As North Carolina and the nation work to combat the spread of the coronavirus (COIVD-19), education is moving online and into the home. The NC State College of Education is offering support through that process with resources for parents, educators, leaders and community colleges as they transition to remote learning. The college has put together a collection of resources and stories about the work they are doing. Access the College of Education’s educational resources and tips for online learning during COVID-19. The page will be updated as new content is developed.
For many K-12 students in North Carolina’s greater Triangle area, online instruction began this week. Students and parents alike find new challenges and opportunities in this unprecedented educational environment. We’ve asked NC State faculty and staff who are also parents navigating these waters to provide their feedback and tips for managing K-12 online learning at home.
Nate DeGraff, Director of Marketing and Communications, College of Sciences
I’m actually planning on doing this Science House activity with our five-year-old. The Science House is coming out with new activities every week, and there’s a newsletter that parents can sign up for — here’s the web version. And here’s the signup link.
Erin Lempp, Assistant to the Vice Provost for Assessment and Accreditation
I have two girls (sixth and eighth grade). Both are naturally driven to learn, which I am very thankful for. Setting aside time mid-morning to complete their lessons/assignments has worked so far. The girls are utilizing Google Classroom to keep in touch with their teachers and retrieve that day’s assignments. My 6th grader has found Khan Academy on YouTube to be very helpful when additional help is needed.
Angela Smith, Teaching Associate Professor, Department of Educational Leadership, Policy, and Human Development
- Connect with teachers, administrators, and counselors: You do not have to experience online learning alone. Your child/children’s teachers and administrators will often set the pace and provide you with the logistics and plan for what you need in order for your child to begin adjusting to online learning. Identify what resources you have and need. For example, do you need a laptop, hot spot, log-in information, passwords, and other vital information for joining the online environment? Teachers can provide additional information, resources, and support as your student adjusts to this new learning environment. Counselors can offer suggestions and support for providing accommodations and access for all students. If your child is struggling or the initial plan is not working, do not hesitate to reach out to teachers and counselors for support along the way. Teachers, counselors, administrators, staff, and others at the school can help to identify resources at the school and in the local community. We are in this together!
- Set reasonable expectations: Currently, multiple roles are colliding within family, school, and work and blended in a way that can feel overwhelming. We cannot and should not try to do everything at once and to perfection. This is a challenging time for everyone in the family as routines are changing and shifting with little notice. Being gentle with ourselves and recognizing so much of our world has changed and is different. Our old schedules and routines may not be as effective as they once were pre-pandemic. Giving ourselves and others grace at this time can go a long way. Even though you have access to online learning at all times, this does not mean your students should be spending all their time online. One of the advantages of online learning is that there is a self-paced nature built-in to the structure. Therefore, if your child is feeling frustrated with a problem or content, it is encouraged to walk away, take a break, and come back later.
- You know your child best: As a parent or guardian you know your child/children’s preferences, personality, needs, and space in which they thrive better than anyone. You know their strengths and the environment in which they learn best. For example, is your child an early riser or does your child prefer independent learning or a more hands-on approach? As you think about your family schedule, incorporating activities that lend to your child’s strengths and preferences can be helpful. For example, if your child enjoys the outdoors, perhaps scheduling a time to work on a task outside or even move their workspace outdoors, weather-permitting, for a specific timeframe can provide an alternate space. Depending on the age of your child or children, they may have specific needs and requirements from their school and/or teachers. Assessing the amount of time, parental direction, structure, and attention needed to dedicate to school work is important to consider as you make plans and schedules each day or week. As part of this equation, reflecting on your own bandwidth as a parent or guardian as you create this schedule is vital as well.
- Environment and personal space: Identifying a space in your home or perhaps even an alternate outdoor space (i.e. porch, deck, yard, driveway) is helpful for students to engage in online learning. Also, creating a space, similar to the school setting, where students may have their own space or desk, can help students to develop a routine as they recognize this is a space where their learning will take place each day. Like in school, designing a space for your child that is organized, inviting, and free from distractions can be useful. Limiting distractions can be challenging, especially when everyone is at home at the same time. If there are multiple people in the family who are all on “live” virtual sessions, it may be useful to use headphones or find a space that can limit distractions and noise. As we consider the space, think about what your student needs to be an effective online learner. Teachers may even suggest specific items for students to have on hand as they learn online. For example, for my second grader, his teacher shared that for one of the online activities, he would need to be able to access Seesaw (app), Google Classroom, and also have a pencil and paper nearby to complete the work.
- Pace yourself and take breaks as needed: A vast amount of information is shared with parents and students from teachers and administrators. Think about ways that will work for you to organize and make sense of all the information you are receiving. Some parents may prefer to create a Google doc, spreadsheet, or list of information received, while other parents may prefer to print out materials, color-code binders, or other creative ways to organize all the information. Remember to pace yourself and if your child is struggling in any way, reach out to your teachers for advice and support. Everyone is learning, including teachers, in this new environment and it may be helpful for your teacher to know that the pace or amount of work is not manageable, etc. Other students may be experiencing the same issues or perhaps the teacher can share specific suggestions for accommodations for students. Keep in mind to take breaks as necessary and reflect on how you are feeling. Think about how you connect as a family throughout the day. Can you set the timer and have a family “brain break” or snack time together? Pace yourself and don’t try to do everything at once. Also, consider the present moment and what parts of the situation are in your control in this moment.
