When the coronavirus cleared out classrooms in the spring of 2020, the shift to online learning was anything but smooth for many schools and households. Even the language used to describe the arrangement was in flux: Some improperly called it home school, a term that already had a specific meaning. Some called it distance learning, which was a bit better. Others called it virtual school, which has a rather pejorative ring, when you think about it. (The learning is still real, after all, though the logistics have changed.)
Today, most of us have settled on the term “remote learning” to describe the educational arrangement for students not returning to physical classrooms in the fall of 2020. Many households are now in the process of finalizing what the remote learning experience is going to look like for their child, from the physical setup to the daily schedule to the hardware and software that can help make remote school as effective and meaningful as possible.
While schools have now had time to plan for remote education and many will keep kids “in class” for almost a full day’s worth of learning, much of the responsibility for making pandemic-era school a success will still fall to caregivers at home. And said caregivers may already spread thin just trying to get their own work done.
Having a school from home space setup and optimized with all the materials your kid will need can help pave the way for learning success and reduced stress, but knowing just what your child needs in said space is easier said than done. According to Swasti Sarna, Insights Manager at Pinterest: “Parents are shopping on Pinterest for the best homeschool set up to keep their kids focused and organized. [We’ve seen] ‘homeschool room ideas’ searches [increase] 34 times, ‘homeschool desk ideas work stations’ 26 times.”
Chances are good you’re going to spend a bit more cash this fall getting your kid ready for school (a JLL study found an almost 9% jump in back-to-school spending for kids doing remote learning this year) and you’re going to need to enlist the help of some technology in new ways to round out your kid’s learning, but with that extra effort now, your child need not lose out on their education during COVID-19.
Here are five things students need for successful remote learning during the ongoing global pandemic.
The Right Setup
Here’s the baseline hardware your kids need for remote learning, less the super basics like pens, pencils, paper, and so on – that part is on you.
VIVO Height Adjustable Workstation
Dr. Lee Scott, chair of the Educational Advisory Board with The Goddard School, recommends “a Vivo workstation [because] it gives children lots of options based on how they like to work.” A height adjustable desk like this can be set to suit kids of varied ages and lets them stand when needed to burn energy and stay focused.
Buy VIVO Height Adjustable Workstation at Amazon, $250
ASUS VivoBook L203MA Laptop
This very affordable laptop is more than suitable for keeping kids connected to their remote classroom as well as for running the basic software kids will need, like Word processing, reading online texts, doing online research, and sending emails.
Buy ASUS VivoBook L203MA Laptop at Amazon, $274
Puro Sound Labs PuroQuiet ANC Headphones for Kids
These headphones can help a kid stay focused on their remote classroom by blocking out background noise, and because they are volume limited to a maximum of 85 decibels, they keep kids’ ears safe from potential damage.
Buy Puro Sound Labs PuroQuiet ANC Headphones for Kids at Amazon, $90
Apps and Software to Support Learning
Teachers are pretty amazing, but they can’t be expected to do it all when teaching via computer screen from miles and miles away. You can add depth and breadth to your child’s learning using a few superlative digital resources that will support them in specific academic areas.
Duolingo offers free courses via its smartphone or tablet app that can help kids learn dozens of languages using an easy interface that slowly builds on itself as their skills grow. The paid version of the app costs less than $100 annually and offers even more features.
Buy Language Learning at Duolingo, $0
Social Studies and History
BrainPOP animated shorts are available for kids of varying ages and cover topics as diverse as the Underground Railroad to Nikola Tesla to Native American history and far beyond. They offer amusing, succinct ways to give kids knowledge on just about every topic you can imagine. (Seriously, I’ve tried to go pretty obscure and hardly ever come up dry.)
Buy Social Studies and History at BrainPOP, $159
Literacy and Literature
From pre-readers to avid readers, Raz-Kids has books for every reading ability level and for just about every interest, too. Some are read to the child aloud, while others are merely e-books to be enjoyed.
