As we round into week 5 of distance learning, the novelty and shine are definitely wearing off. Students miss the social connections that provided motivation during in-class instruction. Many of the events and celebrations that help students stay engaged are canceled. Moreover, the lack of certain knowledge about when and how shelter in place might end and what school will be like in the fall can be discouraging for children and adults. Here are some ideas for staying motivated while distance learning continues.
Build routines that make motivation easier. Motivation is like a muscle that gets stronger with practice and more tired with use. The more decisions that have to be made for schoolwork, the harder it is to stay motivated. Create a place where it is easy for your student to work. Stick to a routine: same place, same time! Enlist all household members in supporting each other's schoolwork. Make sure there's time for rest in the routine too. Support your student's autonomy by including them in planning the routine. For example, let your student choose which academic task to do first or when learning should happen during the day.
Make learning a social activity. Children crave social connection with the adults who care for them. The best and most exciting computer learning program is not as interesting, as engagement with a caring adult. Check in with your child about their learning as often as you can. Show an interest in what they are learning and sit in on lessons as often as you are able.
Praise the process of learning. Look for times when your child is engaged in learning, especially when they are working on something that is challenging. Give praise when a child is demonstrating concentration and persistence, regardless of the outcome. Slightly change wording to help with your child listening and understanding you. Learning how to learn is a foundational skill for future progress.
Acknowledge feelings of frustration and sadness. Learning something new is hard and watching the school year end during shelter-in-place is sad. Children need a safe place to express those hard feelings. Journal-writing (or dictating to a parent) or drawing pictures can be safe ways for students to explore their feelings. Your acceptance of your child's feelings lets them know that those feelings are not permanent.
Model motivation. Children learn from what the adults around them do. Talk about how you motivate yourself to accomplish your tasks. Share stories about when you found it difficult to keep going and what you did to overcome challenges and barriers.
Paint a picture of the future. As adults, we know better than our children the positive benefits of engaging in schoolwork. Talk about a future when your child understands multiplication and how that will be useful. Share times when you have used your knowledge of writing or history. Express confidence that your child will accomplish tasks during distance learning.
Use rewards and incentives only occasionally. Sometimes a sticker or reward chart can be helpful to develop new patterns or overcome a temporary challenge. A chart can also include daily and/or weekly goal setting. When possible, help your student to develop the intrinsic motivation of pride in successfully completing tasks. If extrinsic rewards are necessary, choose rewards that emphasize building relationships: after classwork is accomplished, take a walk together or play a family game together. Or make a countdown calendar and plan your own shelter-in-place celebration for the last day of school. A chart in checklist format may also be helpful for you and your child to track when rewards can be given.
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