• Yvette E. McDonald, LCSW

How to Successfully Learn from Home


Tips, strategies & techniques for students learning from home (aka distance learners)



Struggles of Distance Learning

Strategies and Techniques for Successful Distance Learning

Accommodations

Parent Coaching Tips

Work & teaching balance



Struggles of Distance Learning


The struggle is real for both parents and learners alike different struggles but still struggles, nonetheless. This new normal that was neither expected, planned for or invited is wiping some out as they navigate through the everyday stresses carrying both their emotions and that of their children. The daily goal has become "lets just get through the day". More of a victim mentality. Parents are questioning their sanity, their parenting skills and their abilities all surrounding this new way of being. It could be the transition that is difficult, the process itself or just people getting exasperated with all the changes and new and even different ways of doing things. Whatever the case the transition to learning from home can be tough as the entire family adjusts to going from a structured school environment to a home environment. Then if it weren’t difficult with all of that add onto that students that are 2e exceptional in that they have both giftedness and learning disabilities. The adjustment for both them and their family come with additional unanticipated challenges. But, what if this experience can be more than survival but a thriving experience. One in which skills are learned and bonds are strengthened. I both know personally and professionally that the struggle is draining and overwhelming but I also know that with a deliberate mindset it will enable you as the parent to think creatively and transition your home from chaos and frustration to that of peace and fun helping you’re at home learners adjust.

Common Feelings/Struggles felt:

Children:

Stressed

Exasperation

Anxiety

School refusal

Procrastination

Behavioral Issues

Emotional Responses (tantrum’s, negativity, attitude, meltdowns)

Defeated

Hopeless/Helpless

Parents:

Stressed

Yelling

Swearing

Irritable

Reactive

Defeated

Helpless

Greater sense of despair and hopelessness

As you can see from the list above you are in a shared traumatic experience.In that you guys are feeling a lot of the same things.Learning from home or participating in distance learning will take intentionality to be successful. You will need to consider the following to achieve that success:



Strategies and Techniques for Successful Distance Learning


Structure create the best environment for their learning.

Create a schedule which includes all the details from when school starts and ends. What we are doing when. When is lunch time. If a parent is working at home incorporate that into the schedule. Brainstorm 2 possible schedules, plan A & B on the off chance there is a technology problem and any other stressor that enters the day. Have kids participate in creating the schedule. Use visual cues such as electronic and non electronic organization systems (white board, list, online planner.) Have a snack bin on hand. Quick power filled snacks that can be just the boost needed. Blue glasses are a great addition to the all day in front of the screen learner enabling them to protect their eyes, improve sleep and reduce eye fatigue. Create incentive linking between the have to’s and the want to’s. Preparation is key as you go through your days as at level perhaps either different or new.


Transition Time.

Develop systems for switching between tasks. Breaks can take on different forms. Some examples include: brain breaks, snack breaks, stretching breaks, scree free time and screen fun time. Use timers to keep track of time and also place everyone into time.


Accountability.

Reach out and connect with a parent, teacher or grandparent who they can share successes with and helps them stay on track with their tasks.

Manage flooding.

Emotional Flooding: a state of being. It occurs when a person feels deeply threatened or feels like there is no escape. A feeling of overwhelm. Your heart rate increases to over 100 beats per minute. The result of emotional flooding is negative interactions. It effects your conversation, interaction, thinking, ability to access humor, ability to listen, process, effectively deal with the situation/scenario/problem or behavior(s). This all boils down to nothing productive occurring as one's ability to effectively and efficiently handle the conflict is derailed. Researcher Dr. Dan Siegel calls this expense "flipping your lid," as you lose access to all your creative abilities and executive functions which are located in your frontal cerebral cortex, the "lid" of your brain. You lose your sense of humor, perspective, wisdom, reasoning, emotional regulation, memory, problem-solving abilities, and find yourself walking in circles repeating yourself over and over again. Read more about emotional flooding.

