teacher’s Perspective on Distance Learning

The following questions are answered by Diane Donald, a high school teacher who is also in the Southern California area. Diane recently won Teacher of the Year in her school district. She loves learning new things, has a passion for history, and is an amazing seamstress in her spare time. She is also a mama of five.

What is your favorite thing about teaching?

Inspiring the kids and for different students, this can be different things. For some, it is letting them know I care about their future. For others, it is inspiring them to go to college and further their education. Ultimately, I think it comes down to being an appropriate caring adult in their lives. For some of the students I teach, they don’t have that. There are many things I love about teaching and at times it can be simple things like getting kids excited about knowledge.

What is something that has surprised you about teaching?

Who you reach and how. Sometimes you know, other times they come back and tell you. Just like when you are a mom and kids later tell you the best memories they have – sometimes it is just little things. It can be something you didn’t think made an impression but it does. My “test” for myself as a teacher – would I be happy if my child or grandchild had me as a teacher?

What are some of the challenges you face while facilitating distance learning?

Distance learning is difficult for all. We try to be sensitive to kids' situations. We try to be aware of the workload and how they are doing. For teachers, every aspect of distance learning takes more time: the state reports that California is requiring, the way we have to take attendance, grading procedures, etc…

It is a new system and can be a challenge to keep up with. You might think teaching from home is easier but it’s the opposite. I would much rather be in the classroom with the kids. My co-workers and I are trying to keep up with the change and stay one step ahead of the kids but we are also learning how to navigate distance learning just as they are.

Everything seems to take so much more time and effort. There is also the issue of substitutes, for us, there isn't really any and it is difficult. In my school district, we cannot require students to have their video on. It is difficult to teach to black screens. Many students turn on the session and are not there.

Another challenge is trying to mix things up a bit in lesson planning. We are limited to whole class zoom meetings so trying to do simulations or games can be very challenging. Engaging the students and making learning fun can be very challenging through distance but we are always trying.

What perspective or knowledge would you like to share with the mothers of distance learners?

Try to make contact with the teacher through email. Let the teacher know if there are situations that they should be aware of. Understand that most teachers really do want to help your child and if we communicate calmly and openly it can help. Let us know if there is something we can help with to make distance learning easier.

Be aware of what is expected and see if your child is meeting that expectation. Let the teacher know if your child is having difficulties. Communication is the best way to navigate distance learning. Remember it is new for everyone and a challenge for all. Be a partner with your teacher in helping your child.
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There you have it, I hope you have found these interviews to be helpful. Ultimately, taking the time to establish a routine and an organizational system that works for you, keeping communication open between you, your child, and their teacher, and taking deep breaths when needed is what is going to get you through distance learning. We are all in this together and you can do it!

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Motherhood is an evolution and a baptism by fire. I am here to help those raging flames turn to mere embers and to help you get the best out of motherhood.

Nashville, TN
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