It’s all too common for parents to say “I’m not a teacher.” That may be true in the traditional sense. But parents usually know their kids like no one else.
“I’m not a teacher when it comes to school,” says mom of two, Blagica Stefanovski Bottigliero. “But I am my child’s life teacher. It’s just a different way of teaching.”
Whether your child is an active mover, a diverse learner, a shy child who likes to blend into the background or a kid who wants everything to be flawless, here are some tips to help your child learn more effectively.
“Perfection is the enemy of done,” says Carl Hooker, an educational consultant. “I was one of those kids.”
One of the hardest things for the perfectionist is finding a stopping point. Find a mini goal in the middle of the project for a bigger project. “Maybe it’s getting through the first draft,” Hooker says. “Break it into smaller chunks so the child can say at least I accomplished this.”
When the final part of the project is nearing, remind your child of all the work they’ve put in and discuss how you are going to close this project and find a good ending point to turn it in.
“Then remind them, once you’ve submitted the work, even if it’s not perfect, any type of improvement you can make, any type of failure you made, can be discussed to help us on the next project,” Hooker says.
The Unmotivated Student
“Every kid has something they are interested in,” Hooker says. “For most of them it isn’t schoolwork.”
Find something that is motivating. Maybe it’s a TV show, going hiking or allowing them to choose dinner.
Once you know their motivational factor, tell them, “Listen, I’ve got a lot of work to do today, but if I can get through all my work and you get through all of your work, let’s set up that board game or play cards or take a bike ride.”
If a younger child isn’t interested in doing an activity, try using “first, then language.”
“First, we must do (insert disliked activity) and then we can do (insert activity they want to do),” says Avivit Ben-Aharon, founder of Great Speech.
For older kids, find smaller things that will get them excited as they work towards a longer-term goal. The key is being consistent and delivering on promises made.
The Distracted Learner
Create a visual schedule. Cut out pictures and photos that represent different activities a child should do throughout the day. Tape the pictures to a whiteboard.
It can be calming to see predictable routines that feel safe.
Create sensory breaks, says Wendy Oinonen, an occupational therapist. For little kids, have them do some heavy work by pushing a basket full of laundry on the floor by making it a race. Have children bend over to get their head below their waist to trigger their senses.
Create a swing to help calm your child by wrapping a blanket around a table, knotting it on top and let it swing underneath.
“Your child can crawl in and have a little quiet time,” Oinonen says. “A lot of research says children need 10- to 15-minute breaks each hour.”
The Anxious Child
“A lot of kids are having anxiety and stress around remote learning,” Oinonen says.
Setting daily goals and having a consistent schedule with check-off lists can really help, says high school teacher, James Conley.
“Parents need to keep their expectations in check,” Ben-Aharon says. “That really helps anxious kids who want to know what to expect.”
Keep lines of communication open, “but don’t be on top of them to where they feel like they’re not able to make autonomous decisions on their own.”
If it feels weird for the student to see their face on the video screen, turn off the video.
For younger children, consider using a Learning Tower, Davora Sides says. The wooden adjustable stool is like a vertical crib of sorts that allows the child to stand up and view a screen at countertop height, but they can still feel safe in an enclosed space.
The Quiet Kid
Online, first-grade teacher Michelle Gunderson says, many of the quiet students who are usually very hesitant and careful have blossomed thanks to the chat function of video calls.
Parents can help, she says, by advocating to the teacher about their child’s preferred communication method.
The Active, Fidgety Child
Have some tactical activities to keep a child’s hands busy while they are paying attention to the screen, says Sides. Look at manipulatives, such as Play-Doh, pipe cleaners or Wikki Stix that students can work with quietly while learning.
Swap a chair for a bouncy ball or get a rocking chair for kids who want to move. Or try an inflatable wobble cushion.
“We had one child who had a trampoline in front of their virtual station,” Sides says. “They would be bouncing the entire time, but it worked because they liked jumping up and were locked in place.”
During breaks in learning, try doing jumping jacks, run to the end of the driveway and back or jump rope.
“Kids need a physical outlet,” Ben-Aharon says.
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This article also appeared in Chicago Parent’s August 2020 magazine.