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Children can provide great insight into the experience of remote online learning, on both benefits and challenges.
With the end of lockdowns approaching, many parents of school-age children will breathe a collective sigh of relief. No longer will they have to monitor their children’s virtual assignments or worry about how to manage the Zoom classroom for their kids. The pandemic and the executive orders to close schools have challenged teachers, parents, and children. The stress of making sure that children are learning what they should be learning has added an extra layer of pressure on both parents and teachers.
We hope that by fall, school personnel will have figured out a way for students and faculty to return safely to school. But the reality of COVID-19 is that many students may start the fall with some version of online instruction. Even if children go in person, at some point during the year, schools may have to revert to virtual learning.
How can parents best support their children if they have to rely on virtual instruction again? What we know from informal observation is that some children have managed better than others this spring. Some children adapted easily to the Zoom classroom and video interactions. Other children had more difficulty managing the work presented mostly through screen instructions.
One of us, Roberta, interviewed her seven-year-old granddaughter, Lilah, to gain insight into the experience of online learning – what worked, what was harder, what she liked about online learning and what she missed about not being in her classroom. Lilah has a long single braid running down her back and a mouth full of gaping holes where she has lost baby teeth. She is just finishing first grade and was happy to answer questions. We recognize that this is just one child’s view, but she provided some great input on the merits and drawbacks of online learning – answers that help us understand this experience through the eyes of a child who has been thrust out of the classroom and onto the computer.
Asked if she liked online learning, Lilah said, “Yes, because when I am done with learning I can play. I don’t have to wait for everyone else.” Each day, she watches the videos her teachers make for her, and when she completes them, she gets to play. She also observed that “in school, kids can be loud and teachers have to pause in the middle and wait. At home, no one else is making it loud.” This child is clearly a self-regulated learner; she has the insight to recognize that when kids talk, it gets in the way of her understanding the teacher. Lilah is a child who likes working at her own pace and prefers a quiet environment. Most children learn more efficiently when there are fewer distractions. However, every child learns differently, and this is one area parents could explore with their children.
Lilah disliked several things about learning online. She noted that getting help was harder. “In school, the teacher knows what we are working on together. At home, I have to explain to Mom or Dad what we are working on before they can help me.” Also, she noted that when her teacher gives instructions in class, she uses props, which are more difficult to see online. Lilah added, “Real school is easier because you can ask for help and you don’t have to figure things out alone.” Finally, online instruction has the usual internet glitches. “Sometimes the screen flickers and makes weird noises.” And sometimes, she added, “Online instruction is boring.” We can feel that way too after endless Zoom calls.
We are not suggesting that Lilah’s experience is universal. Rather, we are encouraging parents to take a few moments to talk with their own children regarding their online classroom experience this spring. By understanding how your children manage online instruction, you may be able to partner with them to create a more effective personal learning environment when schools reopen in the fall.