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Age 3 through 8th grade

Bringing Balance and Creativity to Distance Learning

  • CWIL
  • Parenting
  • Teaching and Learning
Ms. Vita Biddle

What’s the difference between learning at home and learning at school?

Current situations have forced many of us to re-frame the definition of “balance” in our lives. This is true of adults as well as children. The initial idea of distance learning may bring to mind desk work and online classes with books and laptops open all day during the regular school hours. 

But that is not the case, nor should it be. A typical school day actually allows for more balance than this scenario portrays. 

Here are some thoughts to help bring some of that balance home.  

Do not expect a distance learning school day to take the same time as a typical school day.

A regular school day is made up of more transition, non-working time than you might expect. The obvious times are recess, lunch, and movement from class to class. But there are many less obvious times throughout a school day that add to some downtime. Imagine a teacher coordinating an entire classroom of students at once, for example, to get started. This certainly takes more time than coordinating just one child in an at-home situation. With this in mind, parents should not expect their at-home student to be working all day.  

A well-configured distance learning schedule should allow for purposeful work and break times. Using them that way will lead to more efficient progress.

Make the most of your child’s natural biorhythms. 
Although some classes in a distance learning program may be scheduled for a group at a specific time (synchronous class), some classes are not (asynchronous). If your child is an early riser, maximize that time by getting school work finished before they lose interest. If they tend to sleep in a bit, maximize that time for your own productivity. But do try to keep whatever routine is established consistent from day-to-day.

Allow for spontaneous and creative activities.

Instead of feeling compelled to “fill” your child’s downtime with more “school-like” experiences, try allowing them to be part of some spontaneous and creative learning experiences like the ones below.

These are great because many of them are ones that can be initiated by parents, but then can be finished independently by almost any aged child. 

  • Using cardboard tubes, tape, tongue depressors, plastic cups, newspaper, etc. to make a marble run taped to the wall or another upright surface. Painters’ tape works well, so you won’t need to re-paint once this pandemic is over! Experiment with designs that slow the marble down or speed it up. Try making a more elaborate form of this idea using LEGOs and other various household objects. Check out these Rube Goldberg ideas on Pinterest or search online for Rube Goldberg projects for inspiration. A two-story foyer makes a great starting point for an elaborate and impressive display! 
  • With a limited supply of various items - paper plates, copy paper, straws, paper clips - challenge children to build the tallest structure or the longest bridge they can. Increase the challenge by saying it must hold the weight of a tennis ball, a sneaker, or a pencil case, or that it must withstand a “windspeed” from a fan set to high. This idea works well as a challenge between siblings who like to compete, but it also works well as a collaborative effort between them. Check out this link for ideas:
  • Go on an insect, bird, or mammal photo safari. Have them take pictures of as many varieties of each group that they can find. Research the most interesting ones to learn more about them. No written report needed! This can have so many follow-up activities to accompany it. Paint a picture of your favorite. Make an old-fashioned diorama that depicts as many examples of your finds as you can. Have the supplies for paper mâché? You see where I am going with this! There are many resources online like Bird Watching with Kids to help you get started.
  • Set up a store. Help your children learn to make change for items they “purchase.” Have them check their own work by keeping a calculator nearby.
  • Estimate the weights of various household objects, then weigh them on your bathroom scale. Do the same with linear measurements. Make comparisons to estimates vs. actual measurements.
  • Have your child alphabetize your spice cabinet! This is awesome on so many levels! If you are an avid chef (who isn’t these days?), you will be so glad your child did this for you!
  • Sneak in a little math or by using playing cards with math-related content. “War” can be tweaked so that the players have to answer a math fact (+, x) with the two cards thrown down. The fastest one to answer keeps the pair. Or...pull out any two cards, turning them into a fraction, and the possibilities are almost endless. Reduce it. Make an equivalent for it. Turn it into a mixed number, an improper fraction, or a decimal. More ideas for math with cards can be found here.
  • Similarly, you can make your own “Old Maid” (gosh, the gender bias that pervaded my youth is unbelievable!) deck using your child’s vocabulary words. Use words and definitions, but don’t forget to throw in an “old maid” that doesn’t match any of the words. Have your child add pictures to the cards for deeper learning. Each night, reflect on one new amazing thing they learned that day! Write it on a paper strip and stick them in a jar labeled “Things I Taught Myself during Distance Learning!”

Challenge and engage your child in positive and relaxed ways. Avoid falling into the trap of trying to make distance learning too much like school. Let’s be honest. The days at school and the days at home are just not the same. But what we do know for sure is that learning can happen anywhere, provided there is intention, a bit of structure, and a few laughs thrown in along the way. 

Vita Biddle, Independence's LeApps™ Specialist, has taught at our school since 1992. She is a team member of the Center for Wellness, Innovation and Learning (CWIL™).   

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