E-Learning for Children: A Plan for Families and Caregivers Part II

E-Learning for Children: A Plan for Families and Caregivers Part II

By Dr. Bahareh Sahebi and Dr. Mudita Rastogi

Back-to-school has never ever been quite like it will be in Fall 2020! We are all adapting, sometimes scrambling, and often uncertain as to how this widespread but necessary educational innovation will play out. Let alone two shifts, many parents feel they will now be juggling three shifts, including employment, family, and educational responsibilities. Many caregivers are concerned about the impact of learning for their children/students because, understandably, many caregivers do not feel equipped to step into a role of educator. It is also imperative to keep in mind that this stress impacts families unequally; in fact, vast inequities exist. Many families, despite their best intentions, simply do not have the resources to be on an equal footing with their more privileged counterparts, when overseeing their children’s education. Access to electronic devices, a safe environment in which to learn, and appropriate adult engagement are sadly not guaranteed to children in every household. This can have a far-reaching impact on the quality and experience of e-learning for children. Also, past patterns show that it is likely that school responsibilities will be handled by many families in gendered ways, leading to an unequal burden placed on women.

Part I of this series focused on providing families with practical tips and strategies on effective ways to implement a safe and successful distance learning plan as children prepare for a quite different semester. This article will empower adults to do the best they can, address typical caregivers’ concerns with managing remote learning while balancing other demands of daily life and provide suggestions on how to advocate for the children in their care.    

Background

It is important to keep in mind that distance learning plans that were hurriedly put in place due to the COVID-19 crisis (in Spring 2020) will be different this Fall. Educators are somewhat better prepared, and expect to cover academic material more stringently, as well as evaluate students in accordance with non—COVID standards. There is also an expectation that families will now be better prepared to enable their students to learn effectively, albeit remotely.

Prior to the start of the academic year, we recommend that caregivers connect with their schools via remote means and ask for a plan to assist them with the social and academic tasks at hand. This is especially key if parents feel that their child is at a disadvantage for reasons beyond their control, such as inadequate internet access. We recognize that some of these concerns are systemic, and will address strategies to handle these issues below

Suggestions on handling larger, systemic challenges:

  • If caregivers are concerned that their children have fallen behind in their learning during the Spring term, it is critical to ask the school for help early. Some deficits may have resulted from remote learning during a crisis and can be overcome because there is a sense of “we are all in this together” this Fall. In other cases, it is possible that the child’s learning needs were not met in Spring. Be an energetic advocate for your student. Let the school know that your child needs extra attention in the form of an assessment or more intensive help. These concerns should be addressed early to assist the child to catch up.
  • Caregivers should attempt to connect with one teacher/aide and recruit them as a mentor for weekly check-ins for consultation. If your child’s school does not have enough resources to provide you with an assigned mentor, reach out to a local high school, college or university and ask if their students can offer a mentorship program for either you or your children. Many of these students around the country are not able to complete their student teaching and/or volunteer requirements this year due to the current pandemic. Serving as a mentor to children or their caregivers may form a mutually helpful initiative.
  • Join hands with other parents in your neighborhood or via social media to ask for resources from your school district, elected representatives, or non-profits. Since the advent of COVID-19, some schools have made tablets available to all students who need one. Other schools have provided meals that can be picked up through a contactless system. Still other communities have organized back-to-school supply drives.

Suggestions for handling daily learning challenges:

  • Caregivers should try to remain mindful of both their own energy levels and patience with the children. For example, it is possible that students may not execute a task as quickly as their caregivers would like.
  • Additionally, notice how often you interrupt your child with defensiveness, advice giving and/or explanations. Resolve to do better.
  • Minimize directives, commands and communication that tells children what to do and remain mindful that such actions may increase the likelihood of resistance. Instead, ask questions and remain curious as their helpful guide. Rather than informing the child that they are right or wrong in their response, invite the child to explore deeper, and guide them to the correct response.
  • When your child acts out, pay attention to your own beliefs on what is behind the behavior. Observe patterns in what happens before, during and after those unwanted behaviors.
  • Reward positive behaviors. Stay away from punishment. As much as possible, practice the consistency you would like to see the child develop, and offer encouragement and periods of reflection.
  • Do not expect perfection and reward the child’s efforts while helping them plan for success.
  • Model the behavior you would like to see in them. For example, if you do not read for pleasure on a regular basis, do not expect your child to take on reading as a favorite new hobby.

Suggestions for caregiver self-care:

  • Navigating the responsibilities and boundaries of the dual roles of “teacher/aide” and “parent” is not an easy task. Caregivers need help too! This means clearly stating expectations for each member of the household, including sharing chores, and routines. Regular family meetings, as explained in Part I of this series, can be a forum in which to discuss everyone’s needs.
  • The caregivers’ work schedule will play a huge role in how families navigate remote learning. If you are an essential worker, ask other family members for help. Alternately, swap child/school-care with another neighbor.
  • Employees working from home should consider informing HR and their manager of their children’s school responsibilities and ask for flex time, or other creative accommodations.
  • Many employer organizations have Employee Assistance Programs that can help caregivers find resources, such as a babysitting service, or a medical specialist.
  • Caregivers should plan for their own downtime. This may be done, for example, by relaxing cleaning and meal standards, asking extended family for help, and creating a support system through which to vent, laugh or distract yourself.
  • Families should plan for fun! School cannot be all about goals and grades. Find times to laugh with your kids. Join them during recess or just sneak in to give them a hug between classes!
  • If caregivers notice that they are burnt out or have trouble coping, they should contact a licensed psychotherapist or their physician for additional resources.

Caregivers must also remember that keeping themselves accountable to their family, work and daily goals will ultimately help their child(ren) succeed. It will be necessary to be flexible, change routines as needed, but also be consistent. These efforts are in line with the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) model discussed in Part I of the article that was previously published here. This approach to learning, whether remote or in-person, allows caregivers to provide a continuum of care, while reevaluating and adapting routines in the face of life-changing events.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has certainly created uniquely challenging times for many families and households around town and around the globe. With patience, planning and consistency, caregivers will be able to provide the best possible learning opportunities for their students. Whether the issues are small annoyances or deep-rooted systemic inequities, reaching out to their community, peers and specialists will allow families to cope confidently with this extraordinary start to the academic year.  

About the Authors:

Dr. Bahareh Sahebi

  • Core Faculty and Clinical Supervisor in the Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Northwestern University
  • Adjunct Teaching Instructor for Child and Adolescent Development in SESP Teacher Education Program at Northwestern University
  • Doctor of Psychology and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist currently practicing at The Family Institute
  • Co-founder and consultant of ParentLENS.com
  • To learn more: https://www.family-institute.org/therapists-locations/staff/bahareh-sahebi

Dr. Mudita Rastogi

  • Clinical Professor and the incoming Program Director for the Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Northwestern University
  • Dually certified Executive Coach and a Career Development Coach
  • Practicing Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
  • Co-founder and consultant of ParentLENS.com
  • To learn more: https://www.aspire-ct.com/about-me

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