My oldest child is thirteen and attends a specialized school that supports him and his learning needs. The educational structure of the school has been a dream in so many ways… They know how to teach him, he is in small classrooms in a highly structured environment, and they assign homework that can be completed in a manageable amount of time. It’s been a relief for our whole family. Anticipating school closures, I started to worry: would he lose ground that my neurotypical daughter would not experience under these circumstances? How would it work for me to manage this kind of learning process for my son, considering the very specific approach his school takes? Since last Thursday, my son has been home, and he has been receiving assignments to be done online as well as assignments to be done in writing with the support of his notes and his books. As we look ahead to possible more at-home learning, here are some lessons learned about what has worked for our family so far this week…
Establishing Structure, Structure, Structure
- Set up a schedule. I work at a summer camp where we work off a period schedule. I have instituted the same approach at home and am also able to accomodate his growing brain and body needs for sleep in a way the school schedule does not. So for example, period one starts at 9am, and we include PE and Art in the day. Our kids still need those activities!
- Post the schedule. Laminate it. Decorate it. Whatever you need to do but it needs to be visible. Most kids with LD need concrete schedules and parameters. Any child with executive functioning deficits will benefit from seeing their schedule, and it takes away the need for my child to ask me “what is next” over and over again.
- Make a list of fun activities. It’s best if not every decision feels top-down, and I can include my son in the decision making around fun activities. In particular he is best at knowing what games suit the way his mind works. He loves Rummikub. Boggle… not so much. Also he needs lots of physical activity like bike rides (no stopping at water fountains!) and dog walks. Just last night, he taught his sister how to ride a bike!
Seemingly Small but Actually Big Considerations
- I realized it’s important to consider how the school work is delivered. Is it online? Will I need to borrow a computer from the school? What needs to get printed? (Do I even have access to a printer and enough printer paper?)
- I reminded myself to be patient with setting up the system for my son. He is used to a highly honed system at school and my goal is to recreate a version of that at home. Transitions for kids are hard, even when they are 13. I had to answer a lot of questions but it was worth the ground game.
- I had to think about where my son in keeping track of his assignments. Can he use his planner, or do we need a new kind of planner at home to track his work? For now, we are using his planner from school so at least the system is consistent.
- I established where he is going to do his work. Kitchen table? His room? This should be the same place every day and be a place accessible enough to his grownups so that we can readily answer questions when he has them.
- I recognized he need a place to put the work once it’s been completed without taking over our house. Does it need to be saved online or in his folders, or can it be tossed? Where does he keep his school materials when he isn’t working? Do we need to carve out some storage for him? Four of us working and schooling from home makes space tight!
What are the expectations on my partner and me for supporting our son’s work?
- Of highest priority for my son’s continued development is his reading with an adult everyday. I’ve learned that for me, it works best to do the reading at the start of the day, so I can get it off my plate, and I can get on with the work I need to do. I also want to do it when I’m fresh and not too tired, stressed or irritable.
- I need to make sure I clearly understand his school schedule ahead of time so that I can adjust my work schedule to match his and be productive when he is being productive.
- How can I add fun? I totally want to do my son’s art projects and have included him in the planning for those! I am also using some of the physical activities I use in my Dynamo Girl classes like funky relays, maze masters, and fitness challenges. And as we say when we train our coaches: kids always have more fun when adults join in. So instead of having him do a solo exercise, I am going play soccer with him or we’ll do the relays together whenever I can.
My son thrives in an environment with multi-sensory instruction, and he is losing a lot of that when learning remotely. The assignments are going to get flat without all of the interpersonal interaction that he is used to. He needs time to ask questions and interact with the work. That means I have to get involved and help him work through some of the content. One resource that has worked for me in the past is Khan Academy, which has helped me help my kids with math. I have done the lessons on my own, so I can explain hard concepts to them, and I have watched the instructional videos with my kids. They have also expanded well beyond math into science and other subjects.
I am also hyper-aware of managing the stress of all this… for both me and my kids. As the parent of an LD child, I have heard many child development specialists talk over the last several years about the value of meditation. Calm and HeadSpace have kid-friendly portions on their platforms that I have tried periodically in the past. The shiniest glimmer of the silver-lining with this whole situation is that we finally have the time with him home from school to actually implement some of the things I have always wanted to do with them. We don’t have any sports practices to get to or recitals to attend, so I’m going to use this time to benefit my son and our family. I also recognize that the thing he will miss most of all by being out of school is the profound PATIENCE with which his teachers approach his learning. With a little meditation, mindfulness and lots of cleansing breaths, I am going to try my best to emulate that in the days to come.