Buy Literacy and Literature at Raz-Kids, $115
Using Smartick for just a quarter of an hour a day can do wonders for most students’ math abilities because the online platform meets each student at his or her current math skills level and creates a personalized learning plan.
Buy Mathematics at Smartick, $45
From humble roots to a global force for good Khan Academy has grown into one of the most celebrated online learning platforms, and they now offer content on just about every topic you can imagine.
Buy General Education at Khan Academy Kids, $0
Hardware to Support Learning
There will be plenty of times when your kid is not being actively engaged by a teacher when you don’t have the freedom to step in. At those times, having a few interactive kits or devices on hand can help.
Art – Guide Dots
These kits come with a great selection of art materials, and when used with their linked online resources, they teach kids how to create art in a step-by-step manner, with less and less support offered as a child’s artistic abilities grow. It’s a second-best option to in-person art instruction.
Buy Art – Guide Dots at Cratejoy, $25
Early Education Basics: Aila Sit & Play
– $199 from Amazon
This interactive device is ideal for toddlers and preschoolers missing out on the instruction they’d be getting in class, as it covers all the basics you’d expect, like colors, letters, basic phonics, numbers, and so on.
Buy Early Education Basics: Aila Sit & Play at Amazon, $199
English: Yoto Player
This screen-free device is perfect for kids at varied levels of literacy because it can read aloud content as simple as word basics or as complex as, say, the entire novel Peter Pan. When a teacher or parent is not available to read to the student, Yoto is.
Buy English: Yoto Player at Amazon, $100
Exercise and Play Equipment
According to childhood play expert Chris Byrne: “Most kids can only focus for about 5 minutes per year of calendar age before they need a break. That means that a 5-year-old can focus for about 25 minutes, etc. Breaks need to allow kids to get up and move around, to move those gross motor muscles and release stress, and even create endorphins.” While you might not have a track, playground, or soccer field to which the kid can retreat for an exercise break, you can still get them up and moving indoors.
Flybar Pogo Jumper
This wildly popular jumping toy is safe for kids of many ages and for indoor use, and it will have kids bouncing around and burning energy even if you have limited free space.
Buy Flybar Pogo Jumper at Amazon, $17
Gym1 Deluxe Indoor Playground
Got at least one standard doorway in your home? Then you can create a veritable indoor playground with this kit, complete with a swing, hanging rings, a rope ladder, and more.
Buy Gym1 Deluxe Indoor Playground at Amazon, $180
KidsL Balance Stepping Stones
Create any number of obstacle courses with these sturdy, colorful “stones” that can be used for building strength and balance and for good ol’ fun.
Buy KidsL Balance Stepping Stones at Amazon, $56
Orgmar Rock Climbing Holds Set
For kids in their elementary years, and indoor climbing wall is a great way to promote both gross and fine motor development and to challenge them physically and even mentally, depending on how you arrange the wall.
Buy Orgmar Rock Climbing Holds Set at Amazon, $39
The Right Mindset
“Don’t be overly focused on outcomes,” says Chris Byrne. “This is hard for everyone. And it’s new for everyone. Kids are going to have complex emotions; that’s natural. Kids will be sad. They are not becoming clinically depressed; they’re just sad, which is natural. For parents it’s about listening.
Be gentle on kids and yourself. These are crazy times, like none we’ve ever known before. Remember, the time is crazy; you’re not.”
By communicating clearly with kids, staying patient and loving even when things are hard, and understanding what they are going through, you can help your child develop the kind of mental and emotional fortitude to keep on keeping on with this strange new normal until the real normal returns.
And one more thing: check in on your kid’s online activity from time to time. Elena Mauer, consumer safety editor at SecurityNerd.com, says: “Monitoring children’s online behavior should be a daily task. Don’t worry about being a helicopter parent – set restrictions and enable parental controls to limit what kids can access. Look at internet history, app usage, and know what programs and apps school is requiring.”
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