New normal” is a phrase we’ve heard a lot of lately. Staying in for dinner, wearing masks, keeping six feet of distance, and using lots of hand sanitizer are all commonplace in our lives. While these new elements in our routines can be inconvenient, all have become part of our “new normal.”

Virtual learning is also a “new normal,” with 65% of households involved in online learning of some capacity, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However, many students and families are struggling to adapt as easily to e-learning as they are adapting to wearing a mask every day. Academic, social, and mental health challenges can arise from virtual school, but committing to these recommendations may help while learning from home.

Create a Workspace. Set up a space that is calm, quiet, and feels similar to a school setting. A desk and chair are great, but if not available, try the kitchen table. If your student’s bed is the quietest place at home, make it a desk, but be watchful for napping.

Establish a Routine. Decide when learning hours will be and stick to it. Get up at the same time every day, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, and set up learning spaces. Check email and learning platforms daily. Predictability encourages motivation, allows fewer distractions, and eases stress.

Set Goals. Set measurable, realistic goals regarding schoolwork. Incentivize those goals, since a reward for work may increase motivation. Rewards may include privileges, allowance, special treats, and should always include verbal encouragement.

Be Flexible. Learning at home is not the same as learning at school. Tricky factors come to play in virtual learning, like guardian work hours and computer availability. Make a school work plan that fits both your family’s needs and the school’s requirements. Be careful not to compare previous functioning to COVID-era functioning.

Get Organized. Incorporate tools like a planner and folders for each class. Keep supplies (pencils, earbuds, paper, books, computer) nearby and within reach. Keep login information written down just in case your student forgets.

Practice Time Management. Teach your student to start paying attention to how long assignments take to complete. Help them plan ahead, including when they’re going to complete assignments. If you’re unsure how long an assignment will take, double the estimated time. A timer is a great tool to help students learn to keep track of time.

Manage Distractions. Avoid learning around distractions like video games, phones, and TV. Family can also be distracting. Find a quiet place in your home so they can give schoolwork full attention.

Take “Brain Breaks.” Brain breaks allow our brain to process and relax from continuous learning. A child’s attention span is about two minutes per year of age. Allow “brain breaks” when their attention span decreases. A National Academy of Medicine study found that physical activity changes the structure of our brain and encourages learning and memory. Movement throughout the day may improve academic achievement, along with physical and emotional health.

Stay in Touch. Students are missing out on day-to-day interaction with teachers and peers. To foster those relationships, students should check in with their teachers by email and attend all virtual class sessions. Before small problems escalate, encourage your student to email their teacher about struggles. Help your student remain social with peers by setting up Zoom friend meets.

These tips and tricks aren’t difficult to implement and will work wonders if you are struggling to make e-learning work for your family. Learning should be functional and fun, no matter the setting. Even the smallest adjustments in our daily routines can ultimately make a big difference.

Jessie Laughlin, LSW, is the Youth First Social Worker for Edgewood Junior High School in Monroe County. Youth First, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families, provides 64 Master’s level social workers to 91 schools in 11 Indiana counties. Over 60,000 youth and families per year are served by Youth First’s school social work and after school programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors and maximize student success. To learn more about Youth First, visit youthfirstinc.org or call 812-421-8336.

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