Distance Learning Survival Guide

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I’m just going to say it now and get it over with, 2020 is not our year.  Like really, nobody’s year. Que the Friends theme song… clap, clap, clap, clap!  If this is your year, then you must be some other species because it really seems like 2020 is out to do us all in! From a pandemic to Carol Baskin to two of the oldest men in history running for President… what in the actual hell is happening???

And while we’re at it… Moms… you’re not ok, are you? Sure, some of us were born for this! Those select few who are both introverts and patient enough to be legit homeschoolers have been training for this moment for years. The rest of us are hanging on by a thread!  

Our district kicked off the new school year last month, but we started at 100% virtual learning. At the three week mark, parents could opt to return to in-person with the ability to come back then, or wait until the 9 weeks grading periods.  If you went back, then you could opt to return to virtual at any time, and if your school/grade/class/child is exposed to COVID, then also be ready to return to virtual for a period of 2 weeks at a moment’s notice. Holy Hell!

Either way, since our poor teachers are teaching both virtual and in-person kids, all assignments are remaining on that damn Canvas app for the foreseeable future, so they’re logging in virtually at school all day anyway.

So, today I thought I’d share with you some of our favorite, must-have items for Distance Learning so you can prep your home, if you haven’t already! Bonus, that most of these will continue to be used for homework or other activities anyway! I did not purchase anything for the sole purpose of virtual learning.

Work Stations

I’ve seen several families who have had great success setting their kids up at a dining table so mom can watch them. In our house, that’s not possible. Matt is working from home too, so he has turned my dining nook into his office. Literally, the week I bought a brand new, beautiful, custom made dining table, Matt received his work from home notice. Ugh!

Regardless, with the two of us on Zoom calls all day, the kids needed to be able to go to their own space and close a door. Luckily, Landry’s bed has an attached desk. Problem solved for him! Luke’s room is Lego central, so we needed to create a station for him that could serve multi-purposes: a desk for school and a Lego station when he’s playing!

I decided to use a folding table that has adjustable heights and then put storage drawers under it. No… he doesn’t have room for his legs (whoops) but all of his Legos are (in theory) neatly organized now, and ready to play with when he’s not virtually learning.

Luke’s Table

Luke’s table is a simple, cheap folding table. Are there more attractive options? Sure! But this one did the trick! For both desks, I added a few simple, plastic storage drawers. Like I said, below Luke’s for the Legos. Then on top of each, I used some mini drawers for supplies like crayons, pencils, etc.

For seating, we let them both go back and forth between basic computer chairs and a yoga ball. Landry is ADHD so the flexibility helps him immensely, and Luke is still just a wiggly little kid! Eventually, they both preferred the yoga ball to chair so we had to buy a second one!

Must-Have Educational Aids

We weren’t too far into the Spring before we realized that we were going to need to supplement a few things at home that may have been available in the classroom, or that may just make the kids’ lives a little bit easier! One of the first things we realized we needed was a stand for the iPad! Luke was starting to complain that his neck hurt from looking down at the screen all day. Our district issues the iPads for elementary kids and Chrome Books for middle grades. Doing all of our work on an iPad was proving to be painful in more ways than one!

Tablet Stand

We opted for this pillow-tablet stand since Luke likes to rotate from desk to floor to bed to couch! This was softer and easier for him to carry around. He has loved it and it’s held up surprisingly well!

The next must-have for both kids were stylus pens! With so many assignments coming out on Google Slides or Canvas where they could “write” their answers on a worksheet, we needed to replace their fingers for the assignments and STAT!

For Luke, I also realized in the spring that we were going to have to bring in some of their elementary classroom manipulatives or learning aids. He is such a visual, hands-on learner, so I went to Amazon and picked up a few things like number blocks, pretend money, and art supplies. They definitely helped him understand his lessons much easier than simply viewing them on a screen!

Landry’s supplies were a little more tech-heavy for middle school. We purchased him a nicer pair of headphones (Luke needed some as well but we got him some you could rough up) with a mic to not only listen and participate in his lessons on his chrome book but also to plug into his phone to listen to music. Landry likes to have music on in the background when he’s just working so we purchased him a wireless speaker to play in his room. Finally, with so many things to charge, we invested in a nicer surge protector that had usb outlets!

