Here we are, starting another school year of distance learning. My kiddos are in elementary school: a kindergartner and 2nd-grader. It is only day one, but I have noticed a trend. The parents I have witnessed seem to be one of three types: the hovering parents, the absent parents, or the irritated parents. I will fully admit that I am a “hoverer.” I am the parent who sits in the back while on meetings, trying not to be in the screen, making sure that my kiddo is paying attention and answering questions when they are called on. I make sure they are “muting and unmuting” when they need to. My kiddos do their own assignments, but I make damn sure that they have submitted their assignments in the right place. I always wonder if my hovering is helping or hurting them, but because they are so young: I just want to be sure we are present and accounted for online with all assignments turned in.
I know that my status as a “hovering parent” is a privilege. Not all parents can be a hovering parent even if they want to because they are unable to be there for distance-learning lessons. Some are at work, some are at school, and some just simply cannot be there to help.
I want to be crystal clear when I say: I am not judging and talking negatively about any one of these parent types. There are a million reasons for why we are the way we are in this situation. Work status, education, attitude toward education, language barriers, familiarity with technology, familial situations, and the list goes on.
In this article, I will try to shoot little pieces of advice to each of these three parent groups.
As I said: this is absolutely me. I am proud of myself that I barely hovered with my 2nd grader today. Well, this is also because she “waved” me out of the room a few times (ha-ha). But I was genuinely surprised at how much she was able to do on her own! I saw her unmuting herself, spouting off brilliant answers, and then casually muting herself again several times. It showed me that as she gets older, I really do not need to hover as much. She did her two assignments very easily; I showed her what buttons to push to “submit” and we were done in a flash. I doubt I will have to help her that much this year. Amazing.
Fellow hoverers, here are a few tips that I use to try to increase my kiddo’s independence:
1) make sure they are truly doing their own work. I have been tempted many times to type something in for my kiddo when she gives me the answer out loud, but I stop myself and tell her, “You gotta type it in, honey. I definitely can’t do it for you”. Even if it’s just her typing in her name somewhere, I wait the agonizing minutes for her to type in H-A-R-P-E-R, no matter how long it takes. Or even if it’s just clicking the mouse, I make sure it’s her doing it and not me.
2) During their class meetings, try to be out of the room if you can. This one took me a while to learn. Kids are already embarrassed enough being on a Zoom meeting, but their parents watching what they do can make it even more embarrassing. Stay close enough to help if they need it but give them some privacy when you can.
3) Try to let them be responsible for sticking to their schedule and completing assignments on time. We have been setting a timer for class meetings and making sure they have a physical daily “to-do list” that have “checkboxes” for them to check off tasks when they are done. Although my kids are young, I want them to know that they are supposed to have things in on time and what it means when something is late, like losing points and lowered grades. The biggest thing I am trying to teach myself is that there is a difference between supporting them if they need it and doing everything for them.
The Absent Parent
Absent parent: I do not judge you at all! I know things are crazy, and this is new territory for all of us. If you are working and cannot be there, I totally understand. If you are home and cannot be there, I totally understand as well. Or perhaps you are an absent parent during distance learning because you want your kids to be independent, I absolutely understand this as well.
These are the few tips I would give this group:
1) take advantage of the classroom phone apps. I have been pleasantly surprised that our kids’ teachers have encouraged us to download “class dojo” and other programs to follow our kids work and progress on our phones. I imagine this would be a huge advantage to parents who are at work all day.
2) utilize email for communication with teachers. Phone calls take time and effort, but email seems to be an easier mode of communication for most people. Send your questions and concerns to your teacher via email and try to have it connected through your phone. This way: you can converse with the teacher during work hours. Also, this way you can take time to respond to teacher’s questions or thoughts and vice versa.
3) If you are at home but absent from the experience: just make sure your child knows that your help is available if they need it. I imagine it would be scary for a student to navigate a new technology system and coursework alone. If you are unsure of how to help with coursework, utilize your school resources and do not be afraid to express your concern to their teacher
4) Lean on your parent community through social media. Most schools have social media pages for the school, the parent-teacher organization, and resources. Join these groups and ask questions on social media. Most people are incredibly happy to help. When you are off work at night, you can lean on this community to inquire about anything your child has missed or had trouble with.
5) Make sure your child is comfortable with a) logging on and off and b) muting and unmuting. These seem to be especially important in most distance-learning scenarios. The most important thing I would say about this: do not beat yourself up if you cannot be there. Kids are tougher than we think and as long as they know they are loved; they will be alright.
The Irritated Parent
Irritated Parent: I am so sorry things are so rough right now. No judgement toward your irritation. I think that many of us are low on energy, low on patience, overworked, and feel like there’s not enough time to do everything. There are many tips on how to manage this stress online.
The first thing I want to add is that if the household has been stressful, make sure your child knows how to mute and unmute. I have heard many irritated parents this morning through Zoom, and the students looked embarrassed and saddened. Try to remember that while it is ok to be annoyed, try to be mindful of when they are in a live class meeting and be aware of the mute button. To avoid this, practice logging on and off and using the mute and unmute buttons.
2) Do not feel like you must do everything for them. You can set them up for success by a) printing their weekly schedule b) making them a daily or weekly to-do list at the beginning of each week c) finding all their websites/programs and helping your student access them before school starts d) make sure they have needed school materials. Once they have the tools, all they need to do is follow instructions. Be there to support them but encourage their independence with distance-learning.
3) Do your best to take good care of your physical self and make sure your child is doing the same. Research supports the idea that your mental well-being is better when you are eating well, getting healthy amounts of sleep, and squeezing in bouts of exercise and mindfulness (Edutopia.org, 2020). Irritability definitely correlates with rest and diet. Try to be mindful that your child is likely feeling stress and anxiety too and would benefit from a healthy routine. The last tip I would give is
4) try to do something that is fun and related to school as often as possible. Cooking a meal together, taking a walk, watching a show, or something that takes you out of the roles as “homeschool teacher and student”. Even if the student has a ton of homework, take a few minutes daily to disconnect from distance learning. Naturally, meals and rest are times that are “away from school” but try to add other elements of non-school time even if they are short durations.
This is hard, guys. We must remember that while some parents haven’t had to worry about a thing, other parents are unable to navigate this new distance learning situation for whatever reason. Parents and kids are having a hard time. We should help people when we can, understand the reasons that people cannot figure it out, and strive to connect with our school communities. To each one of the listed parent groups: lean on your support, find community, do not beat yourself up, and give your kids a big ole’ hug. One day at a time.
Best of luck to all of you this school year.
Stephanie McCoy was born and raised in Portland, Oregon-where she still lives. She recently graduated with a Master’s in Education degree from Concordia University. In her free time: she likes to read and write, get outdoors, embrace her kiddos and husband, and watch travel documentaries.