Written by Sarah Mill and Susan H. Christiansen

First day jitters are hitting hard this year for students, teachers, and parents as they grapple with distance learning.

As kids kick off the new school year from home, parents are left to ask, “How do you plan for distance learning?” and “How can I establish success at home?

The good news? There are things you can do to help create a sense of normalcy during these times of unfamiliarity and uncertainty.

One of the first priorities should be establishing and implementing routines to help your student find success while distance learning. Fostering a structured environment for children to learn will not only provide consistency but will encourage independence as time goes on.

No matter how you slice it, your student needs a distance learning routine. Routine helps to keep them engaged in the curriculum while minimizing the risk of widening learning gaps.

Routines can also reduce the stress and anxiety your child feels during this adjustment. Knowing what to expect helps them feel a sense of control amid the chaos.

However, before you go crazy mapping out every second of every day, Mom and educator Ashley Judd reminds us, “Don’t let the perfectly planned to-the-minute homeschool schedules plastered on social media make you feel inferior…. Simple structure is more valuable than you think.”

What Is the Purpose of a Daily Routine?

The goal of building routines is to help us get what we want from life. Think of a routine as a task list you create and put in a certain order that makes your life easier and helps you reach your goals.

Creating routines gives us:

1.     the ability to develop skills through daily consistency

2.     predictability to know what will happen each day which reduces stress

3.     an opportunity to develop persistence (stick-to-it determination even through challenges) in reaching goals

2.     clear path to accomplish our daily tasks and benchmark future goals

3.     a way to create smooth and peaceful transitions throughout the day

4.     an opportunity to help our children build skills they will use throughout their lives

5.     early daily wins which set the stage for continued progress and success throughout the day

6.     efficiency and economy of movement because we plan how best to accomplish tasks

7.     the ability to build in “must-do” tasks that help us to make adequate progress towards completing a project, like:

• help us remember to pack everything we need for school the night before using a launchpad area,

• wash clothes on our clothes washing day which means we can easily and quickly get dressed and move on to other activities

Reviewing your routines periodically helps you to quickly change something that isn’t working before it grows into a large problem.

In addition, your child’s goals and responsiblities may change which would prompt both of you to evaluate your current routines and make any changes necessary.

These changes could be necessary because of a change in circumstance such as in-person classes, distance learning, summer school, summer break, a new job, etc.

Evaluating and updating your routines is a normal and convenient way to evaluate your current circumstances.

Start by Establishing a Daily Personalized Routine That Works for (All of) You

As you navigate the balancing act between parenting, working, and now facilitating education, it is important to start off on the right foot. If you felt particularly overwhelmed with the sudden onset of distance learning in teh spring, this is a great chance to create a structured routine that suits everyone in your home.

No level of routine can prevent the curveballs life throws at us, so make sure to leave room for flexibility. You can use this experience as a life lesson, building your child’s resilience. 

General Tips and Tricks That Establish a Successful Distance Learning Routine

In addition to designating a distraction-free workspace and organizing materials for ease of access, consider the following pieces of advice when drafting up your routine:

  • Make the routine together. Allow room for input from your child to help establish a sense of ownership in their success.
  • Carry on with general routines of wake-up and bedtime as well as morning routines of breakfast, getting dressed, brushing teeth, etc. to establish a familiar foundation to the routine.
  • Be sure to build in meal and movement breaks throughout the day.
  • Schedule flexible remote learning time to encourage your student to explore their interests in an educational way.
  • Social learning is important too! Include a social break where students connect with their friends.
  • The sooner you establish it, the better! If you can start day one with a schedule, that will help establish a sense of routine and normalcy, making it easier to transition out of summer-mode.
  • Stick to it! No point in creating a routine if you’re not going to stand by it. Students need routine. Even without a pandemic at play, the CDC notes the benefits of routine in structure, reminding parents that “things go more smoothly when you and your child know what to expect.”
  • Don’t forget the power of connection. Make it a priority to check-in with your student each day, reviewing what they learned and determining any adjustments the routine may need.

If you don’t know where or how to begin, check out Pearson’s sample routine for families and kids of all ages.

Click on any of the “daily routine” templates below to download.

Personalize the Routine

Routines are going to look different from household to household, parent to parent, child to child… and they should! No two situations are alike and every child has a unique personality and set of needs. Take the time to find the routine that works best for you and your student.

Take note from Italian educator Maria Montessori, who encourages parents to “follow the child” to better tailor their education to suit their interests and needs. Take advantage of this opportunity to create a schedule to match your child’s learning style and incorporate their interests whenever possible.

Tips for Building a Unique Distance Learning Routine for Your Student

Distance learning provides a unique opportunity for independent learners doing online learning routines. With more flexibility to their routine, these students can move at their own pace and free up time to pursue enrichment activities. To encourage your independent learner: 

  • Have them fill out an organizer at the start of the week/day to encourage organization and narrow their focus. Try this printable planer from Teachers Pay Teachers.
  • Stick to tasks, not time frames, to allow for the student to work at their own pace.
  • Balance work and play. Schedule both work times and break times to help balance the workload.
  • Schedule for flex time during which you can encourage the student to engage in enrichment activities. Challenge them to connect their lessons to the real world.

The Work-Smart Academic Planner, written by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare, is a guide for students in grades 6-12 written by executive skills experts. This planner teaches students about getting organized, making goals, and provides tools and templates for keeping track of school assignments, capitalizing on student strengths, and identifying weaknesses (skills that need more learning and practice). I was really impressed with the value placed on checking off items that are completed to reinforce good behavior and the questions asked to help the child learn to create their own routines and goals.

Smart but Scattered, written by Peg Dawson, and Richard Guare, provides tons of information on how to help your bright, talented child, ages 4-13, excel in life. If your child struggles with remembering to do school assignments, turn assignments in, clean their rooms, or can’t remember where they set something down, this book is for you. Strategies to help your child resist impulses, stay focused, use time wisely, and stay in control of their emotions are detailed in this book. Loads of practical explanations and worksheets for helping the child identify the problem and then work out the solution. There’s a detailed survey and step-by-step instructions on how parents can help their kids.

Tips for Helping a Struggling Learner Build a Distance Learning Routine

Distance learning  schedules can be especially tough for struggling learners if they do not have the right amount of structure and support throughout the day. To support your struggling learner:

  • Have your student write it down their daily schedule and goals to help them take ownership. Hang it up where it can be a visual reminder throughout the day. For younger children, you can also include a fun approach to planning like this.
  • Break up the routine in smaller chunks, focusing on smaller goals or fewer subjects a day to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Scheduling frequent but short movement breaks can help.
  • Minimize distractions by scheduling fixed times for distractions and other fun things. Set a timer to signal when it is time to get back to work.
  • Help your student connect the content to their interests to promote continued learning and connection throughout the day.

For students who need a little extra support, try sprinkling executive functioning mini-lessons throughout the week.

Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself (or Your Student)

This isn’t one size fits all, nor should it be. Despite the lack of control you may feel, this is an opportunity to establish a new normal. Take the time to discover a routine that works best for you and your student. Success will follow.

One final piece of advice? Ask for help when needed. Utilize online resources, reach out to teachers and schools, and talk with fellow parents. You are not in this alone. Students, teachers, and other parents are right there with you. Take a deep breath, you’re doing the best you can.