PE Done Right!

Virtual PE and Athletics were really fun to attempt! LOL! It actually was nice to get the kids outside to break up the monotony of the day, so I wanted to be sure we were equipped with everything that they needed!

Inside PE
The Peleton was great for rainy days or when we had 15 free minutes and lots of energy to burn!

Yes, Luke was eating a snack on my Peleton! Multi-tasking at its finest! That was only used when it was raining or when we had a few minutes and lots of energy to burn! Outside, we made sure the kids had great equipment that would not only work for whatever the workout circuit was that received from gym that day but also for the sports they compete in! We had the basis like balls, skates, scooters, but then we purchased things like a workout ladder, targets to aim at, cones to run back and forth between, and, of course, a coach’s whistle (mostly so I could annoy them, haha)!

Agility Pack

This agility pack was the perfect solution to outside PE! We got the latter and cones together in one order. Both kids can use it for hockey and football drills as well. Additionally, we had Landry add MapMyRun to his phone so he could run for Cross County and track his mileage.

Bonus Tips…

What else have we learned so far in virtual school??? Well, the biggest lifesaver for me was to set timers on both kids’ devices. If I’m on a work call, I can’t very well stop and get them situated in math, so I needed to teach them right away to be self-sufficient. I put Landry’s school bell schedule into his phone so he is alerted when each class period starts and ends. Luke’s I added both to his iPad as well as printed out a copy to tape right up next to his table. Was it perfect? Nope! Luke missed a couple of classes without me right on top of him, but we survived as best as we could.

Communicate openly and NICELY with your teachers. They’re in uncharted territory right now and are crazy stressed out. Connecting with students virtually is a struggle, so they need to know what you’re seeing at home. But please know, its not their fault. I’ve seen so many teachers in tears because of screaming parents and that just hurts my heart. Help them understand what your child needs while giving a tremendous amount of grace.

Take it old-school when you need to! Sometimes, I just cannot explain to them how to do math or write in cursive on a tablet or laptop. I’m not wired that way. Bust out the old pen and paper and have them write it out. Several times I had my kids write out the answer to their worksheets and then either re-enter them onto the Google Slides after or simply take a picture of their writing and turn that in! There are thousands of free printables out there for pages to practice on, and one of my favorite websites for worksheet printables is teacherspayteachers.com where you can find pages designed by teachers to use at home. I’ve found worksheets on books we are reading, tons of math resources, and more, and most things are under $5 to download.

Be your child’s advocate. Landry is on a 504 plan for his ADHD and I have learned over the years that consistent communication is key to his success and my sanity. While we are trying to teach him to self-advocate, he’s only 12 so Mama needs to step in sometimes! We just recently had a meeting to completely revamp his modifications for this new way of learning. But sometimes its more simple than that. Some days you’re just tapped out and cannot fight the fight to keep them engaged online. Guess what? That’s ok! Just tell the teacher you’re tagging out for the day and will catch up tomorrow. They’ll get it.

UNPLUG! Much to my children’s dismay, after a long day of learning online, we have said NO to video games! They kind of hate us for it, but it is so important to gives to eyes and minds a break from the screens. If they’re spent, they can veg in their rooms with some music and a book, they can help us prepare dinner, play a board game, or get outside! There’s plenty to do, your Madden team can wait. As much as they gripe, their moods are 1000x better if they do not play video games after being online all day.

Plug into their mental state. These past 6 months have been hard on all of us but sometimes we don’t realize the load it has put on our kids. They went from normal to completely disconnected from friends and school (for many their safe places) overnight and stayed that way for months on end. If they interact with anyone, many times its virtually, and we all know how well that can go. This past week, an 8th grader that lives in our community tragically took his own life and his family has cited his mental health during the COVID crisis. It has weight so heavily on my mama’s heart since then. Taking the time to really draw out those conversations in our kids, not taking 2 to three-word responses as an acceptable answer, is SO IMPORTANT! Let them know it’s ok to not be ok and that we will fix it together. We may not fix it today or tomorrow but eventually, we can find a solution.

Have you found any other products are great tips that have gotten you through virtual learning? Let me know in the comments!

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