The situation for students and where/how they learn has been a challenge since March. As the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to increase in incidence, the COVID-19 pandemic is a looming force upending the most optimistic scenarios for a stable in-person learning environment.
I have heard from many parents who are feeling stressed with multiple challenges during these times: balancing home learning for their children in addition to job requirements that are in-flux, keeping themselves and their loved ones safe, and trying to find even a small measure of self-care. I don’t have perfect answers to all of these issues. However, as a former educator, current pediatrician, and parent, I can offer tips and tricks for creating a positive at-home learning environment.
Ask any teacher about their classroom, and they will tell you that everything about that environment is purposeful. The way that desks are aligned, the placement of simple versus distracting posters, folder placement, and more are done with a specific goal in mind. Beyond the physical space, the classroom rules or guiding principles are put in place on the first day, hoping that they still hold through the end of the school year. Parents can use similar principles for their child’s home learning environment.
Setting up a home classroom
- Choose a room or space that minimizes distractions. If you have a learning space outside of the home, this can help students adjust from normal home/recreation behavior to learning behavior.
- Create a space with some natural light but with the focus away from natural light. This helps things visible while encouraging learners to focus on the work at hand.
- Ensure that desk and chair afford your child appropriate comfort and posture (knees bent at 90 degrees, elbows bent close to 90 degrees, as much of their body in contact with the chair as possible).
Establishing guiding principles
- I like to suggest using the term “guiding principles” rather than “rules.” Using positive language makes the principles easier to create and follow. For example, the principle of “minimizing distractions” is easier to observe than “no phones/music/television,” which leaves open the possibility for online videos and chats, along with other electronic devices.
- Once you create several guiding principles, have a conversation about what they mean and work with your kids to hash out the details.
- The other aspect of guiding principles is following up with clear and consistent consequences for violating them. This is best done, if possible, in conversation with your student. They will be more willing to follow you in this endeavor if they have a say in how you’re going to get there.
- Clearly display the guiding principles and important information (like breaks times, reminders, and consequences). You and your children can create a poster together and encourage your student to decorate it. If your student is older, they can type it. Even if you think your student might be “too cool for school” (yes, I’m kind of old) to participate, you can still offer them the opportunity.
- Be ready to follow these rules yourself! Your students are always looking to the person leading them for non-verbal cues as to what is appropriate. As much anxiety as it may cause you, having a central location for cell phones (and your pocket does not count), in which all household members put their devices, will help everyone stay focused. Turn your ringer on if you have to, or ask that work calls go through your Zoom account instead of your cell phone.
- Now comes the hardest part: enforcing the guiding principles and adjusting when something is not working. Being present as much as possible to help enforce rules is very important, so if you have a partner at home who can help, consider creating a schedule to give everyone some consistency. And when there are rough patches (and there will be rough patches), having an honest conversation with your student that ensures you have heard his or her feelings about the issue is the best place to start for meaningful progress and more consistent home learning.
I hope these principles help you as you try to navigate uncharted waters with your student. Never forget that you are not alone, and your student’s current or former teachers are always a resource if you have specific learning questions or learning environment questions. Good luck, stay safe, and stay healthy!
About Timothy Jaeger, MD
Welcoming new patients in Erie and Louisville, Colorado. Please call 303.666.2720 for an in-person or telemedicine appointment.
From science teacher to pediatrician, Dr. Timothy Jaeger understands the world of kids and their families. Before choosing medicine as a career, Dr. Jaeger completed a Bachelor of Science in Biology at the University of Notre Dame and Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Colorado, which led to his first teaching job.
Although he enjoyed teaching, Dr. Jaeger felt compelled to serve his community by becoming a physician.
As a pediatrician, Dr. Jaeger enjoys working with entire families. He believes that for a child to be healthy and succeed in life, the efforts, attention, and empathy of an entire family are required. “When I have a family willing to work with me to find the right way to address a child’s health needs, I feel great about what we are doing for that patient and the potential for success,” he explains.
He also believes that his time as a teacher gave him unique experience and insight into the challenges that many kids and their families face.