Published on August 31, 2020

little girl virtual learning

Back to School Prep: Distance Learning 

The 2020-2021 school year is going to be one for the history books. In the middle of March 2020, schools in the DMV shut down for two weeks with hopes of reopening after the closure.

Once it was clear that was not going to occur, states and counties began working quickly to execute a plan to bring online distance learning to the homes of elementary, middle and high school students. Unfortunately, as much as everyone had hoped, students around the region will not be returning for in-person classes for the start of the school year. Marissa Leslie, MD, system medical director of psychiatry with Adventist HealthCare, highlights ways to make distance learning easier for everyone.


“Children tend to do best when they are in a routine. It doesn’t have to be down to every minute, but a consistent wake-up time, bedtime, breakfast time, learning time, outside time and playtime can help them stay focused throughout the day,” says Dr. Leslie. Aim to stay on schedule too. Although they’re learning from home, your goal should be to keep your child focused during the school day by letting them know their schedule and keeping to a routine. If you have more than one child learning at home, write out a schedule for each of them to follow just like they would have in the classroom at school. Children like to know what is coming next, and this will also allow you to get more work done because they know what the next activity will be.


It is encouraged that parents stay involved in their child’s learning, but that can be difficult when parents are also working at home during the day. Discuss with your employer their expectations for your workday while facilitating distance learning with the children in your home. Instead of beginning to work at 8 or 9 a.m., try starting earlier before your children are up. This will allow you to check your email and get started on some of your tasks before the distance learning begins. Depending on the age of your child, your role in distance learning may only be making sure they log onto their classes and pay attention, or you may have to help facilitate their learning by logging them into class and encouraging them to sit and pay attention and assisting them with their classwork and homework after the instructional lesson.


“When it comes time to learn at home, your child might become distracted more easily since home is associated with play. Create a space in your home that is only for learning and have your child decorate it to be their own,” says Dr. Leslie. Go school supply shopping and get a pencil case, new pens and pencils, storage solutions, etc. to help get your child excited for learning and help them stay organized during the school day. Headphones are also an important addition to the learning space, especially if you have more than one child. Headphones will help keep everyone focused on their class and teacher and less on what’s going on around them.


Learning at home might be difficult for some children. You know your child better than anyone, so brainstorm ways to keep them engaged and focused throughout the day. Limit distractions around your child. Turn off the TV, video games and electronics. Create an environment where your child can have fun learning but can focus. If they have trouble sitting during their instruction, allow thirty minutes of playtime before starting on homework and classwork. Learning virtually is a change for everyone, but especially for younger students. “The interaction with their teacher and classmates is important for their learning and growth,” explains Dr. Leslie. Distance learning won’t look the same as learning in a classroom, so be prepared to try different ways to keep your child engaged in their online classes.


Sitting in front of a computer for an extended period isn’t easy for anyone, but especially for young students who aren’t used to distance learning. When your child has a break in their day or is transitioning from one thing to another, encourage them to get up and move. This helps to get blood and oxygen moving, stimulates the brain and allows for a mental break and help them refocus. Try these ideas to incorporate brain breaks at home:

  • Stretch
  • Dance
  • Listen to music
  • Play outside
  • Go for a walk
  • Listen to a kid-friendly podcast

Most parents are not trained educators so be patient with yourself as the entire world adjusts to distance learning. “Fostering resilience and self-care amid so much uncertainty is one of the best lessons we can teach our children,” says Dr. Leslie.

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