Late morning last Monday found me frantically changing from a faded Portland “Wild and Free” T-shirt into a flowered blouse and solid cardigan, rewashing my face and applying coverup and mascara, and thanking the hair gods that my morning workout hadn’t rendered me unable to wear my freshly cut and colored hair down. I was being interviewed for the local news following my response to a reporter’s Facebook post asking parents how they were making remote learning work. The Tagalongs had been doing in-person since mid-September, but the memory of the month we spent in remote learning was still fresh in our minds.
Remote learning was also in our near future, as we learned just six days after the news piece aired that we may have been exposed to COVID. That evening was a whirlwind of calling friends and family we’d seen since the exposure, arranging for a COVID test for five people, and emailing the Tagalongs’ teacher to learn how they’d participate in school remotely for five days. The next day, we jumped right back into the routine we’d observed in August and September.
Following our first day of remote learning back in August, I shared our top six takeaways on Instagram. I drew on them for much of what I shared in the news piece, with a few additions gleaned between then and when the Tagalongs walked into their classroom 30ish days later. Many schools have or are returning to remote learning as winter comes and COVID numbers rise. I thought I’d share what worked for us—both initially and during our brief return to remote learning—in the hopes it makes someone’s own transition easier.
1. Have as many devices as you have kids.*
One laptop held us over for the first day, but we purchased additional laptops that evening and put every other device lying around the house to use until they arrived. The Tagalongs were all up in each other’s space, which made concentrating and communicating challenging. And when we switched schools two weeks into the schoolyear, they needed to complete work separately. Individual devices were essential to making this work.
2. Give each child their own space.*
It broke my heart so separate the Tagalongs’ desks: they’d spent the summer constructing memories (and making a mess) over their T-shaped megadesk. But the separation enhanced concentration, made it easier for us to provide 1:1 help, and allowed them to work in a way that fit their individual learning style.
* I realize not every family will be able to provide individual devices or space. But do it as much as you’re able.
3. Do as much of the legwork ahead of time.
This includes conducting all setup and trial runs prior to the day of so you’re not scrambling to create accounts or figuring out how to log into class when your kids should be singing “Welcome to School Today” with the rest of their classmates. And have all necessary materials and supplies on-hand. Doing so helps the kids move seamlessly between activities and prevents you from interrupting your own important work to grab a box of crayons or find a reading workbook
4. Post the schedule and login information in a highly visible space.
I’m all for saving trees, but this simple act will save your sanity. This also includes posting work schedules. Every week, Chris and I wrote our meetings on a whiteboard so we could coordinate who was on point with the Tagalongs when.
5. Take off work while you adjust to the new routine.
If you’re able to do this, I can’t recommend this enough. I took off several days when the Tagalongs started remote learning in August so we could learn expectations, make necessary adjustments, and settle into a good rhythm. I was better able to focus on getting the Tagalongs set up and going without a competing inbox and deadlines.
6. Involve both partners.
Yes, one partner’s job might allow them to do the lion’s share of remote learning, but that doesn’t mean the other partner can wipe their hands clean of the experience. What happens when the on-point partner is unable to reschedule work, needs to leave for an appointment, or becomes sick? To prepare for these situations, make sure both partners know how to log into the devices and navigate through the learning management system. They can figure out the rest from there.
7. Communicate and coordinate with your employer.
When we learned the Tagalongs would participate in remote learning, Chris and I immediately communicated with our superiors, learned performance expectations, and coordinated work with our teams. There were days when we had to block time for the kids’ schooling on our calendars, communicate that our responses would be delayed, and revisit our workloads. These were uncomfortable actions for my Type A, people-pleasing personality, but they were necessary to navigating both remote learning and full-time work in publishing.
8. Build in breaks.
We’re normally pretty strict about screen time, but allowing the Tagalongs to watch lunch TV and play on their tablets after QT provided normalcy in a day filled with change. When they got antsy during asynchronous work, we took a break to have a short indoor recess and read a chapter from our current reading selection. Moving and engaging in activities they love helped turn attitudes around, and I squeaked 10 more minutes of work out of them. Speaking of work, having Chris and me work past their end of day has actually worked out; it’s given them time to decompress from a day of learning before jumping into homework.
9. Expect the unexpected.
Based on my previous stay-at-home experience and our summer learning, I fully expected James to struggle with staying focused and completing assignments in a timely manner. Instead, I found myself talking Caleb and Danae through simple instructions and encouraging them to stay focused while James raced ahead. Because of the expectations I had in my head, it took a few days to adjust my approach—and attitude.
10. Give everyone grace.
Be kind. Be kind to your partner, your kids, the school and teachers, your coworkers, the dog, the Amazon delivery person … Nobody wants to be doing remote learning, and everyone is struggling to navigate it, some with full-time work thrown in. Your kids will act out, your partner will lash out, and your stress level will rise while your patience level lowers. When you find that happening, take a few minutes with the person who’s struggling; sometimes, all they need is for someone to acknowledge how hard the situation is for them. And don’t be afraid to do a hard reset. There were a few nights where we powered down all the laptops, said to hell with homework, and ate takeout on the family room floor while we watched TV or played a game. A little grace can go a long way.
How did / is your remote learning experience going? What’s working for you? What’s not working for you?