By Brittney Stefanic
With distance learning (or in-person and e-learning hybrid programs) on the horizon for so many districts across the nation, it is important to start thinking about HOW we are going to best facilitate learning for our children.
Though we aren’t curriculum experts, we’ve created these five tips for helping you to add some structure, routine, and success into the days of distance learning that are ahead!
Tip 1: Encourage your learner(s) to take a 15-minute school/screen break each hour
Even if just to use the restroom, stretch their legs and refill their water bottle, it is important for little brains (and big ones, too) to step away from the screen. These built-in breaks are beneficial for our eyes, our brains, and our body.
When learning (and working) from home, we have an overall increase in screen usage, and we know the blue light from our devices decreases levels of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Decreased levels of melatonin can make it harder to fall asleep at bedtime and more biologically challenging to stay asleep through the night.
Breaking up this screen use can really help! Plus, productivity studies show that each of us are much more accomplished when we have built-in breaks throughout the day!
Tip 2: Get 30 minutes of fresh air and sunshine in the morning and afternoon
Depending on the structure and demands on your school’s distance learning program, many families have expressed feeling an obligation to be constantly checking in to “prove” that learning is taking place and it’s not just a day full of Disney plus. With the multiple kiddos completing online programs, plus parents taking care of the home and job demands, It can be easy to get carried away with tasks and totally forget to get outside for a break. It is important that we, as parents, are able to remind our learners to EAT LUNCH and move their body throughout the day.
If the fresh air and sunshine can come twice a day (morning and afternoon), that is ideal but not required. If you are having a hard time fitting these “play breaks” in, consider scheduling your meetings leaving your calendar free for 30 minutes twice a day. Another idea, especially if you are feeling crunched for time, is to allow any reading time to happen outside under a tree. Or to take gym class outside to get some fresh air while moving around! We can get creative here, mamas! And we will likely need to!
From a routine perspective, sunlight helps to sync the circadian clock and allow for proper hormone regulation which helps with defining day and night and promoting great sleep.
If you aren’t able to get outside because of stay at home restrictions specific to your city’s recommendations, try opening all the shades, turning on some of your favorite tunes and having a family dance party before lunch. Your kids will be reminded how fun you are and everyone will get the sunny break they need!
Tip 3: Prevent your sleep space from becoming your classroom
With many of us needing to get creative to create classrooms and workspaces in our homes, it is super easy for boundaries to slip. Though we are having some blurred lines on where certain activities need to take place (think living room turning into a classroom during school hours and kitchen table becoming a home office), it is important that we not expect our children to work in their bedrooms, especially not in their beds.
This boundary should be of top priority because when we are able to keep our work and learning out of our sleep spaces, we are able to differentiate between tasks. It is important that our sleep spaces are for sleeping. The one “workaround” here is for reading in bed during a bedtime routine. That is always a good idea, especially since the repetitive eye motion across the page is a natural sedative and can help with sleep onset!
When we are able to be clear about where we learn and where we sleep, it will be easier for your brain to distinguish the two spaces which will prevent some bedtime battles and nighttime protests!
Tip 4: Build in 60 minutes of quiet time after lunch
If the school day schedule allows for a break at mid-day, quiet time is highly recommended. Quiet time allows family members to have a break from one another and to rest their minds. Quiet time is important for preschool and elementary-aged children who are no longer napping, and it is helpful for parents, too.
During quiet time, it is important to be comfortable and relaxed. With a 4-year-old of my own, we take an hour of quiet time after lunch where he is in his room and I am getting housework or computer tasks done. Before quiet time, he changes into his coziest Flying Squirrel pajamas and finds a few books to read. Some days he is relaxed enough to nap, others he just takes a break in his dark and relaxing room. It is important to build in a break period like this to allow our kiddos to be comfortable and prevent overwhelm.
Tip 5: Keep a daily schedule or routine chart visible
The tips above all point to the importance of having a daily schedule and routine for the upcoming phase of stay at home orders and distance learning. If a schedule is not provided by your child’s school, consider creating one that works well for your family. After you write it out, ask your kiddos to help you color and decorate it and then post it for the household to see.
It is important for all members of your family to know what will come next during the day. Children respond well to structure and routine because it is comforting to them to know what comes next. This lessens the “surprises” throughout a day and cuts down on meltdowns when transitioning from one activity to the next. When in doubt, write it out!
Innovation for the win
The past few months have brought about the need for innovation and creativity in parenthood and beyond. There’s no question that we will all continue to do our best to help our children and ourselves during this tricky and uncharted times.
Many of us are stepping into roles that we have never had before and living life in a completely new way. Remember to give yourself some grace as you dive into the new school year of distance learning. Hang in there, mama! You’ve got this!
Brittney Stefanic is a certified whole-family sleep consultant and founder of Sleeper Teachers Sleep Consulting. As a work at home mom boss and former classroom teacher, she understands that the distance learning upon us will bring with it both struggle and possibility. As a sleep educator, Brittney believes in the power of sleep and knows that we all need more of it to stay healthy and sane. Brittney and her team love educating and supporting families around the world in finding sleep solutions. You can follow the teachers on Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook @sleeperteachers for sleep tips and tricks.