One of the biggest challenges families are currently facing with the shift to distance learning is how to keep their child focused, motivated, and engaged. Parents already know that children, especially young children, need to constantly be stimulated to hold their attention. So, how can parents, who are juggling full-time work, head of household duties, and guiding at-home learning, ensure their child is truly engaged during their learning hours?
Brittany Griffin, Altitude Learning’s Head of Partnerships and mom to a kindergartener, knows this challenge well. “I feel this very weird tension,” she explains, “My five-year-old’s teacher sends a bulleted list of activities every day and I’m so grateful, but all of them have to be facilitated by me. It’s super tough to implement many of her ideas and manage my own workload.” And Brittany isn’t alone. This is a sentiment we hear many parents echoing across our network—one that has triggered many feelings of guilt and worry. How can I make sure my child is engaged in learning when I can’t consistently supervise them?
In an effort to support parents who might be struggling during this time, we are sharing some practical tips for working parents to ensure their children are staying engaged while they are distance learning.
1. Connect with authentic, relevant learning experiences.
Context is important to keeping children active in their learning. Projects that connect to the world around them are more interesting, easier for them to engage with, and allow more room for independent exploration. “If the project connects to real life, my child is far more willing to dive in,” Brittany shares. “Recently, she was tasked with creating a food truck for her community of dolls for an Altitude Learning @Home project. She invested so much thought and energy into the details—from the menu to the actual construction of the food truck from a cardboard box—she was fully invested and engaged.”
Distance learning initiatives like Altitude Learning @Home allow children to take a deep dive into a new topic that is relevant to their community every week through a project-based independent assignment. By providing children a contextual learning opportunity, led by an educator and facilitated by Altitude Learning’s digital platform, they can explore a subject that matters to them with all the tools and support to work independently.
2. Focus on creating versus completing.
Learning is about more than filling out worksheets and completing a list of tasks. Children are more invested in their learning when they are given space to create a final product based on their own exploration. Altitude Learning Partner Success Lead Nicole Gutierrez tackles the challenge of keeping her 2.5-year-old engaged by giving him projects that allow him to be creative. “Open-ended activities where materials and additional resources have been provided have been the most engaging for us,” Nicole says. “For example, he created a collage with items he found in nature. We can spend time doing something that incorporates a process, is multi-step, and that he can access at such a young age.”
“As a Montessori learner, my five-year-old isn't at all familiar with workbooks. The idea of creating something is far more engaging to her than completing something,” Brittany agrees. “Establishing a process and a series of steps to tackle that result in a finished product has led to far more engagement than asking her to complete traditional learning activities.”
Altitude Learning @Home projects encourage children to forge their own path on the road to creating a final project. Each weekly project culminates in a Learning Celebration that allows children to share the unique results of their open-ended assignment. With no letter grades or right or wrong answers, children are able to create learning artifacts to share with educators and peers at the end of the week that truly reflect authentic learning.
3. Maintain as much community and connection as possible.
With social distancing measures forcing children to be apart from their peers, now more than ever, it's important to lean into opportunities for our younger learners to connect. “Children need to see familiar faces and be able to connect with their classmates, teachers, and even adults in their family circle,” Nicole says. She regularly schedules time for her son to video chat with his aunt and grandma so he can have story time or show off any projects he has completed. “Two of the Altitude Learning partners I work with make sure to keep morning meetings on the calendar to have an optional time for kids and their families to join a lightweight video call that brings them all together,” Nicole adds.
Altitude Learning @Home allows children to connect with an educator to kick off their weekly project, then “meet” with their virtual classmates at the end of the week during the Learning Celebration to share their results and see other children’s work. It creates an important sense of community during a time when children are isolated from others their age and allows space for them to share their success and celebrate the successes of others.
4. Keep a predictable (enough) schedule and structure.
Enforcing a learning schedule and structure can be difficult when parents are also balancing full-time work, mealtimes, and household chores. However, a predictable schedule and structure—even if you can’t always adhere to it—is a great way to manage expectations and foster agency to work independently in children. Not to mention help keep parents sane. “For my sake and my son's, we keep times that we try to flow through during the day that are as similar as possible to what he was used to at school,” Nicole says.
While it might be impossible to facilitate all the activities your child did in school, creating expectations around tech time, outside exploration time, independent play or study time, and building a structure for the week’s learning expectations can create consistency and increase engagement during those times.
Altitude Learning @Home and the Altitude Learning platform allows parents to offer a consistent weekly regimen and structure for their child. The platform offers suggested learning experiences that parents can offer their children with all of the necessary setup, instruction, and resources built in. “By keeping a loose schedule and the activity and required materials simple, it has helped me as a parent feel less stressed and unprepared,” Nicole says.
5. Make sure your child is engaged in level-appropriate learning experiences.
Challenging your child with projects that require them to ask questions and work to find solutions is one of the best ways to ensure they are engaged in authentic learning. But it can be difficult to strike the right balance of challenging projects that aren’t too difficult and accessible projects that aren’t too simple. “My daughter shuts down when I ask her to do something above or below her skill level,” Brittany says. “She can really run with a project when I give her an activity that's in her ability ‘sweet spot’—specifically if there is repetition involved.”
With Altitude Learning @Home, children are paired with their appropriate learning bracket to ensure they are receiving a project that is designed by an experienced educator to fit their learning level. The platform allows parents to customize projects to fit their child’s needs, interests, and skill set. “Some parents want more, some want less,” Nicole explains. “What I love about the Altitude Learning platform is that parents can decide how much they want to use or not. In most cases, partners who use the platform are providing suggestions for parents in the form of Cards so they have everything they need to let a child work on the project there.”
When all else fails, there are valuable learning experiences in everyday activities—baking, cleaning, art projects, and playing make believe. How are you keeping your children engaged during distance learning?
We want to hear from you! Connect with us on Twitter @AltitudeLearn, LinkedIn, and now on Facebook and Instagram, and share your tips.