November 03, 2020 6 min read

Almost everyone is struggling to get comfortable and productive with remote learning. None of us know how to do this. It might seem obvious that we need to be patient with each other. What’s less obvious is that you need to be patient with yourself. If you can, pause and take a deep breath. Look around at all the things you’re holding together. You’re still doing a great job.

→ Routines help to switch between home and school modes.
→ Start with breakfast.
→ Knock out some chores.
→ Preview the day and set goals together
→ A school space creates a refuge for learning.
→ Keep it comfortable
→ Allow them to make the space their own.
→ Patience is your secret weapon.


You’re doing a great job. You might not feel like you’re in the running for parent-of-the-year, but don’t forget that your children are the only ones voting. Maybe you thought helping them learn from home was going to get easier. Maybe you thought you’d get better at it, or that they’d get used to it and need you less. 

Remote learning isn’t something you solve. It’s a new set of challenges every day. Your family shouldn’t have to have to build each day from scratch. Establishing some structured spaces and routines in your home can offer a firm place to stand as you help your children stay healthy and focused on their school work.

Routines Help to Switch between Home and School Modes

There are a lot of ways kids get out of bed in the morning. Some hit the snooze button three times and don’t seem fully conscious until after their shower. Others wake up at full speed, ready to tell you all about their current Minecraft project. As a parent, you know that by the time the “virtual” school bell rings, everyone in the house must be ready to start their day and work independently. 

One of the best ways to support your resident students and coordinate schedules is to establish a morning routine. The cognitive load of making decisions all day long can be exhausting. Ton de Jong, Professor of Behavioral Sciences at the Netherlands’ University of Twente, writes that “cognitive capacity in working memory is limited, so that if a learning task requires too much capacity, learning will be hampered.” In other words, the more decisions and critical thinking we ask our kids to do, the tougher it can be to learn. 

In a pre-pandemic world, most families and schools had established routines in place: the commute to school, switching subjects or changing classes, lunchtime, and extracurricular activities. Students often complained about this regimen, but it allowed students more cognitive space to focus on learning.

How can you get back some of this structure and establish practical, sustainable routines for your kids? Here are some ideas. Think of these as a menu of tactics. Just pick and choose those that might make sense for you and your family: 

    • Start with breakfast. It would be ideal if everyone in the house can eat breakfast together. Eating breakfast together is sort of the domestic equivalent of synchronizing your watches. Sharing a meal can foster healthy communication about everyone’s schedule for the day. This common time is crucial if you need to negotiate time slots to share a laptop or coordinate blocks of quiet time.
    • Knock out some chores. Maybe your kids already managed to walk the dog, clear the breakfast dishes, tidy up their rooms, and brush their teeth. (See? We told you you’re doing a great job!) Moving chores to the morning gets your family moving in ways that are far healthier than sneaking in some screen time or texting. Your kids can start to build some momentum before they even log in to their online classroom. 
    • Preview the day and set goals together. Even though you want your kids to be as independent as possible, it’s still a good idea to check in with them throughout the day. Previewing their school activities allows you to ask much more specific questions like “How did you do on that fractions quiz?” or “What did you learn about President Lincoln today?” Knowing what to expect throughout the day reduces student anxiety and mentally prepares them for more challenging tasks like taking tests or giving presentations.  (Our Stickies ToDo Lists or Stickies Weekly Planner would be a perfect tool for this.)

A School Space Creates a Refuge for Learning

While routines and activities foster a child’s transition into learning mode, so does a shift in their physical space. Ana Homanyoun, author of “Social Media Wellness: Helping Tweens and Teens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World,” explains that “For students doing much of their learning at home this fall, having a designated area separate from other family members can be helpful.” Learning from home means finding a place in your home designated for learning. 

Families live in all sorts of homes with different types of living arrangements. Some children might have learning spaces set up in their own bedrooms. In homes housing more people with less space, children might have to set up shop at the kitchen table or on the living room couch. Regardless, there are still some best practices for helping students avoid distractions and stay productive in those spaces. Again, think of this list a set of ideas that you can draw on, depending on what makes sense for your household. 

    • Keep it comfortable. Laptops and tablets are designed to be more portable than comfortable. The keyboards are cramped, the touchpads are poorly positioned, the speakers are terrible, and the screens are positioned much too low. Here are some simple changes a parent can do to help students stay healthy and avoid fatigue over more extended work periods:
      • Raise the laptop screen. Resting the laptop on a stack of books so that it is at or just below eye-level can make a big difference in avoiding neck, shoulder, and back soreness.
      • Use an external keyboard and mouse. These devices are the two primary points of physical interaction with our computers. A mouse and keyboard can help avoid repetitive motion strain by allowing students to vary their physical positioning throughout the day.
  • Allow them to make the space their own. Sharing a confined space, no matter how big, for extended periods is challenging for anyone. Martin Weller, a Professor of Educational Technology at the Open University, argues for the importance of owning a learning space: “Even if this is temporary each time you use it, place some physical objects around you to customize it. Make it comfortable.” Having to pack up their work area at the end of each day doesn’t preclude a child from having ownership over the space. Here are some tips for building and outfitting a home learning space:
    • Offices don’t need walls. Look around your home for some of the more subtle ways you divide your home into spaces. People often organize furniture to delineate between areas for watching television, eating, and entertaining. Something as simple as moving a table to one side of the room and the couch to the other side of the room can create two different learning spaces for your kids. If the dining room table needs to be two different learning spaces, you could build a wall of books, backpacks, and supplies to separate the areas. 
    • Decorate and outfit the space. Whatever learning area your child carves out for themself, it’s essential to allow them to strike a balance between fun and practicality. They might want to pin up a favorite poster, but a personal 15" x 12" Surface whiteboard might also be helpful. Ask them what they need to improve the space, and help them pick out tools to make the area more useful.

Patience is Your Secret Weapon

It’s no secret that almost everyone is struggling to get comfortable and productive with remote learning. Teachers have had to rethink their whole approach to lesson planning and classroom management. Parents have to make difficult decisions about returning to work while face-to-face attendance is still in flux. And children just want things to return to normal so they can see their friends and get back to extracurricular activities. None of us know how to do this. 

It might seem obvious that we need to be patient with each other. What’s less obvious is that you need to be patient with yourself. When those chores don’t get done, or you find out that a few homework lessons weren’t finished, you probably still find the grace to remember how hard it is for everyone. Just don’t forget that "everyone" includes you. If you can, pause and take a deep breath. Look around at all the things you’re holding together. You’re still doing a great job.

Anthony Franco
Anthony Franco

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