The Zoom Room: Zoom Classrooms for Online Learning at Home
It's time for our children to go back to school. But Covid outbreaks are still out of control in many areas. Schools have had to make some tough decisions. Many children will be starting the new school year online in either Google or Zoom classrooms at least part of the time. It isn't ideal but safety must come first. However, there are things you can do at home to improve your child's chances of learning in these new circumstances.
The Zoom Classroom and Online Learning
Many colleges and adult learning venues have been using online learning to either supplement or replace on-site classroom instruction for some time. After all, adults should have the self-discipline and motivation to learn in this manner. And most do. But successful online learning is a lot more difficult for younger students. The majority simply do not have the maturity or even the attention span to learn in this environment without intervention from adults. That doesn't mean there is something wrong with them. They are at an appropriate level for their years. But many children aren't ready for the level of independence needed to succeed in the e-classroom without an adult to shepherd them along.
The teacher is certainly the primary adult to provide this guidance. But kids cannot be alone all day with just an online teacher. Even if it weren't for the safety and legal issues inherent in leaving a child home alone all the time, they need more in order to learn. That's why parents need to help. The degree of parental involvement in the child's education will depend on the age and maturity level of the child. But there are certain universal things you can do to improve your child's chance of success in an e-learning classroom. All children need:
Someone to learn from (the teacher)
An appropriate curriculum that is presented in an engaging manner (lesson plans provided by the teacher)
A set of rules, rewards, and consequences to drive the learning
A safe place where they can focus their attention on learning (a classroom, whether at home or in a school building)
Adult supervision that is physically present (the amount needed will vary by child and age)
Some structure to make it all happen
A virtual classroom from your child's school can provide the first three. Parents need to provide the rest in order for e-learning to work. One of the most common mistakes parents make is letting their children lie in bed in their pj's during their online classes. No one can learn like that. Everyone needs to take the e-learning seriously if it is to have any chance of working. That means getting the kids out of bed and off to school.
Set Up Your "Zoom Room"
Your children can still "go to school," even if that school is located in their own residence. You need to set up a space in your home devoted solely to academics and make sure your children use it during school hours. We call this the "Zoom Room." It's like having a one room school house inside your home. The space needs to be set up for simultaneous use by multiple children of different grade levels studying different things. That means if you have three children, they should all attend e-school together. This educational environment is critical. It helps provide the structure and routine needed by your child and will influence the amount of actual learning that occurs in your child's virtual classroom. Home schoolers have successfully used this strategy for years. We can all take a lesson from them and help our kids during these challenging times.
Guidelines for Setting Up Your Own One Room School House for Online Learning
Your "Zoom Room" classroom can be any place in the home that can be set aside for learning. It should be a room that the child wouldn't otherwise spend a lot of time. And definitely no television. If you have a separate home office, that's usually a perfect location. Chances are it's an environment that is already set up with internet access as well. A good internet connection is critical to e-learning success. Other likely candidates are a formal dining room that won't be used until next Thanksgiving, a formal living room that doesn't have a television, a spare bedroom where the bed can be temporarily taken away and replaced by a desk or table, or a basement rec room that can be dedicated as a temporary classroom rather than a play space. Even a walk-in closet can be converted into a home classroom. You'll just need to find someplace else to store all the clothes. Although a desk in the bedroom is a good place to do homework outside of school hours, don't let your children stay in their rooms all day. They need a different location to "go to school."
Routine is key in making your online home school experience as much like their real school as possible. Make sure your child is getting up for school at the same time every day. Have them at their desk/table and signed in at the proper time. The teacher will take care of pacing most of the online learning, but you can still schedule activities like "snack time" to occur at regular intervals during the day. After all, adults in a corporate office take coffee breaks. Children need similar breaks where they step away from their desks for a short breather.
Lunch and recess should be part of the routine. It's a part of the day that the online teachers cannot control so you, as parent, must take charge. Try to get the same lunch period for all your children who are studying from home. It will create a better sense of order and decrease the sense of isolation that is inherent when social distancing. Prepare their lunches ahead of time and have them eat together before going out for "recess" even if recess is only a half hour of playtime in the backyard. Older children might play fetch with the dog. Younger ones will probably congregate around the swing set. You can always spice up the lunch routine with special pizza days to give them something to look forward to. Or alternate recess activities with things like trampoline time one day versus driveway basketball and chalk pictures the next. (All ages love the trampoline). The important thing is to get them to burn off some energy. Send them back to their desks at the scheduled time refreshed and ready to learn.
A reliable internet connection and either a tablet or computer are a given for online learning. But there are more things you need to think about if you have more than one child working from your in-home office/classroom. Multiple students means multiple teachers all talking at the same time presenting different material to their students. This is okay. Your child just needs a good head phone, headset, or ear buds and microphone in order to hear and be heard. The same sort of equipment used by a customer service team in an open office so that they can hear and be heard on the phone can help your children to focus on their lessons in your one room classroom at home.
Mistakes to Avoid
No walking the dog, cooking, or performing other non-academic tasks while participating in lessons. It's good for kids to have chores. It builds responsibility. But they should perform them after school, not during. Absolutely no babysitting younger siblings during class time. Sure, an older child can help out in a pinch, but do not make it a regular part of the day. And expect your child to be marked as absent while busy taking care of a sibling. Taking care of a baby or preschooler requires full-time attention. No preteen or high school student can be expected to focus their attention on both babysitting and school work at the same time. You need to get someone else to provide daycare. Teens should only be used during their downtime when they aren't in class.
More Tips for Successful Online Learning
Everything is easier when you're organized. Learning is no exception to this rule. It's easier for the kids, easy for you, and easier for the teacher. It's a win-win-win no matter how you look at it. After all, it's hard to learn in an environment of chaos and disorder. If you can set up your child's home classroom so that all of their learning materials are located within easy reach, so much the better. This probably means some short of bookshelves or cubbies to hold their school supplies and books located within the home classroom. It may seem like extra effort, but it will be worth it in the long run. No one wants their child to fall behind. Why not do all you can to get your children off to a good start no matter what the circumstance? If you make the extra effort to set up your own in-home classroom for e-learning, your kids will have their best chance for a successful school year. Hopefully this will all soon pass and students will get back to their schools. In the meantime, we all do the best we can.