Many parents, including myself, have been digging into distance learning over the last few months. I’m very fortunate that my wife Nora has an extensive background in early childhood education and has been the leader in how we plan to navigate our kids’ upcoming school year. Going into this year, we’ve talked about having a different set of goals for our rising third grader and kindergartener. We feel this school year can be an opportunity to focus on their social and emotional health. Comfort will be key in this new learning situation. If you're a parent or caregiver in a similar boat, we’ve listed a few tips that can help ease the anxieties that kids may feel, so that they can focus on learning. We’ve also listed a few of our favorite children’s books that could be incorporated into your collection and may help you talk with your little ones about certain challenges or fears they might be facing.
Consistency and Structure
Every teacher knows that the first week (or two or three) of school is about establishing a routine and expectations for school. Kids need that same routine and structure at home. These ideas will help build a child’s independence and ease anxiety children might have around change or transitions.
- Maintain a consistent morning routine. Wake up at the same time. Get dressed every day.
- Post a daily schedule. Visual schedules are great for younger learners or neurodiverse learners that may need visuals to better understand their schedule. Schedules can be interactive - children could pull off a piece of their schedule when complete, move a clothes pin, or use a dry erase marker to check off a section when complete.
- Use a timer or visual timer. Timers allow children to better understand how long they have until a transition or how long they have to work on a specific assignment. Visual timers are great because children can see the time moving.
If possible, it helps to have a designated work space for each of your children. This doesn’t have to be a dedicated desk. It can be as simple as a divider placed around a spot at the dinner table. Organization is essential also. Organize all of your child’s learning materials on a shelf or portable tub/container. Let children help organize their area and personalize it in a way that is special to them. They could hang a picture or artwork, color a name tag or a photo of their family (grown up office style!)
Calm down or Quiet Area
Everyone is going to feel a little more stressed during “at-home” learning. This is all new for families and maneuvering working while your children are at home is hard. Children feel this stress also. Consider creating a safe space in your home that is only used for calming down or relaxing. This can be as simple as a bean bag in the corner of your living room or as complex as a tent filled with “calm down” objects. Here are few examples of some “calm down” objects - soft seating, stuffed animals, books, weighted objects (i.e. blankets, lap pillows, shoulder pillows), quiet music or sound machine, scented objects (i.e. lavender or other calming smells), chew tubes or “chewlery,” and visual reminders to breath (Lazy 8 Breathing or Take 5 Breathing are great examples).
Promote a Growth Mindset
Help children understand that they have the capacity to learn anything. In a growth mindset, children believe that abilities can be developed through hard work and perseverance. Children learn some things in school will be hard and that is okay. Children might even fail or make a mistake before they succeed and that is okay. Learning to work through a hard situation helps children build resilience.
Unwind as a Family with a Family “Happy Hour” and Family Dance Parties
Sometimes we all just need to move our bodies and have something to look forward to at the end of a long day. Physical activity can lift our spirits and get our minds refreshed for learning. I’m a DJ and have a few playlists for my kids that we can all enjoy. Having a lunchtime dance party helps with getting those wiggles out and resets that positive energy for the remainder of their school day. Adding in a family happy hour a couple of days out the week gives our kids something to look forward to. This is a time where we know all of us will be together. We try to make it special with fun snack ideas that the kids can help to prepare, an easy activity like a card game, and some background music to create a calm atmosphere. This is also an ideal time for parents to come together and unwind before the evening routine begins.
Book Ideas For Distance Learning
A Kids Book About Anxiety - Having anxiety doesn’t just mean you feel nervous sometimes or need to calm down. It means having an uncontrollable feeling that gets in the way of what you normally do. This book explores what anxiety is like and what life can look like when you’re able to manage to live with anxiety.
The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade - Sally notices everything—from the twenty-seven keys on the janitor’s ring to the bullying happening on the playground. One day, Sally has had enough and decides to make herself heard. And when she takes a chance and stands up to the bullies, she finds that one small girl can make a big difference.
All Are Welcome - Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with open arms. A school where kids in patkas, hijabs, and yarmulkes play side-by-side with friends in baseball caps. All Are Welcome lets young children know that no matter what, they have a place, they have a space, they are welcome in their school.
The Day You Begin - Angelina is new in school and she feels alone and out of place. No one looks like her or seems to understand her. As the story continues, we see other characters and their own struggles that they face as they too feel different from others in their school. By the end, Angelina realizes that all of the things that make her different are what make up who she is as a person.
Here We Are - aims to be a guidebook for a new baby -- laying out a few facts he'll need to know about the planet where he now lives. It starts with placing Earth among the planets in the solar system, then moves on to the land ("rock and dirt") and sea ("water"), people, and animals. focuses on the need for kindness and care to the planet and each other and to embrace the fact that we are all different and yet, the same.
The King of Kindergarten - A young boy, dubbed the "King of Kindergarten" by his loving mother, heads to school for his very first day in this sweet picture-book from author Derrick D. Barnes and illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Once there he has a wonderful time, getting to know his new teacher and making friends with his fellow pupils. By the end of the day he is ready to return home, full of exciting news to share with his parents.
Anthony Bryant is the co-owner of Little Nomad, a modern kids shop based in the heart of Richmond, Virginia.