Advice for parents for students struggling with virtual learning

Updated: Sep. 16, 2020 at 10:34 AM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Virtual learning is the new normal and for some families it’s been stressful, but experts say there are things you can do to try and make it as stress free as possible.

The picture of Arizona kindergartner Graham McDowell has taken over the internet. Laptop open, him lying across the kitchen chair - his first taste of kindergarten through a computer screen.

“Couple days into the school year before the kids built up their Zoom stamina,” said Kara McDowell, mom, “I come back and he’s draped dramatically over the chair. He wasn’t crying. He wasn’t asleep. He was just bored. I laughed and had to snap a picture.”

Kara McDowell snapped the picture of her son dealing with the challenges of starting school online. She says it’s been a tough transition for the family. She’s balancing work as an author, her husband is an essential worker, and they have three young children - two in elementary school. McDowell says the reason the picture has taken off on social media is because families across the country can relate.

“I think everyone in the country could relate to the picture,” said McDowell, “of being overwhelmed and over it.”

All the districts in our area are offering virtual learning for students in kindergarten through 12th because of COVID-19 and experts say as parents there are things you can do to manage the day, especially for younger learners.

Rachel Ashcraft is an occupational therapist at Child’s Play Therapy Center in Birmingham. She suggests working to meet four categories that would help make the virtual learning experience as smooth as possible.

1. Your child’s basic needs should be met first. Ashcraft suggests giving your child food and water ever two hours. Kids also need mental breaks.

“Our kids need movement breaks every 2 hours. And this is true regardless of age," said Ashcraft.

2. Your child needs predictability.

“We don’t have it right now, but we can build it,” said Ashcraft, “Write out a schedule for the day. We’re going to do these 3 worksheets and then we’ll take a break. Then we’ll do our math and then we can take a break. So, our kids know what to expect for the day.”

3. Have an individualized plan for your family. Ashcraft suggests working closely with your school leaders. If you’re noticing your child is really struggling, reach out to district leaders to see if there are accommodations that can be made. This also means working with your child to determine what’s the best way the learn. Do they prefer to work in a quiet room? Do they need soft music in the background?

4. Work to keep family relationships safe. Experts remind families to not let the frustrations that COVID has brought impact the relationships that families have as they work through virtual learning.

“Your child is going to remember this year and remember their relationship with you this year more than any math worksheet,” said Ashcraft.

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