Back to School Part 1: 6 online education tips for parents

Ben FreelandTech Tips

Families across Alberta and around the world are currently grappling with the strangest, most disorienting back-to-school month they’ve ever known.

Less than a week into the new school year had gone by before the first reports of COVID-19 were reported in Alberta schools, and already nearly 100 Grade 10 students from one Edmonton high school have been instructed to self-isolate following an outbreak.

Meanwhile, here and elsewhere more parents than ever are opting to keep their children at home and pursue distance learning options.

For parents everywhere, the spring of 2020 was a time of trial and error that was stressful to all involved, as parents scrambled to turn homes into makeshift schools. For most, half a year of COVID living has meant a thorough education in how to navigate much of life, including children’s learning, remotely.

That said, there is much parents (and youngsters themselves) can do better ensure a successful, productive, and stress-free school year from the comfort of their own homes.

Designate and set up a learning zone

Human brains need different spaces for different types of activities, and a designated “classroom” in your house will go a long way in supporting your child’s learning. If space is an issue, designate a specific corner of a room as a “school zone”—preferably somewhere in close proximity to an Ethernet outlet.

How you design this will depend on how old your children are, and on how many young pupils you have. If you have two or more children working together in a small space, you might want to consider putting up dividers between them. You will also want to think about your choice of chairs—spinning chairs may be a source of distraction, whereas a beanbag chair may make for the perfect cozy reading area.

Large (27-inch) computer monitors are enormously beneficial to children studying online, as they make it much easier to mimic actual one-on-one conversation with teachers and fellow students. Fortunately, such monitors have come down considerably in price in recent times.

Check your WiFi strength and minimize the number of devices logged onto your network.

It’s no secret that Zoom and other video conferencing tools are bandwidth hogs, and this coupled with video streaming and other requirements of virtual curriculum can quickly overtax your home WiFi.

In order to ensure minimal disruptions to your child’s learning, it is highly advisable to place your learning area close enough to your modem for your child’s computer to be plugged into an Ethernet cable. If this isn’t possible, make sure you reset your modem and router regularly and that you periodically test your Internet speed and signal strength.

Wherever possible, keep the number of devices logged onto your WiFi network to a minimum while your child is studying—particularly during face-to-face sessions with their teacher.

Keep to a schedule

Regular school days provide your child with a regimented schedule. For your child to be successful learning from home, it is vital that you facilitate the same sort of structure, including break times and other screen-free time.

Helping your child keep to a schedule, and communicating said schedules to all family members, will also help you manage your own at-home work life so that you’re (hopefully) not competing with your child for bandwidth during crucial student-teacher meetings.

Strike a balance between independence and involvement

With your child at home, there will always be the temptation to be over-involved in their educational life. While a certain level of supervision depending on the age and distractibility of the child in question is merited, it is best to treat their school day as you would a normal away-from-home school day as much as possible.

That said, there’s no escaping the fact that a digital at-home learning space is rife with potential distraction. Even here, though, there are ways of curbing distraction without actually eyeballing their screens. Consider a centralized system like Norton Family Parental Control to monitor your child’s Internet use and restrict their access to educationally appropriate websites.

Also, wherever reasonable, be transparent with your child about your reasoning for implementing such controls. As for in-person supervision, incorporate scheduled check-ins as part of your child’s school schedule, and think about possible rewards for staying on task.

Try to avoid digital overload

While virtual learning has its advantages, an obvious downside is the amount of screen time being added to the lives of children who were already getting far too much screen time. Again, scheduling can help ensure your child gets sufficient time away from screens, both during and outside “school” hours, as can centralized control systems like Norton Family Parental Control and Circle Home Plus.

Go back to school yourself

If you REALLY want to motivate your child to apply themselves to their studies while at home, you might consider practicing what you preach and taking an online course yourself. Hitting the books yourself will not only enable you to model good study habits to your child, but also give you something to talk about with them over the dinner table. “So, what did you learn at school today, dad?”

Getting back into student mode while your child is studying from home will also give you an opportunity to test-drive the home study environment you’ve designed for yourself. If you find it’s not optimal for you, chances are it’s not optimal for your child either.

If you’re in Edmonton, you might want to peruse the open studies options at MacEwan University, the University of Alberta, or NAIT. For shorter, lower pressure course options, there is LinkedIn Learning with its 16,000-plus online courses on topics ranging from leadership and management to coding and software design.

Learning is infectious, and the present mass movement towards distance learning prompted by COVID-19, for school-aged children and adult learners alike, offers a unique opportunity to model learning as a lifelong value. Why not make it a team sport?