Virtual learning – highly effective or a complete disaster?

As a result of COVID, more than 1.2 billion children across the world are not in the classroom. Traditional learning inside a school has left us for now, and everyone is trying to adjust to this new method of education. For some, the news is promising, but for others it means failure.

No two kids are alike when it comes to learning, especially virtual learning. Instead of sitting at a desk in a classroom surrounded by some 25+ peers, your child is alone at the dining room table or in the bedroom with a laptop computer as a companion. 

They are sedentary hour after hour each day, forced to learn through a small screen in the confines of their home with no face-to-face contact.

The life they once knew has turned upside down; their daily routine has been stolen from them. No more lunches in the cafeteria, no more after school activities, limited access to friends and classmates … this can, and often does, impact their educational performance. 

Some may thrive in this setting, while others are suffering emotionally and academically.

Most of the burden falls on parents to help their kids through this new, unchartered territory, while they, themselves also are experiencing the challenges of remote work or no work.

First, I recommend parents take a close look at their child’s learning style. If you have young children, they need social interaction, and they require face-to-face learning for their developmental growth. You may see behavioral issues surfacing and possibly some depression.

For other kids, a classroom setting and a school environment invite social anxiety, distractions, peer pressure and a lot of unhealthy feelings that prevent them from learning effectively.

These students will excel at home because the obstacles to learning have been removed.

On the other hand, the social student – the one who thrives when interacting with friends at school, and who enjoys the busyness of a classroom – will struggle in an isolated environment. Virtual learning is an extremely difficult adjustment for them. 

Some students with learning challenges – take ADHD for example – also may find in-home learning difficult. They need a structured setting to succeed, and their home doesn’t offer that structure. 

For other kids with learning challenges, a home environment may be exactly what they need – they can focus on completing assignments without any distractions.

Students who excel through hands on learning also may face failure at home. And you may find your “A” student is failing because he/she needs a structured learning environment.

So, what can parents do to support their kids and help them succeed with virtual learning?

Keep in mind that you get paid when you work; your kids don’t get paid to go to school but their reward was spending time with their friends. Now they have lost that incentive.

Remember the emotional and socioeconomic impact of COVID on your kids. They may have lost a loved one to the pandemic, you may have lost your job, and they have lost the stability of school. These are challenges you both have to manage.

Here are a few tips that may help parents through the obstacles they are facing with kids at home:

  • Be supportive, understanding and empathetic. In most cases, your kids have not experienced virtual learning. It is an especially difficult change for middle schoolers and high school students who are accustomed to traditional education in a school building. They are not prepared for in-home learning.
  • Find a designated place for school and use this same spot every day. A bedroom is less than ideal because it is full of distractions and it is where your child sleeps and rests. Experiment with different locations in your home until you find the place that works best for your child.
  • Remind your child it is OK – and recommended – to move around a little throughout the day. Being sedentary for several hours is not good for anyone. Suggest they get up and walk around the room; they don’t have to be glued to their chair while learning. Teachers will understand and support you. 
  • Have your child take a walk outside to get some fresh air and a change of scenery; at school, they move from classroom to classroom; they need a break from their environment to maintain their productivity. 
  • Remove phones and video games during classroom time. They will be tempted to text their friends and play video games. Parents, your kids cannot listen to their teacher and play a video game at the same time; don’t believe them when they say they can.
  • Use a fidgeting tool. Some students need a fidget in their hands while they are learning. Fidget spinners are not for everyone. Simple objects you can find in your home – and ones that don’t make any noise – are a good choice.
  • Remember: isolation is new to your kids. It presents a whole set of different complications for your children. For example, if they get into an altercation with a friend through Facebook or a text, it is much more difficult to correct the concern without face-to-face communication. As a result, the problem intensifies.
  • Be honest with your kids. Tell them you know this isn’t easy, but you will do everything you can to help them through this difficult transition.
  • Listen, don’t judge. You probably will hear them say repeatedly they are tired of screen time. This is when empathy goes a long way.

For effective learning to take place, set and communicate your expectations, and consistently provide positive reinforcement. Your child can, and will, thrive in this new learning model. Just be patient and supportive.

When it’s time to seek professional help for your child 

The virtual learning environment may take an emotional toll on your child. Don’t ignore these signs:

  • Your child is depressed, and you are not seeing any signs of improvement. 
  • Your child has lost interest in things he/she enjoyed and has not replaced those with another interest. 
  • They struggle to get out of bed in the morning, are missing assignments and skipping school.
  • They are not keeping up with friendships, or they had a lot of friends and now they don’t.
  • They are becoming increasingly resentful toward you and others, they are feeling overwhelmed, and you are spinning your wheels in your efforts to help them.

The Center for Relationship and Sexual Health is comprised of a full team of highly credentialed therapists who can help you and your children through this difficult time. Simply call the center at 248.399.7447.