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Establishing a new routine for distance learning

Tanu Wakefield

With schools closed across the country due to the coronavirus, many teachers and students have transitioned into a period of distance learning. This is a big adjustment for most of us. You probably miss seeing your friends and teachers, going to special events like games and dances and even participating in ordinary parts of the school day, like lunch or short breaks. You might also miss without realizing it the routine that school brings to your life.

A school-day schedule helps us structure our time. It tells us when the day begins and ends, and how to spend all the hours in between. The school day builds in time for learning, physical activity and play, creativity, socializing, eating and taking breaks, too. Without this routine, a day at home can feel endless. Luckily, there are steps you can take to create a daily routine that works for you and provides some of the structure you're missing. You'll want to make sure your new routine allows you time for both productivity and rest.

Every family situation is unique, so we encourage you to talk with your family members about what would make the best schedule for you. Together, you can write down a list of what needs to get done in a single day. Remember to include the essential stuff and the fun stuff, too! Work together to slot out how much time is needed for each activity, and what time of day is best to tackle it.

Once you've planned your daily routine, write out a final version and post it somewhere that your family can see and refer to it. Keep others in your household in the loop about how you have planned out your days. You can make changes to your routine in the days and weeks ahead. It may take time to figure out what works best for you in these new circumstances, and that's OK. You don't have to follow your routine minute by minute, but it will help to look back at it periodically. Let your routine grow with you and it will keep you on track.

To get you started, here are suggestions for blocks of time to schedule in your new routine!

Get Ready For The Day

Even though you no longer have to rush to catch the bus or carpool, it's still a good idea to wake up at a regular time every morning. Set an alarm and try to stick to it each weekday. Starting your day by getting dressed is also a good idea. Hanging out in pajamas may be comfy, but changing into fresh clothes is a signal that you're going to be up and about and getting things done today. Comb your hair, wash your face and brush your teeth before starting your at-home school day, just the way you normally would before running out the door.

Once you're dressed and ready, review your schedule for today. What do you want to accomplish? What NEEDS to get done? What would you LIKE to do or work on? Share your day's goals with a sibling, parent or someone else in your household to help get yourself motivated.

Breakfast

Maybe you like to start the day with a bowl of cereal or a plate of fruit. Or maybe you prefer a hearty breakfast of pancakes and eggs. Either way, it's a good idea to fuel your body with food before you start your "at-home" school routine. Be sure to block off time for breakfast.

Quiet Study

Aim to schedule at least two stretches of time during the day for quiet learning. This time can include reading new material, completing homework or taking tests or quizzes. Try to find a quiet space for these study times, away from the flow of family "traffic." Closing the door and wearing headphones can help you focus.

You may have siblings or cousins at home who want to chat with you or who play noisily around you. Help them get set up with something to keep them busy while you're studying, like an "assignment" to color or read their own book. When you're planning quiet study blocks in your day, think about the times of day in your home that are quietest and best for studying. Maybe during younger family members' nap times?

Group Study

This block of time might include virtual class or lectures, if your school is offering that option. Or maybe you have a group project to work on and you need to reach out to some classmates. Your school or teacher might suggest specific times for this kind of learning. If so, build your schedule around those blocks of time. You may want to plan on some extra group time, too, during which you can chat with your classmates and ask questions about your school work.

Lunch

Just as you would in school, make sure to step away from your studies for lunch. Practice your sandwich-making skills (or perhaps there is a caregiver in your house making lunch for you; if so, be sure to thank them). Take a break while you eat. If someone is at home with you, have a chat with them or look out the window. If you can, try to skip eating your lunch at your workspace or in front of a screen.

Reading Time

Many students have to read for a certain amount of time every day for school. If you're one of them, be sure to make time for that in your routine. You might also want to schedule time to read for pleasure. Reading is the best way to be an armchair traveler, especially when you are feeling cooped up at home.

Writing Time

You could work on writing assignments during blocks of quiet study time. But if you like to write, consider creating a separate space in your routine for open writing time. If you don't have any pressing writing assignments due, try recording your thoughts and observations in a journal. We are living through a very unique time in history. It might be worthwhile to record what is happening now for future generations.

Elective Time

Electives like music, languages or art are just as important now as they were in the ordinary school day. Build in elective time to practice your instrument, create artwork, or explore another idea or activity you are excited about. This stretch of time could also be used to work on a special project, like perfecting your free throw, coding online, learning to knit or solving a Rubik's Cube.

Breaks

Make sure your daily routine leaves time for regular, frequent breaks. After about an hour or so of study time, it's best to walk away from the computer, book or paper in front of you. Need fun ideas for five-minute breaks? Check out this list of suggestions.

Dinner

Wrap up your routine with end-of-day tasks like helping plan or prepare dinner. Perhaps you can slice vegetables and boil the water for pasta. Be sure to ask for adult supervision if you need it. Over dinner, share something about your day with your family members; they can do the same with you. And after dinner, try to help with clean-up, too. You can take out the garbage or offer to do a chore to help someone in your household.

Evening/Relaxation Time

Thanks to your new routine, you've accomplished quite a lot! End the day with something that helps you relax and unwind. It could be playing a board game, watching a TV show, reading a book or making art. The choice is yours.

Sleep

Same as having a set wake-up time, going to bed around the same time each night helps your body settle into a healthy routine and habit. Challenge yourself to be ready for sleep at the same time each weeknight. This way, you'll get the real, deep rest you need to start your routine all over again tomorrow.