Why Do We Loose Control of Our Emotions (Kids Want to Know, 2017)



Connection.

Help them create creative ways to connect with others despite the challenges in learning from home in the midst of a pandemic. Plan for safe socializing with peers via online or in-person.

Environment for success/Working Space: create the best environment for learning.

Create an environment that helps to deal with distractions and improves focus. Personalize their space in order that it is comfortable and functional. If they are online make sure there is good lighting in the room or buy a light that will provide that. Create a space that is noise free or have them wear noise cancellation headphones. Perhaps even a white noise machine would work in order to create an environment for success.

Self-Advocacy & know your rights: how to ask questions.

Help you at home learner develop a plan on what to do when they don't understand what they are learning. Also, make sure that they are having one to one contact each week with their teacher. Children who self-advocate have a better understanding of both their rights and their responsibilities with regards learning. Guide them through self-advocacy so that they can feel more confident and learn to communicate their needs. Your child is going to need help creating their remote learning plan. Connect with the school and gather any information that you can regarding the process and expectations for distance learning. What is the process if your child has a hard time with a particular subject, what happens if my child has a hard time submitting their school work electronically and so forth.


Self-Care.

Healthy habits: healthy eating, sleeping, exercise, unstructured free time, reading, creative play and gratitude journal. No matter the age of the individual self-care is important as it’s the manner in which we fuel up in order to take on the demands of the day. Without proper self care we will inevitably burn out.

Weekly family meeting.

These meeting are to discuss what’s working, what isn’t working, what tweaks need to be made and so forth. It’s a safe space to share, learn and grow as a family unit. Be sure to include their ideas. Learn more about how to set up a successful family meeting.


Define the weakest executive skills and put in place accommodations.

Executive skills as defined by Peg Dawson, are “Executive skills refer to the cognitive processes required to plan and organize activities, including task initiation and follow through, working memory, sustained attention, performance monitoring, inhibition of impulses, and goal-directed persistence. Located primarily in the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain just behind the forehead), these are skills that begin to develop in some form soon after birth, but neuroscientists are now realizing that it takes about 25 years for these skills to fully mature. And for kids with attention disorders, these skills tend to develop even more slowly.” Take a quiz to see what your child’s strength’s and weaknesses are at https://www.kandmcenter.com/executive-functioning-quiz.


Teach or review learning habits.

Parents are often surprised that their child has not been taught or does not know basic learning habits. Assess your child learning habits such as note taking, staying organized, managing expectations, and test taking skills.

Encourage a growth mindset.

Help your learners understand the importance of a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Students with a fixed mindset may believe that their basic qualities such as intelligence and talents are fixed traits that cannot be changed. Where as a growth mindset means believing that intelligence can be developed or “grown” over time. It is the belief that you can achieve your goals through extra effort, persistence, grit, and learning from mistakes. It other words, you can get better over time when you really work at them. Here are two videos to help unpack the concept: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiiEeMN7vbQ.


Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset (Sprouts, 2016)


Accommodations

All at distance learners are being thrusted into an environment that they never expected or prepared for. They are having to complete new skills never practiced or even taught for that matter. Below is a list on accommodations for different learners which are often have ADHD, Anxiety, sensory processing, and learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia.

  1. Typing programs or classes: these help them to get familiar with typing in order to submit work or participate in the online conversation. There are numerous programs out there that are no cost or a low monthly cost. Find what works best for your learner, time and budget. This would naturally have to be something that they do afterschool and on weekends so find a fun program that will keep them engaged while learning a new skill.

  2. Computer 101: do a tutorial class with them individually and independently of their class to teach them the in’s and outs of doing things online via zoom or goggle classroom. Walk them through it. Create a cheat sheet for common functions such as copy and paste. Help them navigate the internet and finding information for their projects. Show them how to attach documents and pictures.

