Looking Back to Move Forward: Reflections on Distance Learning

If you’re in the camp of parents and families who found distance learning to be a relatively smooth and positive experience, try to identify specifically what went well for you and your family. Why was this enjoyable for you? If the experience was not an easy one for you, your family, or one of your children in particular, figuring out what made it so hard can help you solve those problems in the future, should we find ourselves in a similar position. If we go back to “school as usual,” identifying what worked and what didn’t work during distance learning can still be a useful practice. The information you gather can be used to help make future decisions, like what type of college environment or career might be the best fit for your child. It can also help clarify issues or challenges that may have been exposed during this time in order for you and your child to get necessary support or instruction. Additionally, answering some of these questions may help you and your child reconsider your priorities. 

As you reflect on the experience of the last 3 months, ask yourselves the following questions. Ask your children for their input, too:

Did being at home take away any “hard parts” of school?

Some kids have shared with me that they were able to focus on their work better without social distractions. Other kids mentioned that they appreciated being able to crank out their work at their own pace. For some, this meant being able to have more free time. For others, this meant not having to rush. Many who experience some level of social anxiety enjoyed the break from feeling as if they were “on stage” in the classroom and hallways. Some students felt the workload was lighter and assignments were easier. Many students commented that they felt a lot less pressure without grades. 

Did being at home make any parts of school or school work harder?

A common complaint I heard from students and parents was that it was hard to get their questions answered and that it was hard to clearly understand the expectations. Parents had trouble keeping track of what was assigned, turned in, and where to access information. More than this, though, what I frequently heard was that it was hard for students to “care” about the material or their obligations. Whether they felt the assignments were boring or “busy work,” or they felt like “it didn’t matter” if they did the work or not, the underlying tone was that many students felt they (or their teachers) were just jumping through hoops and not connected to each other or the material. Some students found that working from home (or trying to work from home) was too distracting. They had a hard time putting aside their preferred activities to complete lessons and assignments.

Was there anything about the new routine you liked better? Anything about the new routine that made things harder for you?

Some students preferred being able to stay up later and sleep in later than they would be able to if they were attending a traditional school day. Many students enjoyed the fact that they were able to move through distance learning much more quickly than a traditional school day. I heard from several patients that they were able to spend time doing other activities they enjoyed, like reading for fun, learning to knit, or creating art. Other students found it hard to organize their time without much imposed structure. They found that an hour on Netflix quickly turned into 7 hours on Netflix. 

Were you glad, relieved, or more relaxed without certain activities, responsibilities, or expectations? Were there any activities or responsibilities that you really missed?

Think about demands from school, work, extracurricular activities, sports, and friends/social activities.

A fair amount of my patients were surprised to feel so relieved once they didn’t have so many obligations. A few described that they felt it was not only “ok,” but expected, to just take a break. They appreciated the time they had back to relax and reconnect with activities they enjoy doing without any pressure to perform or achieve. The forced break helped them to evaluate which extracurricular activities they were doing just “because it looks good for college applications” and which activities they really missed.

Reflect on your responses and your children’s responses and use that information to plan for the upcoming school year. If we find ourselves (or you choose to be) in another year of distance learning, be sure to put in place what worked well. If you identified challenges, think about how you and your children can overcome them. If you’re going back to a new normal, consider what you liked and didn’t like about “safe at home” life and make an effort to hold on to what you enjoyed.


Posted in Articles, School-Aged Children.