As kindergarten through fifth grade starts up for the semester Tuesday, many families have chosen to avoid leaving the house — with nearly half of New York City public school parents opting for full-time remote instruction for their kids. The remaining 54% will stick with distance learning at least half of the week. (Middle and high school begins Oct. 1.)
But it can all be a giant, ongoing headache for moms and dads, who often have to slide into the role of teachers’ aides, too.
“It can feel overwhelming, and it’s never going to be as good as being fully in-person,” said Elizabeth Stephens, a mom of two who works for the Yonkers school district.
“But we have come a long way since the spring, when distance learning was a shock for everyone,” she said. “Technology has improved and people have gotten more used to it. It helps if you create a routine or schedule [that mimics the physical school day] while allowing for flexibility.”
The Post spoke to Stephens and six other heroic teachers on both sides of the struggle: educating students while also monitoring remote learning for their own kids. Here, their best tips for making the transition back into Zoom school as smooth as possible.
Set up a workspace
Make sure your child has a dedicated workstation, even if it’s just a spot on the kitchen table that they use during school hours. If possible, place them next to a window, as natural light helps prevent headaches and eye strain.
“Respect that space as their own,” said Micaela Bracamonte, founder and head of the Lang School in Manhattan’s Financial District and mother to a high school junior and a college sophomore, both learning from home. “Outfit the desk daily with a stable of set tools they’re likely to need to complete work across a variety of subjects.” These might include blank paper in a tray, pens and pencils in a mug, a ruler and a calculator.
Bracamonte also recommends investing in a height-adjustable chair; a child should be able to sit at a desk or table with their arms resting on it at a right angle. “This supports their core and is the ideal position for attention and, therefore, learning,” she added.
Get kids up and running
Stick to the exact morning habits you would if your children were attending school in person. Set an alarm early enough to have them showered, dressed and fed before they log on to class.
“You don’t want them getting on Zoom looking like they just rolled out of bed,” said Treanna Neufville, a special-education teacher at Brooklyn Preparatory High School in Williamsburg. “They have to get into the school mindset from the get-go.”
She corrals sons Adonis, 13, and Arius, 9, both public school students in Brooklyn, by programming calendar notifications on their phones to keep them on track and accountable. “Building routines is key,” said Neufville.
Don’t let glitches get you down
Leonor Cassese-Tierney, a teacher at Family School 32 in Yonkers, has too often found herself running tech support while supervising her daughter, Victoria, during the 8-year-old’s remote third-grade classes.
She advises keeping passwords on a sheet of paper attached to the wall and making use of the meeting platform’s chat function or e-mail to alert teachers to technical problems.
“When the computer is lagging or not responding, take it as a sign to stop, pause, reflect and breathe,” Cassese-Tierney told The Post. “Tell a joke or share a tidbit from the lesson they are waiting to rejoin.”
Keep environmental distractions to a minimum by having your child wear headphones if they can tolerate them. Put temptations like favorite toys and gaming devices out of sight. And, as adorable as they are, ensure pets don’t interfere with class by making cameo appearances on-screen.
Dara Abrams, mom of two and a teacher at PS 189 in Washington Heights, recommends taking short breaks every 20 to 30 minutes to let off steam by doing jumping jacks or bouncing on exercise balls. Just like in a regular classroom, it pays to shift between more intense learning and fun physical activities. Fidget spinners and stress balls could also come in handy. She also emphasizes the importance of praise: “It can be as simple as celebrating your child’s ability to stay seated during lesson time or that they raised their hand to participate.”
One essential item in Abrams’ tool box — something she uses to motivate her pre-K son — is a sticker chart. It reminds children that their behavior is being monitored and holds them accountable for their actions.
“Not only is there great excitement when he earns a sticker for each completed assignment or task, he knows he will earn a special reward [like a snack or inexpensive toy] when his whole chart is filled,” said Abrams, who suggested the technique be employed for students aged between 2 and 7 or 8. “For younger kids or ones that need a faster ability to earn their reward, you can do a chart with about 10 squares. As time goes on, [add] more squares, so they take a little longer to reach their goal.”
Preserve the parent-child bond
Many parents fear the relationship with their kids might change now that they’re disciplining and correcting their school work throughout the day.
Mom of four Luvenia Harris, a kindergarten teacher at KIPP: Infinity Elementary School in Harlem, recommends the idea of an “after-school reset” to remind everyone in the household that they’re first and foremost a family.
“We make sure that there is some time for fun after we’ve checked our school work, cleaned up and gotten everything done,” said Harris, whose kids are ages 2 to 19. “We put away our screens and go for a walk together, play board games and even just dance around to amuse our toddler, who loves to listen to music.”
The Harris clan also makes a point of sitting down to dinner every night to “sync” as a family and discuss the day’s ups and downs.
“We talk about the ‘why’ behind me having to play the two roles of teacher and mom,” explained Harris, who urges other parents to have age-appropriate conversations with their kids about the reasons COVID-19 has disrupted regular school life so much this fall.
Helping your child with their remote learning can be isolating.
Elizabeth Stephens, an English-as-a-new-language teacher in Yonkers and mom to second-grader Caden, organized a Facebook page for the parents and caregivers of her son’s classmates. “We share events or any changes to this school year that parents may be concerned about,” she said. “It’s also a good way of sharing tips to keep children focused and engaged.”
Such interaction has produced ideas like at-home scavenger hunts, art activities using egg cartons and easy science experiments such as adding food coloring to water, freezing it in ice cubes and watching them melt. “We brainstorm what has worked to keep them engaged but also learning,” added Stephens.
Tempting as it is to take the easy option and give in to your kids’ demands for candy or cookies during this stressful time, stick to healthy alternatives that won’t load them up with sugar.
Michelle Toffler, a teacher at Hamilton Park Montessori School in Jersey City, recommends setting out nutritional snacks portioned in small bowls so young children gain independence by being able to select what they eat.
“For my 2-year-old daughter, Charlotte, I prepare food like fruits, hummus and pita, crackers with nut butter, yogurt pouches and healthy muffins we might have made together over the weekend,” said Toffler. “She eats when she is hungry and is given choices within the limits I’ve set.”