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5 Distance-learning hacks to save your sanity (and dignity!)

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Here’s how to stay sane as a parent when your kids are learning remotely.

This morning as I was rushing out the door to meet a client, I paused to make sure that my 2nd grader and pre-kindergartner were still in their study spots where I carefully positioned them 20 minutes earlier for their morning Zoom classes. The 2nd grader was there—albeit upside down in his chair, with his iPad on the floor and his head dangling precariously above it. My 4-year-old Isaac, however, was nowhere to be seen. I did a quick sweep of the downstairs before sprinting up the stairs. Sure enough, I found him in the first place I looked—casually perched on the toilet with his iPad propped in his lap. 

I immediately texted my client and apologized for the fact that I was definitely going to be late. Then I picked the iPad up and put it in the other room while I explained to Isaac yet again that the iPad wasn’t allowed to go into any room in the house other than the kitchen. And yet again he responded, perfectly bewildered, “but Mommy, I had to poop.”

Needless to say, distance learning is going spectacularly, as you can see. I can’t say I’m surprised, given how difficult the spring was. When I expressed my fears about revisiting virtual learning to my kids’ teachers over the summer, they all reassured me that it would be much different than it was in the spring. And they’re not wrong – it is indeed much different. To their great credit, the teachers have clearly put countless hours of planning, training, and endless Zoom meetings into facilitating education remotely. I’ll be honest, I doubt any teachers in America are getting more than a couple hours of sleep a night right now. They’re the real heroes — they’ve built entirely new curricula and education systems in a matter of months because they’re wholeheartedly committed to our children. And while the format and structure of distance-learning is indeed much better than it was in the spring, the format and structure of our household is not. 

During lockdown, all four adults in our home were working from home. My dad, my mom, my sister and I were all able to take rotating shifts to help get the kids through their schoolwork. But with lockdown orders partially lifted, all four of us are either back to full-time work outside the home or working remotely only part of the time. Thankfully my three oldest kids are back to in-person school, which is great for them but leaves the 4- and 7-year-olds to manage distance learning largely on their own. There’s always one adult in the house, but said adult is either on a business call or a Zoom meeting. And let’s be honest, y’all – even Mary Poppins herself wouldn’t be able to effectively oversee the education and behavior of twenty 4- and 7-year-olds through a tiny pixelated screen.

Which is why I found myself towel-clad and cowering in my closet this afternoon (having narrowly escaped the roving Zoom screen of doom) and thinking, this is bonkers!! that child is never gonna stop taking his iPad to the nearest available bathroom. There has GOT to be a hack for this.

My Google results were disappointing. While there are plenty of distance learning tips and tricks, they’re either wildly optimistic about parental oversight or predicated on children having at least a tentative grasp of iPads being two-way screens. So I racked my brain (and the brains of my friends and family) to bring you this: the 5 best hacks for surviving distance learning without losing your mind (or your dignity). 

1
Lock down the devices

No, I don’t mean with a passcode and parental controls — school-issued devices already have those. I mean, physically lock those screens in one location. Get a tablet stand –  not the kind that just props the tablet up. Get the kind with metal clamps that require 27 Allen wrenches and an advanced degree in engineering to release. Then gorilla glue that sucker straight to the kitchen table.  Sure, the school district probably won’t be thrilled when you return their device encased in a stand attached to a sawed-off piece of your kitchen table, but y’all. That’s a small price to pay to keep your dignity. 

2
Communicate with teachers

Here’s the truth: your kids’ teachers are as overwhelmed as you are right now, if not more. They’re doing the best they can to keep up with the education of dozens of students they can’t actually see in person, and the only thing they have to go on is the work those kids submit (or don’t submit) through their device … unless they have some kind of relationship with you. They know exactly how stressful, overwhelming, and well-nigh impossible this situation is — but they don’t know what’s going on outside that Zoom screen. I mean, sometimes they know all too well what’s going on, but I digress.

Don’t sacrifice your sanity out of pride — just tell the teachers what your situation is. If you’re juggling a full-time job plus facilitating distance-learning, they will absolutely understand. Explain your limitations clearly, and don’t apologize for what you can’t do. It is what it is, and you have to be your family’s best advocate. But do ask for understanding, and maybe a little mercy. Oh yeah, and don’t forget that teachers are going through this mess, too (many of them with kids of their own at home!), and like us all, they might need a little comfort in this crazy time. Compliments and gratitude are important, but so are gifts!

3
Breathe

At some point, maybe after the fourth email of the day with 10-step instructions to create an account for your child on yet another enrichment app, you might be seriously tempted to throw the school iPad onto the street in front of an oncoming 18-wheeler. When you hit that breaking point, immediately find a quiet room and lock yourself inside it. A closet, a bathroom … really any room with a lock on the door will work. Give yourself five minutes to breathe. Breathe in slowly through your nose, hold your breath for a few seconds, then slowly let out. Try to think about nothing but your lungs expanding and retracting. As your heart rate slows, let your muscles relax. If necessary, repeat this 5-minute practice every 5 minutes for the rest of the day. (Maybe UberEats a pizza for the kids, though.)

4
Fill your cup

Here’s a true thing: you can’t fill anyone else’s cup if your own cup is empty. As parents, we’re constantly giving and doing things for others – which is great! It’s a virtue and it brings us closer to Christ. But we can’t give our kids and our spouses what they need if we have nothing to give. So schedule time to fill your own cup, whatever that looks like for you.

For me, it would be an hour of kickboxing. For you, it might be a long walk in the morning or swim in the evening. Whatever it is that calms your spirit and fills you with peace, make that your number one priority. Resist the temptation to think this is selfish — it’s actually the least selfish thing you can do for your family. If you really want to give them your best, you first must make sure you have the best to give them.  

5
Pray. Constantly.

I can count on one hand the number of times I said the phrase, “Jesus, take the wheel” before March. I cannot, however, count how many times I said it today alone. That prayer, which used to seem like a joke to me, has become an unceasing plea for grace. I say it in my head, I say it out loud, I say it when I want to say something much less prayerful — and not only do I mean it, but it helps. It helps me remember that the world is so much bigger than this crazy, stressful time–and it helps me remember to lean on God’s grace to get through it.

Whatever your favorite prayer is, make it your mantra. Pray without ceasing, because we need every ounce of grace we can get right now. Pray as a reminder to yourself and your family that God will never abandon us, and that we will get through this.

 

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