Creating a Home Schedule for Distance Learning

Click here for resources to make your home learning schedule

Hey tribe!

I appreciate so many of you reaching out with questions. I’ve really had to stretch and reflect on one particular question that has come up again and again from our community: what are the top two or three things I can do right now to help my kid at home?

One time I wrote to Russell Barkley, who is a hero of mine and a researcher and advocate for people with ADHD. I was shocked that he wrote back, right away. My question was, “What can I do, as a teacher, to best serve my kids with ADHD?” And his response was love them. Love them when they can. Love them when they can’t (I’d add “yet”). Love them more.

I agree with Dr. Barkley now more than ever. I think the very first thing we can do is keep our lenses adjusted. We have to, we must focus on the good, especially the good in our kids. Yes, the holes in your kids’ skill sets are going to be amplified right now. That difficulty getting started is going to feel like it weighs 1000 times more on your back because you just need your kid to do something. I get it. But, we have to stay focused on the good. Our frustrations are based on our interpretations of their “behaviors.” What I mean is our kid does something we don’t like (like play a game instead of working on an assignment). We get mad because we interpret this as something negative—he is lazy (please don’t really ever say this to your kid), he doesn’t care, he defied me, he didn’t even try…etc. But, if we can see the behavior as just an event, like this thing happened, and not tie any emotion to it, we’re going to do a lot better. Like, my kid didn’t work. So, now he has the consequence of X. Not good or bad. It just is.

We can also re-frame by seeing these would-be enraging moments as indicators of missing skills. My kid didn’t work could be due to his not understanding the assignment or the availability of more stimulating choices that won his attention or his feeling that it doesn’t matter, of apathy. Our kids aren’t going to usually be able to say why they’re struggling, but they will show us struggles. If we can see it as a fun puzzle to approach (and you don’t even have to approach it right away), then it becomes solvable, doable, not something to fight against or feel bad about. We can love them. And then love them more.

The second thing I think we can do right away to help all kids, but especially our kids with challenges, is to provide structure to their days. And I bet you’ve already read this online or seen other parents post photos of these detailed, exciting daily schedules…and maybe you’ve thought, uh, that wouldn’t happen in my house, or how did they make that up? How do you know how to create a schedule that works for your kids, and what if they’re at way different developmental levels? My friend, that’s where I can help.

Setting up a routine—a general schedule—will help give your child’s brain some structure to hang on to. They are missing the structure of school right now, and their anxiety may be much worse because the world is so hard to predict. (Can I get an amen? I am in this very same, anxious boat!) Having a daily guiding schedule will help beyond just reducing anxiety.

Having a schedule will:

*Clarify work and play times. During work times, the schedule can be the “bad guy” that indicates that distractions like phones and tv be off limits. You no longer have to argue with your child about time on electronics because the schedule just “says” it. (If it helps, you can write “no phone during work time” on the schedule as a rule.)

*Ensure your child is getting a balance of play and work (and balance doesn’t mean 50-50). You can tune in to your child’s energy levels as the fluctuate throughout the day and tailor the schedule accordingly. If your teen is slow to

*Account for things like exercise and social time that you may forget when you’re just hustling to get distance learning and working from home done.

*Take the daily planning struggles away. It’s already set up, and the more you practice, the more automatic it will be for your family. Better schedule flow will mean much more harmony.

 So, how the heck does one set up a daily schedule anyway?

One strategy is to go through the movie in your mind. Sit with a blank paper and a pen. Picture what you do when you wake up. What time is it? What are the first few things you do? After the morning routine, what do you see yourself doing? What are your kids doing? Take notes of the mental movie you are playing—they will become a draft for your ultimate schedule. Note the general time major things happen, like meals, rest, work, and play times.

Once you’ve got a general idea of times, you can start delineating more specifics. And this is where you can also grab your kids and have them help. Daily schedules for younger and older kids will look different. Shorter work times and more physical play time is typical for younger kids, while older kids want more social time and can work for longer periods. I’ll go over this is more detail in just a sec. The point is, your kids may have the same “work” and “play” hours, but inside those schedules, what they do between 8 and 10 am, for example, may be different. When you enlist your kids to help make their schedule, here are some things to ask and consider:

  • Here are the classes or school subjects you need to do for distance learning. Let’s rank them easiest to hardest for you.
  • Now let’s think about how you feel throughout the day. How do you feel in the mornings? Do you have lots of energy, or do you need a long time to feel awake? How do you feel after lunch? At the end of the school day?
  • Now, let’s pair up what you told me. You have the most energy at X time of day, and you said X class is the hardest. What if we scheduled time for you to work on X class when you have the most brain power? How about we schedule your easiest class when your brain doesn’t have much juice left in it?
  • So, we scheduled your hardest class at your most energetic time. That’s great! Do you like to work through the whole assignment and just get it done? Or, do you want a half-way-through break? Is it hard or easy to get back to work after you take a break? (Depending on their responses, you can add breaks into the work block times. Just be aware that breaks mean more management from you, most likely, and add the challenge of self-control that your child gets back on track. You can always try them and change it up if it doesn’t work!)
  • We need to plan times that you take care of your heart and your body. Where in your schedule would you like to put in some social time, like calling or video chatting with friends?
  • We’re going to schedule some family exercise time too. Do you have ideas for what we could do? Would you like to be the boss of planning one day a week for a family exercise or game?

 Involving your kids will take more time than if you just command a schedule. But it also has advantages: buy in and responsibility. Kids who have say are much more likely to follow the schedule (they helped make it after all!) And, if your kid is bucking against the schedule, you can remind them that they need to at least try it for a bit because they agreed to it already.