  3. Parental Controls: Your creative learners are going on the internet way more than they have in the past and they have yet to develop the impulse control to stay off of and away from things that they should not be on when using the computer. Not to mention at school those computers are pretty much locked down from unnecessary internet searching and games a temptation they didn’t have to worry about within the structured school environment.

  4. Dictation. Your learner can be struggling with input of information or out of information. Help them find work around’s in order that they don’t fall behind within the zoom meeting.

  5. Fidget Bin. A bin of discrete items to fidget with Fidgeting is our body's way of releasing restless energy. So a fidget bin with fidget toys are self-regulation tools to help with focus, attention, calming, and active listening. There are many different types of fidget toys, ranging from squeezable stress balls to bendable sticks to malleable putty. Check out this box out on Amazon that has an assortment of fidget toys.

  6. Note-taking: As mentioned above the art of note-taking is a lost art that is rarely taught. Make sure that your child knows how to take effective notes and in addition supply them with the tools necessary to be effective note takers.

  7. Accommodations that change the way information is presented. Amanda Morin at www.understood.com recommends the following: using audio recordings instead of reading text, format pages with fewer items per page or line, work with text in a larger print size, have a designated reader, or hear instructions spoken aloud, record a lesson instead of student taking notes, get class notes from teacher or another student, get written instructions, see an outline of a lesson, use visual presentations of verbal material such as word webs, minimize auditory and visual stimulation.

  8. Accommodations that change the way students complete assignments. Amanda Morin at www.understood.com recommends the following: give responses in a preferred form spoken or written, use a calculator or a table of math facts, use manipulatives to learn and practice math skills, and use graphic organizers and sentence starters to help structure and generate writing ideas.

  9. Accommodations that can help with scheduling, timing and organization. Amanda Morin at www.understood.com recommends the following: you sensory tools, like an exercise band that can be looped around the chairs legs, small group learning, take more time to complete a task or a test, have extra time to process spoken information and directions, take frequent breaks, take a test over several days or complete the section in a different order, use an alarm to help with time management, and mark text with a highlighter.

The key to success in the above strategies and accommodations is practice, practice, and more practice. Role-playing the desired behavior is one of the most effective techniques that help a learner learn and acquire a new skill. Create scenarios that they can practice with you together.


Parent Coaching Tips

Lastly, I want to sit for a minute with all the parents. The brave ones wanting to provide the best learning experience for their at home learners but feelings a little out of their league. Need I remind you again that this is hard. I have been homeschooling myself for 11 years and my secret to success has been time, patience, mercy and grace. I choose to homeschool my boys and it still wiped me out in the beginning years. I had a support system in the form of a group that I met with weekly, I read blogs of other mom’s schooling at home, attended workshops and read books. All luxuries you don’t have, didn’t know existed or don’t have the time to look into. No worries as we sit together let me see if I can impart some wisdom that will enable you to travel lighter during this unexpected, unplanned for season of life.

Parent tips:

  1. Separate what your experiencing from what your kids are experiencing. Talk with friends away from the kids. Try to build a support system to help you blow off steam, gain perspective and have some laughs.

  2. Name, acknowledge and empathize. Validate their experiences and your experiences. Name it to tame it. In that you need to name your feelings to tame them. Sit with your feelings and offload them. Journaling is an excellent tool for getting those feelings out in order that you can start taping into your creative side. Perhaps even finding a therapist that you can walk with during this heavy season.

  3. Identify what worked during the spring and summer and repeat. What success have you had that can be built on?

  4. Become a student: a little knowledge can go a long way. Get the information from the school and do some minor google research to find best practices and sanity savers. Homeschooling parents have been doing this for centuries and their collective wisdom may benefit you greatly during this season.

  5. Stay Calm: Flooding will have all the important parts of your brain falling asleep for this ever important task. Managing our flooding will be crucial.

  6. Process, analyze and plan: get organized with your day and the demands in which you must complete to be successful. You may during this season need to rethink and/or redo some of your systems. For example you may take up that meal planning you thought about 3 years ago. Systems like that help to organize the load and make space for the new normal.

