Coronavirus forces schools to shift online. Here’s how to keep kids focused

Here's a sight Victorian parents won't be seeing next week – students will start term 2 at home.

Here's a sight Victorian parents won't be seeing next week – students will start term 2 at home. Photo: AAP

Victorian students will front up to their first day of term 2 next week in freshly laundered uniforms – but they’ll be in very different classrooms. They’ll be at home.

The state, on April 6, officially moved all government and non-government schools to online learning (where possible) and it will vastly change the way students, teachers and households operate.

Other states are employing similar tactics, and more announcements could flow as soon as this week, in line with national discussions.

It’s just another part of the way society is being forced to adapt to the coronavirus outbreak.

The move to online learning has prompted some fears from experts, that it will drive an even bigger wedge between the haves and the have-nots.

The Conversation published a story last week that compared the ‘digital divide’ that exists for students within Australia.

“About 87 per cent of Australians can access the internet at home. But only 68 per cent of Australian children aged five to 14 living in disadvantaged communities have internet access at home, compared to 91 per cent of students living in advantaged communities,” the piece penned by University of New South Wales’ Amy Graham and Pasi Sahlberg said.

Beyond the physical and technical barriers to learning, there’s also the issue of radically overhauling a key component of daily living: Going to school, learning and going home.

This is where it’s imperative for parents and children to be on the same page, teacher-turned-author Gabbie Stroud said.

“We need to just accept that this is going to be a disruptive and disorganised year for students,” Ms Stroud told The New Daily.

She said a key part of that was adjusting expectations for students’ performance, and drawing children closer to parents, as family units moved together in this new world.

While it’s an instinct, as a parent, to protect a child, in this situation it’s important to keep children up to date with what’s happening, and to let them know that it’s OK to feel uncertain or even overwhelmed, Ms Stroud said.

“Loop the kids in, put them on the same page as you. As the adults, we don’t need to protect them from this, we can draw them in,” she said.

“We all just need to take care of one another right now.”

Making learning from home work

It’s going to take a lot of adjustment from all parties involved to get this new-look education working seamlessly.

These are Ms Stroud’s top tips for parents transitioning their children to home learning.

Find a routine and stick to it

“Kids respond very well to boundaries, routine – parents need to put all of that in place,” Ms Stroud advised.

“Sit down and have a family meeting, discuss ‘Here’s what our days are going to look like’.

“Find your own rhythm and routine, what works for your family. Once you find that, build on it.

“In my family, we’ve realised that we can be dressed, breakfasted, bed made and ready by 8.30am – and then we can knock off early. That works for us.

“In my experience, if you take that time wisely to set up expectations and routines for kids, it does become like a well-oiled machine. While it feels like a big challenge for parents setting that up … but take a day off your own work and set it up; it will be worth your dividends.”

Online learning doesn’t mean constant screen time

“Kids need plenty of breaks from screen time throughout the day – we need to look at ways of breaking the days up.

“Schools can be a good place to go for that advice.

“Plan in an early morning fruit break, a recess break, a lunch break.

“The day shouldn’t be entirely for digital tasks, they need practical learning as well.”

This is reiterated in The Conversation article we referenced earlier: “Authorities could also relax curriculum requirements and give parents autonomy to spend time with children on alternative educational activities. Music, physical activity and free play outdoors whenever possible can be equally educational for children’s learning and wellbeing as study with a computer indoors.”

Those critical years

Ms Stroud said the students she feared most for were those in year 12, who are at the culmination of their education, only to have everything they planned for thrown into disarray.

Here’s her advice for parents in navigating their year 12 children through to graduation.

“Lots of students by this stage have developed very worthwhile learning skills. So many of them know that they’ve got to put hard work into the work. They do struggle with time management and planning and giving tasks time.

“It’s worth parents checking in here – ‘send me a draft copy’ or ‘loop me into the email to your teacher’.”

She said at this age, under stress, some students could withdraw from family conversations.

This is where parents could play a sneaky card in keeping in contact with a child’s close friend or trusted teacher, to make sure everything is on track.

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