Preparing for a Virtual School Year in 3 Easy Steps

— Written By Christa Gibson
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The news that Durham Public Schools (DPS)- and many others- will be starting the school year virtually, left many of us relieved, many of us stressed- and most of us a confusing mixture of both! Never fear, we’ve gathered expert tips on how to prepare yourself and your children for the virtual learning ahead. Breathe and remember- you ARE a SUPER PARENT!

Back 2 School chalkboard

Step One: Process Emotions

Process your emotions about the new school year being virtual.

Our wonderful colleague, Kim Allen, at North Carolina Cooperative Extension, recently conducted an interview with HuffPost in which she provided great advice for parents faced with a virtual school year. She started by advising parents to process how we are feeling about the new school year- and how we felt about the virtual learning that happened last spring.

Let your children process their emotions about virtual learning.

Once you’ve processed your own emotions and are feeling a little calmer and positive, have a conversation with your children about the virtual school year that is ahead. Ask them how they are feeling and what they think the positives and negatives about remote learning will be. Make a list together of how to improve upon those items that they aren’t looking forward to. For example, you might allow your child to get together outside in a safe way with a friend once a week so that he/she/they have some social time. Or you might create a reward system for every week of virtual learning completed successfully.

Step Two: Make a Family Plan

Doodle of education related objects with words Learn Education and Study written

Take time to reflect on last semester.

After you’ve finished processing everyone’s emotions, turn to your intellect. Think about last spring and consider what worked and what didn’t work for your family. Try to learn from past mistakes. Dr. Allen recommends focusing on identifying one or two things that went well and thinking about how you can build from those successes. Make a list with your child about what helped them last semester, and what would support them in doing work from home this semester, then implement those ideas together.

Take advantage of whatever tools and resources your school and school district are offering.

Most schools and school districts will be holding events to give parents information about what is ahead. Take advantage of these! Ask your children’s teachers what digital platforms and tools they will be using, and  watch videos that help you understand how to use these new virtual tools, like Canvas. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has a page of resources and videos on most of the major learning platforms. 

Plan for what you can.

At the same time that we have to take many of the challenges of this time day-by-day, experts say that having a plan can be good for our mental health. Get your child involved in planning for the virtual academic year so that he/she/they feel bought in. Consider using a learning contract and creating a daily schedule like these examples from Part of that plan should also include how you are going to check in on your child each day and each week. How will you communicate about school assignments are due? How frequently will you check in with your child’s teacher(s)? Also make sure you include time each day for your child to move around in that plan. Talk to your children about how they would like to incorporate exercise and play into their day.

Try to make a space for learning.

Just like we recommend in PFAST, kids need their own spaces for learning. This will be especially important as we go into a full 9-weeks of virtual learning. Part of your planning is setting up a good learning space. Try to find a clean, well-lit, quiet space where your child can do his/her/their work each day.

Gather the necessary school supplies for your children.

 With the school year going viral, these supplies may be different than usual. Ask your child’s teacher what they will need and keep it all together in the above mentioned learning space. A  few items you’ll definitely need are:
  • A computer: DPS and many other schools are providing Chromebooks for each student. It will be distributed by your school, so reach out to them if you haven’t heard about when to pick them up.
  • Internet access: DPS and many other schools will be providing Hot Spots to families who need help with maintaining Internet at home. Ask your child’s school about this.
  • Headphones: If you have several kids learning at home and not a lot of space, you might want to consider getting each of them a set of headphones so they can listen to their classes and participate in Zoom discussions without distracting your other children.

Step Three: Maintain Communication & Emotional Support

Colorful tree in shape of heart

Communicate with your child’s teachers.

Just because classes will be virtual, doesn’t mean that you can’t reach out to your child’s teacher to check on how your youngster is doing – it’s actually even more important than ever that you develop good communication with your student’s teachers to support your child’s virtual learning. Make sure you are aware of how your child’s teacher(s) plan to communicate with you. Have them share your student’s course calendar and any upcoming tests and projects, especially the ones that require advanced preparation.

Maintain a separation of school, homework, and fun time.

If you are working from home, you know the importance of separating work and home space. Kids who sit in the same spot all day for school may need some variety as they transition from ‘school time’ to ‘homework time’ and then to reading or other recreational activities. Take some time with your student(s) to create a list of fun, relaxing activities you can do once they are done with their school work each day (maybe even away from the screens!!) so that they can have some time to relax, have fun, and have something to look forward to. Activities that you can do as a family are always great – even 15 minutes together can make a big difference – think of it as quality versus quantity!

Don’t forget to give yourself some slack.

We all know that virtual learning isn’t going to be perfect, but it is the best option we have right now. You and your child will get through it. And remember, this nine weeks is going to be so much better than when the schools shut down suddenly in the spring. You’ve learned a lot, and the schools have had more time to plan and prepare.