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Ask a USask Expert: Supporting learners from home

Dr. Jay Wilson (EdD), associate professor and department head of curriculum studies, provides answers on how you can support your kids as they learn from home.

I want to first off thank everyone who submitted questions. It is important to have a chance to express your thoughts and feelings about working with your child during these exceptional times. Taking the time to articulate what you perceive to be concerns or barriers is a good start to solving them. With some of the questions, people asked about specific medical advice for children who may be under the care of a professional. Although I understand your need for answers, those questions are better addressed outside of the intent of this forum. If you notice a significant change in behavior or on-going patterns that undermine your child’s success please consult your teacher or family doctor for advice.

  • One of the first things you can do as a parent is recognize you are not a teacher. Do not put unnecessary pressure on yourself to fill a role that is difficult even for trained professionals to do at the best of times. Trying to “over structure” your home environment, force them to learn, or disciplining your child may negatively impact your relationship. Instead, look for ways to positively support your child.
  • Examine the activities that take place in the day-to-day experiences in your home that can be used to reinforce learning tasks from school.
  • Cooking, cleaning, building, planning, and banking take place on a daily basis and can give your child exposure to important ideas.
  • Providing your child with a chance to try new processes and experience new things can be very beneficial and not feel like learning.

Your child’s mental well-being is just as important as the content they are learning at home. If, after putting in time learning, you are presented with a choice between forcing them to do more schoolwork or giving them time to engage in a cherished activity that helps their mental health, the choice should be the latter. 

–Dr. Jay Wilson (EdD)

Questions and Answers

As this is an opportunity to be with your child as a student you may be noticing behaviors that are part of your child’s regular approach to learning.

Keep in mind it is almost impossible for teachers to select a schedule that has everyone working and finishing at the same time. Review the expectations of the teacher and set aside time for learning. Encourage your child to work towards deadlines and completing as much as they can. Celebrate when they reach learning milestones.

Don't feel that your child must be engaged in school work all the time.  We do not expect that of adults so it is unfair to expect the same of our children. What may look like downtime is actually important time away from learning materials for students to reflect and process. It is an important “other” part of learning that should not be looked at as unimportant.
Learning happens everywhere, not just at school. As a result, your child is always learning.

Working online might actually be a benefit as your child moves on to university. Much of what happens in post-secondary relies on students’ ability to self-regulate and manage their own learning.

There are many ways to use the remote learning experience to introduce her to online resources and collaborative techniques such as Google Docs to complete group work. The inability to meet face-to-face to transition learners to post-secondary is a challenge, but we also know that through social media high school students are skilled at connecting.

There are excellent first-year learning communities at USask to support and engage students new to the post-secondary experience.
Collaborative learning may be your daughter’s preferred way to learn, which is not a bad thing, but she will need to develop other skills over time.

Setting learning goals that allow her to do some work independently is important. It may take time, but you have to emphasize the importance of learning on her own as well as with others.

When students begin to develop an understanding of their self-concept related to learning they can decide to work independently or with others when it is appropriate. It takes time to build these skills in younger students but they will be very beneficial to her.

hen she is engaged with others the games they are playing might actually serve to reinforce some of the content or concepts she is learning. Ask her questions about what she is doing and taking away from her friend time.
Reading, writing, and playing games are different forms of learning.
They involve key skills that are used in all subjects and represent time well spent. Often when you find materials or tasks that students enjoy they will spend more time and engage more deeply in them. So, if your child is reading it matters not what they are consuming but that they are doing it. Writing helps with mental processing and expressing themselves. Any type of writing is helpful.

Games develop the opportunity to learn rules, interpersonal skills, teamwork and strategy. Movement is healthy and is a positive break from screen time or inactivity.
In terms of a possible diagnosis please contact your child’s teacher to express your concerns.

Teachers spend a great deal of time with our children and are able to see a range of actions that sometimes are not obvious to us as parents. They are also able to guide you in terms of procedure that may work best or what supports are available through the school system.

There are many fine tutors available to provide subject-specific guidance. Retired teachers, current education students, and current teachers can be hired to provide on-going assistance. Perhaps your SCC has a list of people or reach out to other parents who have had success with a tutor.

Keep in mind that your child is still learning how to learn. Have realistic expectations. Establishing routines is important and manageable expectations are also helpful for any child. Ask your son what he thinks might work to encourage him to be part of the solution. The dialogue you engage in will help you both.

It is tough juggling many different demands and making decisions about your child’s learning on your own.
Ensure you are in contact with your medical professional to relay how she is progressing.
As each person is different in terms of medication or mental health programs I am unable to provide that type of advice. What I can share is that online learning is not easy for everyone so don't make her feel that her efforts are the problem. Try to search out aspects of the content that she relates to or connects with and find different ways for her to learn it. Books, podcasts, and short videos related to the content can be helpful and turn dry material into something more concise and engaging.

Finding success in some areas can build confidence that she may transfer to the other material that is more challenging for her.
As I mentioned in the opening, do not feel that you need to become a teacher overnight.

Math is one of the toughest subjects to understand due to the nature of the content, with all apologies to those who teach in other areas. High school students are being provided the opportunity to stay in touch with their teachers to work through the tough spots.

Encourage your child to reach out or participate in sessions with their teacher with a focus on learning and understanding. He may also benefit from connecting and learning with peers as he would if in a regular classroom. Efforts students put in now will help next year.

In math there are some great online resources that break down concepts and make them more engaging. Often learners appear unmotivated because they are unable to generate any momentum. Finding a few successes may create positive momentum.

Next year will be tougher if he has not learned the core concepts, but the teachers are aware of this and are likely planning review activities and supplemental instruction.
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