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Distance learning during the COVID-19 outbreak can provide kids with benefits that go beyond academics. Getty Images
  • While under stay-at-home orders, it’s important for children to still have a consistent structure to their day.
  • Although kids may not be learning as much as they would in the classroom, online lessons and meetings with other students can help provide social interaction children are missing while stuck at home.
  • If your child’s schoolwork seems overwhelming, speak with his or her teacher and work together to find something that works for everyone.

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date.

I adopted my daughter as a single mother 7 years ago. I’ve never had a parenting partner to tap out to and have always lived thousands of miles away from any family that may have otherwise been able to help.

As a work-from-home freelancer, I’ve had to have a lot of hustle — often working late into the evenings, even with my daughter in school and childcare. But I’ve always made it work, and I’ve always been grateful for our life together.

Still, you can probably imagine the stress I felt when it became clear school and childcare would be shut down indefinitely due to COVID-19, and that on top of full-time work and full-time mothering, I was now going to be expected to take over my daughter’s education as well.

I pride myself on being able to do it all, but there’s a point when “it all” becomes a bit too much for anyone to handle.

Like so many parents around the country, I was dreading homeschooling my daughter when it first became clear schools would not be opening back up. This is not a role I ever would have chosen, nor is it how I ever imagined her education going.

To be honest, I’m not the most patient person when it comes to teaching anyone anything, and even helping her with her homework has been a struggle for us in the past.

How was I supposed to spend several hours a day teaching her while also managing my work schedule and keeping a roof over our heads?

Of course I was tempted to latch onto the memes and Facebook posts about eschewing homeschooling altogether and allowing us both to just relax into this moment. After all, how much could she possibly miss over the next 6 weeks of school? She’s only in first grade. Couldn’t all the kids just catch up together when school resumes?

I knew the answer was “yes.” But deep down, I also knew that homeschooling under these circumstances wasn’t necessarily meant to be about academics alone.

“One of the main points of continuing to learn, in my view, is to give kids a sense of normalcy and growth,” said Kathryn Haydon, a former second grade teacher and education consultant who spends her days now as the innovation strategist behind Sparkitivity.

Haydon explained that while many parents may be feeling as though kids “deserve a break” right now, allowing them to spend their days playing video games and watching movies without any kind of structure is something most kids will grow tired of very quickly. Especially when children are otherwise being deprived of social interaction as well.

“A specific benefit to distance learning programs is to provide connection with outside teachers, mentors, and kids when most people are not able to even visit neighbors,” Haydon said.

Psychologist and author Wendy Walsh, PhD, specializes in attachment. And she agrees. “We hope this will be temporary, but none of us really knows for sure,” she said. “The point of homeschooling in the meantime is structure. Not rigid structure, but enough structure to get things done during the day.”

Walsh explained that a lack of structure can cause cognitive impairment for both kids and adults, leading to a likely rise in depression as a result.

“Having schoolwork to focus on, and the structure and normalcy that provides, can help keep kids from succumbing to that depression too,” she said.

Haydon further explained that the goal of distance learning should be to engage kids in learning, to provide connection, and to provide a sense of continuity and normalcy.

“The goal should not be to cram a ton of concepts down kids’ throats out of fear that they will ‘be behind.’ This is an opportunity to find different ways of learning in a new context,” she said.

Melissa Packwood, MEd, is a certified teacher in Florida who has a master’s degree in reading and literacy as well as a graduate certificate in special education.

She said it’s important to remember that traditional homeschooling and quarantine schooling from home are two different things, and that the latter has been borne mostly out of necessity. But she pointed out there are still benefits to be reaped from our current situation.

“Families will have more time together to bond, children will have more free time to explore hobbies at home. Children will also have the opportunity to work on life skills such as cooking, cleaning, building, organizing, and entertaining oneself,” Packwood said.

Walsh agreed that our current situation is nothing like traditional homeschooling, where, she pointed out, kids are often still getting a ton of social interaction through homeschooling groups, team activities, and play with friends.

“Trying to teach a class full of kindergartners over Zoom is stupid,” she said. “It’s chaos.”