- Time and schedule: Every family looks different and possesses varied needs. Developing a schedule or family plan that aligns with your family values is essential. As you develop a plan, we can think about our schedules in a different way. A school day pre-pandemic may have started between 7-9am and ended at 2-4pm. The restrictions of the typical school day do not have to become a barrier to learning in an online environment. All learning does not have to occur during this timeframe. For example, some parents will be working while supporting students in the online teaching environment. Work activities and tasks may occur during the 8-5pm work day, trying to remain flexible and adjust our times for helping children with online learning at varying times may be needed. For all involved, let’s not forget fun activities, recess, and time for playing too! Parents, students, and all of us need it!
- Plan and practice: Once you have heard from your teacher(s) about the schedule, plan, technology, etc., create a plan of when and how your child will complete the work for the day. This could take the form of a weekly meeting to discuss the schedule on a Sunday evening or a nightly plan to create a schedule for the next day. It depends on your family and preferences. For example, on Sunday evening before the school week begins, take inventory of what you have and what you need for the week, recognizing that your family may need to make adjustments based on how everyone is feeling. The mental health of you and your child should take precedence over the school work to be completed. In my household, we plug in all laptops before bed each night to ensure all devices are charged for the next day. Additionally, we have used sticky notes and taped login and password information to each child’s laptop; this way each child can access the classroom sites if we are in meetings during the day so they can easily locate the information. Additionally, older siblings can help out and, hopefully, this will limit frustration of locating important information to access online learning modules and platforms. Before the week begins, practice a test run of the technology in the space your child plans to work. Testing the technology to ensure students can log on to the systems and test if the connection is viable and stable with WiFi or other networking connections in the location where the student(s) will be working will be beneficial for later.
- Food, rest, health, and self-care: Adjusting to a new schedule, changing demands, shifting requirements, and much more can be exhausting. Scheduling times for meals, snacks, and breaks is paramount. In our school and work days, we are not working 24/7. We take breaks, grab a snack, connect with family and friends, take a walk, stretch, etc. This can be a time to develop new healthy habits as well. For example, taking a family walk together after dinner, trying out a creative snack or meal, or adding a grateful jar to share who and what each member of the family is grateful for each day. In my own family, my daughter used a mason jar and practiced her cursive writing and wrote “grateful jar for our family” on a piece of paper, then attached it to the outside of the jar. She wrote directions for us to “think of one thing we are grateful for today and fold the paper and place it in the jar”. Then, she cut up small pieces of paper and placed a pen and the paper beside the jar for us each to write a word or sentence as we walked past the jar that is in the kitchen. She reads the submissions each evening and it has become a fun family tradition.
- Physical distancing does not = emotional distancing: With the stay-at-home orders issued by the government, it can feel isolating for children and parents to not be able to be in the same physical location with their friends, classmates, and teachers. For younger children, creating spaces to connect with classmates and friends throughout the week can be a way to check-in and remain connected. With the help of parents, younger kids can meet virtually with their friends through technology like Zoom, Google Meet, Messenger for kids, and other similar platforms. My daughter’s fourth grade classroom had a fun Friday where the teachers offered an optional virtual “dance party” where students connected and danced together, teachers included.
- Check-in: A daily check-in with kids and family members can be an opportunity to take the pulse of how things are going in order to adjust or readjust accordingly. We are all learning together in this unusual space and time. Change can be difficult and checking with kids to better understand how they are feeling, what is working, what is not working for them in terms of their online learning experience is essential. For many of us, we are developing skills in the moment. It can take patience, kindness, and practice.
Courtney Thornton, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Personnel and Policy
I’m watching two young teenagers successfully navigate remote learning (so far) on their own terms. We set up desk spaces for each of them and made sure they could access the tools they needed. After that, they each naturally gravitated towards certain preferred strategies and approaches. One is an early riser who starts his day around the normal time, only he’s wearing pajamas, with his Zoom camera off, and keeps no lists or master calendars. The other starts her day around noon, after full hair and make-up preparations are complete, with her weekly master calendar prominently displayed at her desk. So far, it’s working. One thing they are both still adjusting to is being comfortable communicating with their teachers in writing. I’ve found that my role has been simply to encourage them to do so and to remind them that the teachers want to help and that writing to them may be the most efficient way to get the answers they need to keep moving.
Braska Williams, Coordinator, North Carolina Mathematics and Science Education Network Pre-College Program
Suggestions for parents by age category:
- College-aged child
- Provide a quiet space for them to work.
- Treat them as though they are still away in college — i.e. don’t expect them to babysit younger siblings, run errands for you, etc. They are still in college and have more work than they previously had due to the online nature of their classes now.
- High school child
- Provide a quiet space for them to work.
- We have a graduating senior — provide comfort and support them. They are missing out on a lot of senior activities such as prom, graduation ceremony, awards ceremony, etc.
- Reach out to their teachers if you have any questions or concerns.
- If your child is taking AP classes, the AP exam will be given online for the first time. So, our child is preparing for her AP exams in early May.
- Balance between school work, work, and family fun time — we’ve had lots of game nights with board games and card games. We’ve also had some family walks through the neighborhood, meals together, movies on TV, etc. We’ve really enjoyed our time together as a family.
- Exercise daily — it’s not healthy to sit in front of the computer for hours. I personally go walking in the afternoons for three to four miles; sometimes, my wife goes with me. Sometimes, my college-aged daughter goes with me. My high school senior is such a slacker when it comes to exercise (smile); we’re trying to work on her to exercise more with us.
- Structured time — Because our children are very disciplined and take their academics seriously on their own, we don’t have to worry about this, but it may be good to schedule some set time for their school work. I know with my high school senior; her Zoom meetings with her teachers vary day by day.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from other family friends and educators!! We are all going through this for the first time. Be humble and willing to ask for help. No one knows that you need help unless you ask!
If you have any additional advice for helping K-12 students and their parents engage in online learning, please share! You can send your advice to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add to this article.