The sudden switch to distance learning this past spring caught parents by surprise, and while teachers and school administrators have had the summer to formulate a plan for the fall, there are still big unknowns on how the new school year will go. CCSD and charter schools are going virtual full time while some private schools are going ahead with in-person education, which means the majority of schoolchildren in the Valley will be learning from home at least for the first quarter.
To make the transition to distance learning as smooth as possible, Commonsense.org recommends a routine that’s age-appropriate. Younger kids need more structure, so a detailed visual schedule that they can follow will help them gain a sense of independence. For older kids, a calendar, planner, chalkboard or digital organizer can help them keep track of their schedule.
CCSD and many charters are opting for relatively synchronous daily schedules, in which students attend live classes—for at least part of each day—with lunch and other breaks built in. Marina Nicola, mom to boys in third, eighth and 12th grades, is planning on following a regular school schedule in her household.
“They need to have a schedule,” she says. “They need to know they still need to get up at a certain time. They need to be sitting at that laptop at a certain time, and they should know that they’ll be done by a certain time. I think that makes all the difference in the world.”
If possible, carving out a space in the home dedicated for online learning will also signal to students that school is separate from home or play. The absence of distraction is key, so TVs should be off; non-learning phone, tablet and computer apps shouldn’t be active, and kids should have a place where they can spread out their school work while they attend classes. For households with multiple children, headphones are essential.
Another thing to consider is how children are sitting. According to Dr. Michael Weinberger, a chiropractic physician at Henderson’s NuSpine Chiropractic, the chair should allow the feet to rest comfortably and flat on the floor with the legs bent at the hip and knees as close to a 90-degree angle as possible. It should have a back support to allow assists for a “sit up straight” body position, as well as a cushion for the seat. The work surface should be of a height that allows the computer screen to be at eye level, so the child’s neck can be in as neutral a position as possible.
“We are hearing from parents [that] they are already worried about their children sitting down in front of a screen for hours per day … or worse, that their kids already have ‘tech neck’ from the previous semester when distance learning originally began, which only became exacerbated with summer vacation,” Weinberger says. “The isolation and lack of social interaction leads to extended periods of inactivity, which is certainly a road map toward injury. When it comes to taking a break from the desk, we suggest a 10-minute break following every 50-minute class, when possible. Stretching the legs, back, neck and arms, as well as general bodyweight-type calisthenics daily, will greatly reduce risk.”
Finally, an open line of communication with teachers is essential for distance learning success, says Chanse Alexandra Pryor, a UNLV graduate student running an academic support group for students across the Valley. “Ask for updates about how your kid is doing, and communicate with your child as well,” she says. “I think during this time, communication is a really big thing that we are all trying to figure out how to navigate.”