Freaking out about online school?… Let me help!
My 3 kids (4, 6 & 8 yrs old) have been online since the beginning & I’ve tamed this circus with much hair-pulling & frustration… but we are mostly stable and chugging along at this point. The following is a list of tips that have helped me survive this challenging situation for children and caregivers.
Breathe. It’s pretty scary now & indeed it will be bonkers at the beginning but it WILL get better & a couple weeks of school chaos won’t be the end of the world. Many teachers are planning next year to be review-heavy because this year has been so nuts. If your kids learn *anything* online, count it as a win.
Set Up & Organization
• Try to set up separate work areas for each child if you have the space. They will need a big space at a table, the teachers seem to love messy crafts. A dollar store wipe-clean table cloth is a good idea, you WILL have a mess. Kids will distract each other if in the same room. Keep all their supplies in a tote so you can pack up easily & get your kitchen table back for dinner time.
• If you need another computer, let your school know ASAP. Tablets are less than ideal, but may be OK for your family for the short term. Make sure an outlet is nearby because battery power won’t last all day.
• Headphones may or may not be ideal for your family. You can gain some peace & quiet & kids who are near each other won’t interfere… but it’s tough to ensure your child isn’t blasting the volume… or muted. And my kids’ teachers keep giving out-loud instructions to parents like they assume I’m right there & can hear.
• You might need craft supplies: paint, glue, play-doh, coloured paper, pipe cleaners, string, popsicle sticks & countables like dry noodles. Etc.
• Your kids will need open space that they can point their webcam at for gym class.
• Laptops and Chromebooks can produce a lot of heat. It might affect your table top. I suggest a place-mat underneath. I use a woven wicker place-mat that also allows for air flow.
• Keep all the kids’ various logins & passwords handy. You’ll need to re- enter them frequently. Security experts recommend using a password manager like LastPass or OnePassword.
• Some teachers will email important info to parents’ emails… some to the kids’ school emails. You need access to this.
• For some reason all my kids have totally different break/lunch/online/solo work times. I had to make a colour coded spreadsheet to keep it all straight & set reminder alarms to get them back online at certain times.
• I found that my 6 year old learned the technology in the first week (mute/unmute, log into Google Meet, open bookmarks, etc). My 8 yr old got it easily. My 4 year old needs help.
• You may need a beefier printer. One that uses toner not ink (laser not inkjet). I have printed hundreds of worksheets at this point. It’s nuts. It may help to use a app to print from your phone (like the HP Printer Plugin for Android). A wireless printer is a godsend.
• Your kids will find Google & will start typing gross/weird/mature things in there. Have a chat with them about online safety & what’s appropriate. Keep an eye out. You may be interested in computer/internet filtering software or services. I use a service called SafeDNS that does a decent job of blocking categories at certain times of day. This one works at the router level. Think your kid is too young to worry about this? I’m talking 6 year olds.
• The teachers might have kids use various websites for educational games, reading material, etc. Often these are stuffed with ads. 2 extensions you can install in your web browser will block most of the ads (yay!): Adblock Plus by adblockplus . org & uBlock Origin by Raymond Hill.
• Teach your kids the keyboard shortcuts for their virtual meeting program (Zoom, Google Meet, etc). This is often easier for little ones than clicking with the mouse and often faster. For example for Google Meet = ctrl+e to toggle camera, ctrl+d to toggle microphone. In fact, keyboard shortcuts are awesome in most programs. Ctrl+a to ‘select all’, ctrl+c to copy selected text, ctrl+v to paste copied text.
• If you have to take photos of your child’s work to hand it into the teacher, here’s some suggestions: Use bright light, reduce the resolution (ex change HD to SD) on your camera so the photo files aren’t enormous and take forever to upload (the teacher doesn’t need a billboard sized image lol), if the photo is washed out, try increasing contrast using a photo editing software or app. Don’t forget to delete these (and all the downloaded printouts) off your phone later, mine keeps running out of space! If your internet is slow or you have a ton to submit, try syncing them to Google Drive which your phone will do in the background… then you can link them from there.
• Check if your internet service has data/usage caps. Your all day streaming video might eat this up quickly and hit you with shockingly high bills.
• For anyone shopping for a beefy webcam, I have been very happy with the Logitech C920 Webcam HD Pro. Windows has a program called ‘Camera’ that you can use to take photos or video with your connected webcam.
• I have a blog post of Google Classroom tech tips.
Mental & Physical Health
• The kids will get bored or overwhelmed. Take extra breaks. Log out for an afternoon. Especially the younger kids. The teachers understand. I found out after 2 hard months that most of my son’s fellow JK kids had switched to mornings only. This helped.
• Watch out for new or increased online bullying. Talk to your kids. Keep an eagle eye on their accounts. I noticed name calling among 8 year olds in chat. Also, it’s not fun to deal with this, but kids as young as grade 7 are pressuring each other to send nude photos. If they are online & alone all day now, this may increase. Talk to your teens & preteens… as someone who works in online IT… I guarantee this stuff never ever goes away once it gets out. We need to talk to our daughters and sons about this. OK lecture over.
• Encourage good at-computer posture and ergonomics. A wrist rest for older kids who type a lot, back support and good posture. If you can position your monitor, the top of the screen should be at eye level. Elbows at a 90 degree angle and wrists straight. I know this is tough for little ones at big tables, but maybe some stretching and a cushion would help. It’s not great to have a window directly behind the screen or sunlight reflecting off the screen, because staring into the outside light all day can cause eye strain.
• All children are different when it comes to focus and attention. Some kids need total silence to avoid distraction. But some will benefit by some quiet instrumental music ‘behind’ the teacher’s talking or while working solo. Some kids get ‘in the zone’ with long stretches of time to focus into a task and work for long periods. Some kids (and adults!) prefer to focus in short chunks like 15 mins at a time. Heck there are many adults who use something called the Pomodoro Technique. If your child prefers frequent work-break-work-break cycles this is quite common.
• Adjust screen brightness – lower in a darker room, brighter in a bright sunny room. Middle of the slider for a normal indoor kitchen. Too dim or too bright can cause eye strain.
• Shopping for a laptop or new computer? Allow me (a programmer) to urge you to avoid BestBuy and similar chain bigbox computer stores. Your local PC shop is full of computer loving nerds and will give you something that might be a bit more expensive but will last longer, be repairable, and not full of crapware. I use PC Outfitters behind Devonshire mall. Bonus – if you have a computer problem, these small shops will try harder to fix it versus the ‘Geek Squad’ and similar who often wipe your whole machine and start you from scratch or try to get you to buy new parts or a whole new computer even if you don’t need it.
Good luck everyone! Feel free to share your own tips in the comments below.