  7. Get comfortable in the uncomfortable. Most of everything during this time is going to be uncharted territory. You will be required to stretch and work out of your comfort zone at times. You got this but you will need to practice good coping and positive self-talk.

  8. Celebrate your successes. No matter the size celebrate your wins for that moment or day. You are doing a lot even if it's that you didn't yell at your little one or teenager for an hour, celebrate that.

  9. Practice Gratitude. The act of gratitude is an essential brain function that benefits your mental health. It will keep you grounded and allow your mind to transition from seeing things as I have to, to I get to. Side tip it also helps ward off depression.

  10. Play. Have some fun both by yourself and with your family. Fun is more powerful than you realize and it allows your mind to destress.

  11. Create realistic expectations. Take into account your season of life and the limitations it presents.

  12. Practice Self-Care. Self-care is the gas to your car. If you don’t stop to fill up you will eventually run out of steam becoming more irritable and short with the one’s you love. Read more about how self-care isn't selfish.

  13. Resilience and flexibility. You need to allow for an adjustment period. This period is going to look different for each individual family and learner.

  14. Active listening & reflective listening. Create times to talk and share. Unpacking concerns. Kids often talk at night, in the car or on a walk. Use these times to invest and talk.

  15. Emotion detective: Listen to the emotion behind the behavior. Creating the habit of seeing emotions as indicators enables you to see your child’s emotion as an indicator perhaps to a bigger issue, stressor or sadness. Learn more about emotion coaching.

  16. Parent tools: Self-control (managing flooding), compassion, collaboration (family meetings), consistency, celebration.

  17. Use screen time to meet your own needs. This allows you to take a break. Get work done. Attend a meeting.

  18. Practice Self-compassion. A best friend shows compassion, understanding, empathy, and patience just to name a few. Be that best friend to yourself. Encourage yourself as you also have mercy and give grace to yourself within this new chapter of life.

Stop Chasing Self-esteem & Just Be Self -Compassionate with Kristin Neff (Happy and Well, 2018)


Work & Teaching Balance


Reminder: You are in a impossible position. Covid parenting right now is different than homeschooling and working for various reasons. One big reason being that a homeschooling parent choose it and took into the account the demands of both hats and made the necessary adjustments. They also have support groups, homeschool mentors, and so forth to guide and support the journey. Covid parents were not afforded the same things. They were thrown in with little to no resources. Because of this there are higher level’s of burn out and despair.

Tricks to help you move from survive to thrive:

  • Set clear boundaries regarding when you working and unavailable and when you are available.

  • Join others for support.

  • Hire a teacher or tutor to support your child. National honor society, high school students looking for community service hours. College students may need a job. Extended family. Zoom supervision can be your friend during these times.

  • Self-care: What helps you get grounded. What helps you feel good and quiet inside.

  • Self-compassion. Doing the best with a difficult situation.

  • Practice Mindfulness.

If you mess up. Let’s be serious. When you mess up because it will happen. Take time to repair the relationship. repair is any statement or action — verbal, physical, or otherwise — meant to diffuse negativity and create connectivity. We will mess up on this journey and being able to acknowledge where you messed up, take ownership/responsibility and repair is the recipe to bounce back from such mishaps. Schedule some child parent date times or days. Cuddle a connect. Play a board game. Go for a walk and my personal favorite have some beach time.

You got this, refuse to give up. It may not be easy but it’s doable with some intentionality. You are in charge of your situation no matter how small. Believe in yourself and commit to action that will allow you to level up this distance learning experience.

Yvette E. McDonald therapist, writer, professor, and homeschooling mother. Traveling Light Counseling, a practice for individuals, couples and families helping them achieve a new normal within all the chaos that threatens their sanity. If you're in the Saint Lucie or Martin County Area and life isn't quite what you expected it to be at this point in your journey and you are ready to make some changes or perhaps level up some areas in your life, please give me a call at 772-361-8448 for a free, 15-minute phone consultation.




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