Ready or not, distance learning is right around the corner for many families in our community. This giant change in educational setting can cause stress and strife in the home. But, it can also be an opportunity to grow alongside your child and support them in a new way. With some purposeful preparation, distance learning can be easier, more productive and less stressful for both adults and children. Below are some tried and true tips and tricks for improving learning and maintaining positive adult/child relationships during distance learning. These can be helpful for students of all ages and abilities.

Set up a Learning Area

Creating a distinct learning area for your student at home is a super important first step in setting up healthy routines, boundaries and expectations for distance learning. You will get the most buy in from your student if you work as a team to decide on this area.  Keep in mind what location and set up will be most convenient for you, your student and your household.

A learning area should be:

  • A place where all learning tools can be accessed and stored easily.
  • Away from unavoidable visual and auditory distractions.
  • Set up in a way that all work can be done comfortably. Parent/ Guardian Tip: Beds or couches are not ideal learning areas.
  • Marked or clearly separate from other areas (try blue painter’s tape!)
  • A place that is always available to your student during working hours.
  • Settled on and not moved.

A learning area could be:

  • In any room in the house.
  • At a special kid size desk or at a pre-existing table.

Set Up a Daily Schedule

A daily schedule can be as detailed, brief, interactive or static as your family desires. Schedules will look very different based upon the age, ability level and level of independence of your student. Get creative!

All schedules should:

  • Have a fixed start time.
  • Make room for appropriate breaks. Students who are younger may need more frequent short breaks than oldekids.
  • Have time at the end of the day for parents and students to reflect together on how the day went. This time should include praise for what went well as well as goal setting for the future.

A schedule could:

  • Be the same for every day or vary slightly depending on what day of the week it is.
  • Have exact times for when breaks and learning occur, or an order of events where work is separated by breaks.

Creating your schedule

  • Structure your day. For younger students or those who need more structure, come up with some specific break and meal times for the workday. Students who are older and very independent may just need an agreed upon start and end time for the school day.
  • Visual schedule. Create a schedule by separating parts of the day or “to do” items onto individual tiles (go to to purchase tiles or make your own) so that they can be picked and moved based on what that day will look like. This is particularly helpful if your days vary, your student is younger or your student requires the need to feel more control. Don’t forget to have break tiles! Parent/ Guardian Tip: Pick out the tiles that you know need to be a part of that day and let your student arrange them in an order that they like. They will feel like they have control, which means less power struggles!
  • Post It! The day’s schedule should be posted or easily visible from your student’s learning area. Depending on age and ability, students may benefit from having a picture associated with each part of the day, including appropriate breaks. And, if more than one adult is helping your child in the school week, this will help everyone to be on the same page.

The most important part of building a schedule is that you and your student agree on the schedule, that it works for both of you, and that it is recorded in a way that is accessible to them.

Create Accountability

You may be thinking: Schedules are cool, but how am I supposed to hold my student accountable to following one?

  • Buy in is everything! Include your student in the creation of their schedule so they will not only feel valued and heard, but they will feel ownership over their schedule.
  • Use a timer they can see (a sand timer or kitchen timer) to distinguish work time from break time.
  • Two categories of breaks to choose from. With your student create two lists of breaks for them to choose from. One list should include very desirable activities that are earned when your student has followed the schedule. These activities will vary depending on your child’s interests and age, but might be a tasty snack/treat, play time with a special toy that only comes out during breaks or a YouTube video. The other list are things that are relaxing, but not as fun as the first list, including fruit/veggie snack, a puzzle, stretching, etc.
  • Identify an end of day reward your kids will look forward to for sticking to the schedule. This should be something free or low-cost, and fun for them! Think dance party, tv time, trip to the park, favorite meal or a sticker on a reward chart for a prize they will earn later.

No matter what you choose to do or not do, keep in mind that this is a huge change for you and your student. Don’t forget to give yourself some grace in these unprecedented times. Please remember that doing your best is enough and that mistakes or hard days are just another excuse for kids and adults to learn and grow!

This article is brought to you by Michelle Hjelm, a seasoned early childhood educator who has successfully navigated and supported students during distance learning.