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This article was written By Kristen N. Hubbard.

Distance Learning Challenges

Distance learning is the new norm. With COVID-19 came school closures and classrooms became mostly virtual. Despite the vaccine rollouts, COVID-19 continues to be a serious issue and as a result, distance learning continues for many. Distance learning comes with its own set of challenges. Distractions, parental stress and lack of motivation just to name a few. Under the current learning system, younger children often need more help from their parents with staying on task. The question is how do parents ensure that distance learning is effective for their children? And how do they stop themselves from losing their minds under the sheer weight of their new responsibilities in the process?  

Going Cold Turkey

A great way of keeping children focused while they work on the computer is an app called Cold Turkey. Cold Turkey doesn’t just allow someone to block certain websites for a set amount of time. The app can block other apps, folders, the entire internet or even the whole computer. That last part might prove counterproductive for virtual learning, but the point stands that Cold Turkey allows for an incredible amount of control regarding computer use. There’s even a feature that allows users to lock the block, meaning that kids won’t be able to finesse their way out of the restriction by uninstalling the app. The pro version is a one time payment of $40, or users can access the basic features for free.    

Clearing Space

Other distractions should be removed from a child’s study area. Gaming consoles should be unplugged and out of sight. Smartphones should be confiscated. Television converter boxes should be disabled. If removing them from their room doesn’t hinder their ability to study, it might be best to place children in a highly visible area where they can be easily monitored and given homework help if they need it. A living room or kitchen could serve this purpose well, provided it’s not full of people making noise, playing and providing further distraction. If a child studies better in their room, they should stay there. 

The Futility of Sitting Still

Parents might also find themselves having to restrict their child’s time in front of a screen for the sake of their health and wellbeing. Washington Post reports that some schools are engaging in distance learning techniques where children are required to dress in school clothes and remain seated with the camera on for the entire school day. Children only get a five minute break between every 45 minute class. In the same Washington Post article, Devorah Heitner PhD, author and specialist on youth relationships with technology, claims that most children cannot sit still for that long. Studies support her claim, such as this peer reviewed study done for the NIH which has proven that children sitting down for long periods of time produces greater lapses in attention. 

Stepping Up and Stepping In

Situations like these might require parents to step in and say enough is enough. A child might need to skip a class or take a longer break, not just to help them focus better, but in order to reduce eye strain and the chance for future nearsightedness. This might seem counterproductive to online learning, but giving kids adequate breaks is essential. Breaks lasting five minutes barely provide enough time to use the bathroom and grab a snack, so it’s certainly not enough to help kids stay focused. This is where recess is essential. According to Harvard Health, recess doesn’t just provide kids with necessary exercise, it supports attention and results in better classroom behavior. Lack of mandatory recess is a problem for this reason and will require parental intervention when school is virtual to address it.  

Reaching Out

Some of the best advice in the Washington Post article comes from Marcos Alcaine. Alaine is a third grade Spanish teacher who emphasizes the importance of parent teacher communication. Teachers are less likely to be able to identify problems children are having via webcam, so it often falls to parents to spot the problem and make teachers aware of it. Having email correspondence with teachers is a great way to help identify and solve problems faced by struggling students.

Distance Learning and Motivation

Motivation is another serious issue with distance learning. Children might not see a point to virtual learning. And who can blame them? Even college students experience lack of motivation when trying to learn online. The lack of social interaction and face to face guidance contributes to that sense of pointlessness. In an interview conducted by Gail Cornwall for Good Housekeeping, professor Ilana Horn of Vanderbilt University suggests extrinsic rewards to keep kids motivated. Extrinsic rewards aid in the acquisition of new skills. Parents should beware however, of basing a household system too much on expectations and extrinsic rewards, because it can come off as controlling. 

Rewarding a Job Well Done

Perhaps a more effective way of motivating children is to reward the process, not the end result. David Yaeger is n associate professor of psychology at University of Texas at Austin. Jaeger claims that it is much more effective to reward the small steps that lead to big successes. Rewarding the habits that make productivity possible leads to children being much more likely to perform those habits and succeed on their own. This method also helps to mitigate the potential for controlling behavior found in the relationships between surveillance, pressure and rewarding the result. 

Parents Need Help Too

So much new stress means it’s more essential than ever that parents make time for themselves. Self care can be hard for busy parents, but even taking half an hour for self care can help minimize the damage caused by too much stress. Good Housekeeping offers some affordable and relatively simple ideas for self care. Many of the ideas potentially take an hour or less, so even parents pressed for time have options. The American Psychological Association has a number of solid ideas for stress control. Keeping physical, reaching out to friends and getting adequate sleep are just a few.

These days, reaching out to friends might mean a phone call, text, or video chat. If people are to meet in person, everyone should wear a mask and stay at least six feet apart. Parents who feel like they need a nap should seize the chance to take one. However, medical professionals warn that adults shouldn’t try for a nap lasting more than thirty minutes. Napping longer than thirty minutes may point to an undiagnosed mental or physical health disorder. Therapy has gone increasingly virtual in response to COVID-19. Psychology Today allows people seeking a therapist to search by area for counselors available for online sessions. 

Distance Learning: In Conclusion

Parents helping their children succeed with online learning will require patience, changes and creative problem solving.  Above all else, parents should not be ashamed to seek help, for their children or for themselves. Seeking help might mean emailing a teacher about a child’s needs.  Help might mean getting a virtual therapy session. One way or another parents should not hesitate to seek relief when things get overwhelming. They will be much better equipped to help their children succeed online when they themselves are calm and focused.  

Hopefully you enjoyed reading this article about Distance Learning.