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Getting Started with Distance Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Ideas to help your family transition to learning from home

A few days ago my seven-year-old son was working diligently on writing a letter to a friend in Spanish while my five-year-old daughter quietly decorated a card to send to her grandparents.  “Phew, we’re doing great,” I thought, until… my one-year-old spilled our entire container of craft beads ALL OVER the floor.  They spread from the kitchen floor to the dining room and the living room.  The next day she wiped peanut butter all over the kitchen stools.  Today it was Vaseline all over her hands and pajamas…

Does anyone else feel like this week lasted for months??  If you had asked me a few weeks ago if I thought I’d be homeschooling my three kids soon – without leaving the house, I would have thought you were crazy!  But our new reality is that my first grader, preschooler, and toddler are all home full time with me for the foreseeable future.  I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been more thankful for my teaching background and the surplus of books, activities, ideas, and resources I have collected!  I’ve started to plan and implement learning activities each day for my kids – and it hasn’t been easy.  And while I’ve only been homeschooling one very long week, I’ve learned so much as a MOM – while being a full-time teacher, then part-time teacher, and now full-time parent.

So, I’m sharing with you today some key ideas and tips for parents who, like me, are trying their best to navigate staying at home full time with their children.  I hope even one or two of these ideas will be a gem for your family and help you all transition well into this new era.  Start slow, try one idea for a few days, then try another.  I’d love to hear from you and how things are going for your family.  Please follow along with me and my crazy bilingual parenting journey on Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram.

Enjoy your children

You might be surprised that this is my first key idea.  But before you think about a schedule and choosing the right learning activities, stop and take a breath.  While it might not seem like a gift right now (I’m still thinking about the peanut butter), you have your precious kids at home with you.

Try to have fun together as a family doing things you love.  Puzzles, books, board and card games, movie night, dance party, making dinner together, building something… what do you and your kids like to do?  Start with that and connect as a family.  Learning can take place in so many ways, and playing and connecting as a family is a great place to start.  Make some enjoyable memories together during this time when we’re all feeling anxious and uncertain.

Here are 50 ideas to get you started!

Make time for self-care (for all of you!)

It’s taken me a while to re-establish a self-care plan after having my third child.  Sometimes self-care can go out the window when you have a baby!  It is so important to carve out intentional time for what fills you up so that you can fill up your children.  For me, it’s taking a quiet, hot bath, reading, and having a cup of coffee and devotional time in the morning.  It’s exercising at least 3 days a week and trying to eat right.

I think now is a better time than ever to reflect on what you need to take care of yourself.  Self-care is critical and increases your physical health, mental health and well being, and decreases stress.  It can give you a better ability to perform tasks and reach goals, and a better ability to care for those who rely on you.  Learn more about self-care here. My advice to you is to think about what activities fill up your cup with joy and peace and schedule one or two into your day.  Next, think about (or talk with) your spouse and your kids to schedule in some self-care for them, too.

If you’d like some more help getting started with this one, check out this resource: Building a Self-Care Plan – A Toolkit.

Establish family rules

Teachers know this key idea well.  The first week of school in any classroom is setting up common expectations, rules, or agreements.  We establish a culture of respect and a positive learning environment in the classroom.  We use positive actions like “use indoor voices”, not negative actions like “do not yell.”  I’m reading a wonderful parenting book by Dr. Laura Markham right now – Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life.  Yes, perfect timing!!  By the way, I also highly recommend her book “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids.”  In her sibling book, she recommends making family rules.  Family rules or agreements help kids (and parents) know expectations for how to treat each other.  They help us establish our family’s core values – like kindness or gratitude.

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My kids and I created our own family rules together a few months ago (grab the cute chalk/white board I have here) and I can’t tell you how helpful they’ve already been when I’m trying to calm down a fight or solve a problem.  “Remember in our family that we are always kind.  Are you listening to your sister?”  The kids drew the little pictures next to the rules and we have been talking about them often.  I’ve been more grateful than ever that we have them to refer to this week, and I hope that setting some guidelines will help your family, too!

Make a family chore chart

Let’s be honest, having everyone home together every day is going to take a toll on your home.  We have family chores in our house, and I’ve been adding on chores for the older two kids this week.  Again, you’re a family and this is a new reality for all of you.  Prioritize working together to get things done.  The back of our white board for family rules has a chalk board where we wrote our chore chart with chalk markers.

Just make a list for who does what to have a handy reminder for how each family member helps.  If you haven’t done this before, try to add one new chore at a time, and don’t forget to teach your child how to do it.  My seven-year-old empties the dishwasher in our house, and it took me a while to correctly set the expectations for how to do it safely and carefully (e.g. Mommy does the knives, he stacks up breakable bowls and plates on the counter for me to put in upper cabinets, etc.), and we practiced together many times.

Here are some ideas for appropriate chores by age.  We also have this chore chart that might be helpful for younger kids.

Get organized

Your kids are learning from home now, so get out materials that you’ll need and make sure they’re easy to access for the kids.  This will be especially helpful for all of you trying to continue working from home so you can (hopefully) limit interruptions and distractions!  You’ll want to be able to say, “Go write a story about ____ that we can read together after this conference call” and have your child able to independently find writing paper, coloring materials, and anything else he’ll need.

