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5 Tips for Keeping Your Kids Engaged as School Begins

An educator offers advice on how to balance your child's remote learning schedule with your workday.

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Not too long ago, I published an article in Entrepreneur that got some pushback from someone on Twitter.

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In the article, I outlined a system that helped me double my productivity while working from home, which involved basing my workday on a schedule rather than on a list of tasks. By blocking out chunks of time, I made commitments that I could manage and this essentially eliminated shame from my day. As a result, I could maintain a much greater focus and persistence rather than overwhelming myself with an overly ambitious list of tasks that I would never come close to completing.

Generally, there was a good response. The article trended on Entrepreneur for a few days. However, one woman on Twitter didn't seem pleased with the solution.

"Obviously you have no kids," she wrote.

And she was correct, I do not have kids.

Related: How Education Technology Calmed the Storm for Students Amid Coronavirus

Indeed, children definitely change the dynamic when it comes to juggling one's work schedule. This means that while you are trying to get your work done and keep your family afloat, they need help with their homework.

And snacks.

And to be separated from their siblings before they tear each other apart.

With so many school districts intending to continue remote learning this fall, there's a significant likelihood that all of this madness will continue. How can one get any actual work done when every day is a constant battle between work productivity and their kids' engagement with education?

A superintendent weighs in

I posed this question to Kathleen Hermsmeyer, Ed.D., who is the superintendent of Springs Charter Schools (SCS) based out of Temecula, CA. SCS is one of the largest charter school systems in all of California, and while there are many values and methodologies that distinguish its approach from other districts there is one that stands out in particular. Because SCS bases its system on a student-centric approach instead of a curriculum-centric approach, even when there was in-person learning the students who attended didn't have a set number of days they went to school each week.

Some students may have only gone for two days a week, while others went the full five. This decision is made based on what that individual student needs, and whether featuring a greater prominence of homeschooling was ideal for them.

The inherent adaptability in this approach allows students and their families to be more agile in how they respond to disruptions like the current global health crisis. In sitting down with Hermsmeyer, she provided a handful of tips for overwhelmed parents. By changing the way you manage your kids' engagement with their own learning, you'll be able to maintain your own productivity while making sure your kid's brain doesn't turn to mush.

Relax restrictions around bedtime

"Allow your kids to sleep until noon," Hermsmeyer says. "This gives you time to work in the morning." As she describes it, as long as they've gotten enough sleep then it doesn't matter when they go to bed and when they get up. This can be especially helpful to those who aren't in the EST zone and will benefit from being up early to speak to those in cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.

Introduce audiobooks into the fold

"Increasing reading volume is a key way to ensure students are set up for life no matter what field they choose," Hermsmeyer says. If a parent could get their child reading for much of their downtime, then they'd be more successful at keeping them out of their hair. But I know from my own youth how hard it is to motivate a young person to read of their own accord. How is a parent supposed to motivate a child who only wants to play on their devices all day?

Related: How Online Learning will Change the Education System post Covid-19

"Listening comprehension is highly correlated with reading comprehension," Hermsmeyer claims. "Listening to a book is almost as beneficial as reading a book. If your child doesn't like to read, start there. You can combine listening to an audiobook with chores like laundry and dishes, or exercise like walking."

Use a later bedtime as an incentive for reading

Combining tips one and two, Hermsmeyer suggests that parents limiting their children's tech use might be helpful. "Take away the child's devices before bed so they don't stay up all night surfing," Hermsmeyer advises. "Instead, install a reading lamp by their bed and tell them they can stay up as late as they want, so long as they're reading (or journaling)."

I remember the day that the seventh Harry Potter book came out (this was back when I was a full-fledged adult who worked as an editor at a book publishing company, mind you), and I needed to make myself go to bed that night even though all I wanted to do was read the thing. If a child felt the same way about something they were reading as well, they could be rather content for long periods of time with an educational activity.

Encourage writing for a variety of purposes

Growing up, assigned writing was always about composing some sort of formal essay or crafted response to questions as part of my larger curriculum. What I found interesting was that Hermsmeyer widens the task of writing to be any number of things – not just formal compositions.

"Writing is the inverse of reading, and it's how we apply what we learn through reading in an expressive way," Hermsmeyer says. "Writing and speaking give children a voice, and these days writing is a key form of communication in the digital world."

In this way, writing benefits the child when it includes all sorts of tasks such as journaling, blogging, writing tweets, making memes, telling stories, or even writing an analysis of a video game or movie. By playing to the child's interests, they'll find their voice through assigned work as well.

Related: Increasing Student Engagement with Online Learning Platforms

Focus on the most accessible subjects during the day

One other thing to keep in mind is that not all subjects are created equal in the child's mind. Most adults have more pressure on them during the workday hours, and, if this is the case for you, Hermsmeyer recommends saving your child's least favorite subjects for the evening when you have more mental space to help them.

"Have your child do the subjects he/she likes most during the day while you're working," she suggests. "Then do the more difficult subject after work when you're available to help with your full attention."

The importance of choice

Choice is something that many students are increasingly losing as education's structure undergoes massive changes in the face of the global health crisis. Despite what we can't change, what might we do to move children away from a less inspired education?

"Choice increases motivation to learn," Hermsmeyer says. "Studies have been done that indicate even the choice of pen color to use to complete an assignment improves motivation to do that assignment. Provide time and space for children to pursue interests even if they aren't on the year's curriculum."

"There's nothing sadder than a high school senior who has no idea what interests him," Hermsmeyer says."We have so many AP and honors students who graduate with no idea what their passions or talents are. This can make college an expensive voyage of discovery for them."

Indeed, my own world opened up after I graduated when I was presented with the choice of what to do with my life. This year, if your child must continue with remote learning, perhaps allowing them more agency and granting them the ability to make some decisions, however small, will help them feel more engaged and motivated in school.

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