Photo by Maria Symchych

Pods, Zoom, Seesaw, and Screencastify — this might have sounded like a garble of nonsense back in February but parents are now being forced to master a number of these online programs as they prepare for an upcoming semester of distance learning.

Replacing a classroom with a computer is no simple swap, but parents are developing a new set of strategies to help their children be effective online learners. After all, there are many challenges children face with distance learning such as organizing their time, asking for help online, working independently, and maintaining motivation.

“Once you are doing distance learning, things are revealed that you might not have realized about your children that their teachers have been managing for a while and that you need to address,” said Candis Berens, an Educational Specialist and the founder of Indigo Learning and Wellness.

As a result, many parents are looking to “learning pods” as a solution to several of the challenges that come with distance learning. These pods typically consist of two-to-eight families who bring their children to a shared space, such as a backyard, where they complete their schoolwork under the supervision of a parent or a tutor.

Pods can allow students to regain some of the collaborative learning of school in a safe environment while providing parents with relief from child care duties and space to work from home. However, pods are not an option for all parents, particularly those who lack the financial resources, space, or community networks with which to organize them.

Although there are many positives to pods, Berens cautions parents against rushing into these arrangements.

“I love the idea of learning pods if they are done correctly, and I’ve thought it through to the point where I can see it going very well or very poorly,” said Berens. “The most important step is to figure out what your child needs and then find families that match that need.”

According to Berens, there are different types of support children need and families often want to get different things out of pods. Some parents with very social children are looking for a place where their kids can have a peer to work on assignments with. Other parents are unsatisfied with the prescribed curriculum and are looking for a pod that will develop more imaginative learning projects.

Molly Lague has children enrolled in elementary and middle school at SMASH and high school at Samohi’s PPBL pathway program, but she is not opting to join a learning pod. Instead, Lague plans to use lessons learned from her three children’s online learning experience in the Spring to manage a productive environment at home. She hopes to “fill in the blanks” by finding safe ways for her kids to socialize after school and intends to create a family schedule that will help manage her and her children’s busy lives.

“We needed to start posting a schedule because there were multiple Zooms happening and we were coordinating multiple after school activities that were now happening in the living room,” said Lague. “It took a lot of preplanning to create quiet and clear spaces for whoever needed it.”

Berens also advises developing a schedule for each day, especially for younger children who need more structure. In the classroom teachers play a large role in organizing students’ time and in managing their executive functioning to break large tasks into manageable steps.

“Now, with distance learning, a lot of kids are getting assignments and thinking, ‘Oh where do I even start,’” said Berens. “There is also a lot of energy monitoring that happens with teachers. They get a sense of when kids need a brain break or a physical break, which students may not know to take themselves.”

To help parents deal with these obstacles Berens is offering a Home Learning Coach program where she works with children to develop strategies to plan, stay organized, and follow through with assignments.

“Memory is tied to emotion, so if you are sitting and trying to learn something all by yourself there is not a lot of learning going on,” explains Berens. “So, if you can find a way to engage with friends and make it fun, you are going to retain a lot more information.”

One reason why Lague feels prepared for the Fall without joining a pod is that her children are fortunate to already have good relationships with their teachers. According to Lague, a connection to their teachers also helps them maintain motivation and feel like their learning is important.

As for advice to other parents, Lague said, “Don’t be shy to reach out to the teachers that your child has. As we are all figuring this out, I think establishing a personal relationship will help teachers understand what is happening behind the screen, which allows them to better help your student.”