For example, I brought up the 10 drawer cart from our play room to our dining room this week, and added some cute labels I made for organizing school materials.  I also use a lower kitchen cabinet to hold storage bins of our art and craft supplies where my kids can easily grab what they need.  We do keep some things (extra construction paper, paints, etc.) in a closet where I can grab them or switch them out as needed.

Make an individual work basket for each of your children.  Like a desk, it can hold your child’s individual work or activities.  Put in some easy things your child could easily grab to get working.  In my first grader’s basket, I put his first grade activity workbooks that we had at home (thanks to my retired-teacher mom for these ones!), a writing notebook (this handwriting line one), and his math workbook his teacher sent home from school a while ago.  He’s also been putting projects he’s still working on in there.

In my preschooler’s basket, I put her preschool/kindergarten workbooks (like this one), a handwriting notebook, and some other work pages we had like my son’s old kindergarten math book and Spanish work pages.  She also has a handwriting alphabet chart and a Spanish vowel poster chart I made.  While these aren’t lessons by any means, they’re easy-to-access materials for learning.

Make an individual reading basket (use a bin like mine, shoebox, or whatever you have) for each of your children.  My one-year-old doesn’t have one yet, but she could!  She just looks at any and all books in our home.  But my five- and seven-year-old have their own reading bins, and we fill them with “just-right” books that they can read.  You could email your child’s teacher to find out his/her reading level and use it to print off or find books online for that level.  Or, just gather up books from your home that might fit (think easy reader books, phonics books, leveled books). 

Here’s a basic tip: with my elementary kiddos we read the Goldilocks story at the beginning of the year.  I’d teach the kids to use the Goldilocks strategy to see if a book was “just-right” for them: read a few pages, and if you’re slowly stumbling through, it’s probably “too hard.”  If you read every word correctly it might be “too easy.”  If there were a few words you had to solve, it could be “just right.”

Please print off my FREE reading strategy chart here for pre-k through second grade.  I also have other bilingual resources in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

key-tips-for-starting-distance-learning-during-the-covid-19-pandemic

Make a schedule

When I started staying at home as a full-time mom, I learned very quickly that structure in my day was key.  Even without throwing in trying to homeschool my kids, structure in our summer days or days home for school closures is especially important.  We’re together at home often!  When my kids were little, it was scheduling in puzzle time, snack, stories, or building time.  It was time for a craft or art project, make-believe play, and a routine for meals and naptime.  Now we’re scheduling in math, reading, and writing activities.  A schedule will help add some structure to your day and help to keep all of you sane.

After browsing a variety of homeschool schedules online and not finding just what I wanted, I decided to create my own.  Please grab it below and edit it as you wish!  I made one that has times and activities, and one that has a column for each of my kids.  If I learned anything this week, it’s that even though I have a small class size (compared to my teaching days!), they are all at very different stages – and that’s hard.  I think a plan for each of them will help.  That way, I can read with my oldest while the middle one does BookFlix, and the little one builds with blocks.

Editable Schedule – One column

Editable Schedule – Multiple columns

Choose learning activities

So what are your kids doing during their math or art or reading time in your schedule?  This is the key.  My tip here is to find meaningful and engaging learning activities for your kids to do for each content area.  My kids’ teachers have worked very hard this school year with them, and I don’t want them to lose all of their learning.  So I’m looking for learning ideas that are appropriate for their age/grade.  I’m looking for activities that are fun and engaging and get them thinking.  I’m very grateful for – and taking full advantage of – virtual learning opportunities.

I’m sticking to our daily language plan: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are Spanish days in our home, and Tuesdays and Thursdays are English days.  It can be very challenging to sort through distance learning materials.  Here are some things we did this week:

Spanish Learning Ideas (including bilingual K-2 activity choice boards!) for parents at home – whether you speak Spanish or not

Quality Choice Boards for first through fifth graders (thanks to Dana Pederson for posting)

Distance Learning Ideas from our school district

Incorporate family prayer time

Last but not least, I encourage you to carve out a time when you and your family pray together.  This is a trying time, and I know I’m struggling to keep up with the daily COVID-19 updates and keep my household sane.  My kids are always listening and know probably more than they should about what’s going on – people sick, hurting, dying, losing their jobs, worrying about so many things like food and bills.

It’s not much, but we added a daily prayer before our normal dinner prayer in the evening.  We’ve been praying for our families, friends, teachers, and people all over the world who are sick and need hope.  Because we know the joy and hope that only God can give us.  We can rely on Him, give Him our worries, and trust in Him.

Prayer is such a powerful tool that we have and it is my prayer that these trying times increase and strengthen our faith in the One who loves and cares about us more deeply than we could ever imagine.  My church shared this initiative – 21 Days Together – (direct website here) and it might be a good resource for your family.  It was started to offer encouragement, hope, prayer, and action in this time of crisis.  We also have moved to virtual church services so that we can still worship together, even from our homes.

You can do this!  If nothing else, I hope this post gives you encouragement.  I definitely do not have it all together, but I’m taking one step at a time, one day at a time – and I hope you will, too.  Let’s all give each other grace, and support and encourage one another to get through this trying time.  Take care and stay safe and healthy!  Please follow me on social media (links at top and bottom of page), and feel free to reach out.  bilingualbalance@gmail.com

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