Donna Coussons
Donna Coussons
April 28, 2020

Adjusting to an Extended Home Learning Environment

Donna Coussons
Donna Coussons

The following is part of a series of personal perspectives shared by members of our Education Practice about COVID-19’s impact on education in their lives.

As stay at home timelines begin to extend further into the year, so do the timelines for learning at home. For those of us that have students at home, the reality of having our kids engaged in a virtual learning environment for the remainder of the academic year adds another layer of stress and anxiety to already full minds.

For the past several weeks, my youngest son has been holed up in his bedroom attending his nuclear engineering classes online via Zoom. He’s taken the move from classes on campus to a complete online class environment fairly well. One of the reasons (I think) is because he was homeschooled from the fourth through the eighth grade. During those years I was a single parent, working full time and traveling at least two days a week. We had a lot going on. Thankfully, I had a ton of flexibility and officed out of my home when I wasn’t on the road. We were in the same work/school environment for much of the time.

Jonas then – Photo courtesy of Donna Coussons

Let me set the record straight – I recognize making the choice to homeschool is completely different than suddenly having to. I also realize that all of our kiddos are wonderfully not the same. However, the current situation isn’t my son’s first rodeo learning in a more independent environment, nor is it mine as his parent. With all that said, the following are a few pointers I picked up from our journey together that may be helpful when navigating yours:

  • Give yourself a break. You’re doing great! Despite what your fears may tell you, you are not going to mess your kid’s education up. You will find that you both are extremely resilient, and this is a just different opportunity to grow and learn together.
  • Give your kids a break. They are mourning the loss of their social time with their classroom peers and friends – this is new to them. My son’s biggest struggle during this time has been the separation from his roommates, the absence of face-to-face collaboration, playing intramural sports and attending his student organization meetings.
  • Realize that all online learning is not created equal. Some instructors have adapted better to online instruction than others as it’s not an intuitive jump for everyone. In the same vein, some students may not engage as easily as their peers, or struggle to keep focused. As needed, try to help supplement their learning and/or guide them to discover new resources.
  • Figure out when your student is most productive and if possible, try to structure their (and your) day around that time. For example, my son’s focus was always better first thing in the morning, so I’d have him do his independent work (reading, writing, working problems, etc.) first. While he was busy on that, I focused on the things I needed to get done.
  • Dedicate a block of time each day for interactive learning. I set a stake in the ground that 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. was “No Phone Time” for us both. Instead, that block of time was utilized to review anything he was really struggling with and/or hands-on learning such as experiments and other activities.
  • Recognize and embrace active learning moments. Whether it be having your kids measure ingredients for you while cooking, explaining how a dryer actually dries clothes when doing laundry, encourage literacy development by turning the subtitles when watching movies, or just asking them open ended questions throughout their day in order to help develop critical thinking – learning takes place everywhere.
  • Sometimes you all just need to take a lap. I remember when my son would get super frustrated with something he was working on, fighting and/or negotiating with him didn’t solve the problem. When he would get to that point, I’d tell him to go take a lap outside. It didn’t have to be running; just implementing some activity that gave him a mental break and a physical outlet. I did (and still do) the same for myself. It helps you refocus with a new set of eyes and fresh perspective.

No matter how you define at home learning for your family, give yourself a pat on the back for trying your best with your students. This is a strange, new normal we have been catapulted into. The few tips I have offered will not check all the boxes. Education doesn’t look the same as it did ten years ago, nor do we.  Change is inevitable. One thing is constant – we’re all trying our best for the ones we love, and in the end, that’s really all that really matters.

Jonas now – Photo courtesy of Donna Coussons