No family’s schedule is going to match exactly. But, here are some general blocks of time to sketch out for regularity in your day:

  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snack
  • Morning self-care, like brushing teeth, changing out of PJs
  • Work times
  • Play times
  • Social times
  • Exercise times
  • Bedtime and wake up time (planning ahead to be sure your child gets enough sleep!)

Developmental Age 

One last thing to consider is the developmental age of your child. Think for a second how different Kindergarten is from high school. The rigor of the day (and the amount they sit still) reflects that our attention spans increase with development. However, some studies suggest that kids with learning challenges like ADHD or autism can function at up to three years behind their chronological age. This is not a diss on your kid—he may just need more time to develop. So, a kid who is 8 by age may have the attention span of a 5-year-old. Third grade work with Kindergarten attention abilities—no wonder school can be so tough. You know your kid. Adjust the amount you ask them to “sit and work” based on where you think they are—not where you think they should be.

I’ll talk about some general guiding ideas here, but if you want the list so you can use it to plan, go to Sarahkesty.com/blog/episode17 where I will have it all laid out in the blog! And some example schedules for you, by developmental age. Do not think these will be the perfect fit for you right away. It’s best to use what works and change what doesn’t. But sometimes it’s nice to have a place to start. So, sarahkesty.com/blog/episode17.

In general, kids functioning at levels of a seven-year-old or younger should:

  • Work in seated online, paper-pencil, or book work no more than about 20 minutes before a break (non-academic play time, a quiet preferred activity, time to move around)
  • Take at least 30 minutes a day to practice reading. Not phonics worksheets. Reading. Reading books or articles or lyrics, to you, to a sibling, to the pets. You can even video chat books with loved ones right now. Reading practice is the gym where the reading skills grow like muscles.
  • Work a total of no more than 2 hours a day. Don’t stress. This seems like not much, but remember, they are learning through play, through quiet activities, through social time. Seated work time is only a part of the success equation.
  • Have at least 60 minutes of physical activity, some structured games, some free play.
  • Have an option of choice learning time, 30-60 minutes. They could listen to a podcast with you, watch educational shows, spend time on an educational website, do a virtual tour or field trip.
  • Need check ins every 30-45 minutes, depending on age. Preschool may need you to sit with them during academic work times.
  • Schedule sleep for 9-11 hours.

Kids functioning at levels of eight to ten year olds have a few changes to their typical schedule needs. They can:

  • Work on seated, online, paper-pencil, or book work for about 30 minutes before switching it up or taking a break.
  • Also take at least 30 minutes a day to read. Their texts will usually be meatier and focused on comprehension. They may not read aloud at this age, and that’s ok. You can support them by asking questions or listening to them summarize the parts they just read. If you have a reluctant reader, see if you can find things to read about their favorite topics (yes, even video games), and remember the format doesn’t matter. If all they read for fun during distance learning is magazines, so what? They read, they flexed their reading and comprehension muscles. We’re good with that.
  • Work no more than a total of 3 hours per day in seated work.
  • Have at least 60 minutes of physical activity, some structured games, some free play.
  • Have an option of choice learning time, 30-60 minutes. They could listen to a podcast with you, watch educational shows, spend time on an educational website, do a virtual tour or field trip.
  • Schedule sleep for 9-11 hours.

Middle school age range (developmentally eleven to fourteen) can:

  • Work on seated, online, paper-pencil, or book work for about 30-45 minutes before switching it up or taking a break. They still may need parent check ins to ensure they are on track.
  • Take 60 minutes to read independently and for comprehension. This can double up if they are assigned lots of reading by their content teachers. Be sure to carve out read for fun time, if you can.
  • Work no more than a total of 3 to 4 hours per day in seated work (remember this is not all at once; there are breaks for activity and food. Your child’s energy and focus will be different day to day too. So, if she only works on seated school assignments for 2 hours one day, it’s not a big deal. She’s also learning to listen to her body and mental health needs at this time.)
  • Have at least 60 minutes of physical activity, some structured games, some free play.
  • Have an option of choice learning time, 60 minutes. They could listen to a podcast with you, watch educational shows, spend time on an educational website, do a virtual tour or field trip.
  • Have social time! Our brains begin to seek social interactions when we start adolescence—so much so that some studies have shown that social isolation registers in the same space in our brains as actual physical pain! Your pre-teen’s brain is craving social interactions, so please put this in the schedule. Allow them some time to talk, text, or whatever teens do these days (said in my best “old lady” voice). They need it developmentally.
  • Schedule sleep for 8-10 hours.

 High school age range (developmentally fourteen to eighteen) can:

  • Work on seated, online, paper-pencil, or book work for about 45-60 minutes before switching it up or taking a break. They still may need parent check ins to ensure they are on track.
  • Take 60 minutes to read independently and for comprehension. This can double up if they are assigned lots of reading by their content teachers. Be sure to carve out read for fun time, if you can.
  • Work 4 to 5 hours per day in seated work.
  • Have at least 60 minutes of physical activity, even if it’s just walking the neighborhood (carefully) or doing dance videos on TikTok.
  • Have future-minded activity time, like SAT prep, college virtual tours, career exploration, or some of the choice activities like virtual field trips.
  • Have social time! They’re not only being dramatic. They need it developmentally.
  • Schedule sleep for 8-10 hours.

I’ve made a ton of resource pages to help you get started. You have a lot to think about. You have even more to have hope about! 

All my love,

Sarah

P.S. Click here for your resources to make a schedule that works for your family!