But as she points out, it’s not about teaching 25 kindergarteners popsicle stick art. “It’s about giving them the opportunity for those social interactions they’d otherwise be having.”

Having witnessed my daughter in classroom Zoom sessions over the past few days, I can attest to the truth behind that statement.

I’m not sure she’s actually learned anything from any of those sessions, and I give her teacher all the credit in the world for even attempting to host them — but my little girl’s face sure has lit up every single time she’s been met with a screen full of her classmate’s faces.

I quickly recognized distance learning as something my daughter actually needed in this time of crisis — as the structure and normalcy that might just help her adjust to our current way of life. But that doesn’t mean I had any idea how to make it all work when it started.

I still had a job to do, and no other adult in the home to help me juggle it all.

“There’s a general rule of thumb that at a maximum, there are around 3 1/2 formal academic hours of learning in a typical school day,” Haydon said. “This can be a lot less, depending on circumstances. Homeschoolers tend to do 1 to 3 hours of formal academic learning.”

For me, remembering that I didn’t need to offer my child a traditional 7-hour school day was key to creating a schedule that allowed room for her schooling and my work.

I allotted 2 hours a day to helping her with school, broken up into 3 different sessions throughout the day.

In between those sessions, I scheduled time for her to work on art projects and have uninterrupted screen time — a survival tool allowing me to work uninterrupted as well.

“To help smooth the path, it is important to be flexible, be patient, take breaks when needed, and understand both your limits and your child’s limits,” Packwood said. “It is okay to stop if frustrated. It is okay to complete work at 6 p.m. instead of 8 a.m. Do what works for you and your family.”

For parents like me, still working from home, she further suggests establishing separate areas for you to work, kids to play, and schoolwork to take place.

“If possible, separate your day into blocks of time so you can assist your children as needed,” she said. (This is a tip that made this new normal bearable for me and my daughter.) “If this is not possible, then consider working on school activities after your working hours.”

So far, we’ve found the amount of work sent home for my daughter to be completely doable. I’ve even come to see it as a blessing. My daughter is far happier since we started distance learning than she was in the week we both spent flailing.

Having something to do each day has given her purpose and helped us both to recalibrate and focus on what needs to be done.

But not all parents have been so lucky. Some have shared horror stories of pages upon pages of worksheets to complete and unrealistic expectations being handed down by teachers and administrators.

“It’s a very, very difficult situation right now and teachers had, sometimes, only a day or two to adjust,” Haydon said. “Having taught virtually myself, I know it is not easy to do. It takes careful work and planning to do well, a luxury teachers right now have not had.”

That said, if you feel like the work being assigned by your child’s teacher is too much, or if you just feel like you can’t personally keep up, that’s OK. You are allowed to express that and adjust expectations all around.

“If it’s really not working, talk directly to the teacher. Speak kindly and give yourself and the teacher and your child the gift of grace,” Haydon said.

Packwood said that parents have every right to let teachers and schools know what they will and will not be completing from home right now.

“Teachers and principals should understand this without issue as they are also working their way through these uncharted waters,” she said. “Communicate with firm yet kind words so you and the teacher can work on coming to an agreement that works for both the requirements and your student.”

Walsh advises using a timer to help kids stay on track during schooling periods.

“That way it’s not you, you’re not the mean one — you can even show kids how to set the timer so they’re in control.”

She further suggests having your kids help you to make a schedule that works for everyone involved, and then allowing them to decorate it on a big poster board you can keep where schooling will most often take place.

“The purpose really is to create some structure for your child where they will feel safer and more organized,” she explained. “By the way, it will also help you as the parent feel safer.”

But she said you shouldn’t let any of this overwhelm you.

“Don’t get too strict. All your child’s peers will fall behind in this time and they will all catch back up together. They have good, young brains with plenty of neuroplasticity — they can catch up when the time comes,” she said.

This is a sentiment I’ve come to agree with completely — while also recognizing the social and emotional benefits my daughter has gained from our now almost 2 weeks of quarantine schooling.

As far as I’m concerned, the social and emotional benefits far outweigh any potential educational benefits she may be gaining during this part of the pandemic.

She needed this right now. We both did. And somehow, some way, we’re making it work — better than I had believed we could before this adventure began.