Navigating Virtual Learning as a Single Mom in the Pandemic

August 18, 2020

It’s August already and this year has really thrown us all in a whirlwind due to the unfortunate outbreak of COVID-19. People have lost every sense of normalcy they’ve known in just a matter of months. In this process, mothers like myself have had to become homemakers overnight as we find our way through what seems to be our new normal. As if all things COVID hasn’t been enough, classrooms are looking a bit empty this school year with the start of online schooling. Well, after the first week of school, I wanted to share with you my insight as I navigate virtual learning during the pandemic as a single mom working from home.

Empty classroom with chalkboard on the wall

Patience is a must

Being a single parent already requires much patience, but when you throw in all of the other elements that this pandemic has brought our way, it can make things a bit more difficult to manage. Within the first few minutes into this online learning experience, I realized that nothing could have fully prepared me for the unknown. I was stressing trying to keep up with my tasks while working from home, trying to keep my ears open to hear what BOTH teachers were saying during class meeting, and also being helpful to my girls whenever they had questions or technical difficulties.

I felt myself getting anxiety often because all of this was a lot for my senses. I wanted the day to go super smooth and it just didn’t. I realized that I had to be patient with myself and not overextend myself. I’m not only working, but I’m learning, teaching, cooking, cleaning, and oh, maintaining my Type One Diabetes all at the same time. I realized that I just had to breathe and go with the flow. I also had to understand that I’m not the only parent feeling this way and it’s okay to feel overwhelmed, stressed, tired, and anxious. This is just day one and I’m only one person. Patience is definitly a requirement right now.

Ample sleep is necessary for everyone

I noticed that when my children didn’t get enough sleep, the rest of their day was pretty much trash. They would be less focused and super cranky. This would in turn, frustrate me and the whole day would spiral into a negative experience. Now I see why my mother would “train” our bodies during the last month of the summer, so we would be used to getting up early and going to bed early in preparation for school.

I thought that a nine o’clock bedtime would suffice, but I’ve learned that getting the girls in bed by eight seems to work out the best for all of us. It took some time to get use to, but with a good bedtime routine, they’ve been on board. Not only do they get an ample amount of rest, but I get to squeeze in some much needed me time before the night is over.

White alarm clock

Start a morning routine

On the first day, I woke up late with a low blood glucose reading and just barely clocked in on time for work, so getting the girls up, fed, and dressed before school started was a huge mess that day. Of course, my blood sugar being low was not something I could have predicted, but the lack of a good morning routine made the day spiral in the wrong direction.

Now, I make sure that my girls are up between an hour to an hour and a half before they need to log in. Not only does this give them enough time to get ready and to eat a meal, but it also gives them space to relax and prepare themselves for the day. They don’t feel like they have to rush through their bowl of cereal to log in for class. Now, they have time to play with toys, read a book, watch a cartoon, or just lay down for a little while before they get into work mode. I also find that I have a few stress free minutes to get some much-needed work done before I hear the chatter of both teachers and students online.

Create a comfortable learning space

Being that I live in a small apartment, I really don’t have a lot of space that I can designate for my girls to complete their school work. Instead, I give them options for different spots they can use in the house as a comfortable learning space. They can create a cozy corner in our living room with a few pillows and a blanket, sit at the kitchen table, sit on the couch, or sit on a barstool at the kitchen counter. I made sure that they knew it was okay to move around but also to be respectful of the class and their teacher by trying their best to stay in one spot.

Don’t leave kids unattended during their lessons

Letting my child sit a room by themselves with headphones is definitely a no for me. I make sure that both of my children are in eyesight and within ears reach. I need to see their screens so that I know they’re on task and not just watching YouTube or Netflix. I also listen in to their group meetings so I know what’s being discussed and what’s expected for that day to help keep them accountable. Yes, my children are responsible and can work alone, but at the end of the day, they’re still children and as their mom, I need to stay in the loop.

Adjust with the adjustments

I’ve learned to not get too comfortable with anything lately. A lot of the systems have changed along with the learning styles in just a matter of days. For example, class meetings started off with the entire class in the beginning which led to increased noise, lagging in the videos, and less learning. The school made adjustments and now the girls log in with small groups of four or five students throughout the day which allows them to ask questions and focus more without the extra distractions. This was just one of the many changes that took place. It’s important to allow space for a few hiccups and adjustments along the way until we have a system that works for the students, parents, and teachers.

As the days went by, I learned to adjust and adapt in order to make things work for us. Although there was no way to completely prepare for virtual learning, it is always possible to take note and learn from the previous day. At the end of each school day, I would analyze what went wrong and what went well and make adjustments from there. Not everyday will be smooth sailing and that’s okay.

Let them know you’re here to help

As frustrating as it may be sometimes to stop and help constantly throughout the day, I don’t want my children to feel like I’m frustrated with them. I let them know that they can always come to me with their questions and that we’re in this together. I assured them that this year will be better than the year before because they have me by their side every step of the way. They’re not alone in the classroom.

Because I have two children I’m outnumbered, so I talked to them about taking turns with my help because I’m only one person and not interrupting while I help the other. That was a big issue for me in the first few days. While I work, I let one child sit next to me at my desk for help, and then they’ll switch places if need be so they can both get their one on one time with me.

Set boundaries

Although I let my children know that I’m available for assistance, I also make sure they understand that I have a job to do as well. If there is another assignment that they’re more confident in working on independently, I’ll ask them to do that while I complete a task. I don’t jump to answer every question when it’s asked either. I’ll let the girls know that I have to finish what I’m doing first and that they need to be patient with me. I also encourage them to try to figure things out themselves first before asking me for help.

When I take my lunch break or my fifteen minute breaks, I let the kids know that it’s time for mommy to take a break without interruption unless they really need me. This is my time to recoup. I’ll take a quick nap, make lunch, read, listen to music, or watch something on TV. I use this time to step away from the chaos so that I can jump back in with energy and a smile rather than be overwhelmed and worn out.

Keep a schedule handy

I found it very helpful to print out each child’s learning plan for the day with all of their assignments listed to help all of us take charge of the day. As each of my daughters completes a task, they check off what’s been completed so they know what to do next. I also set alarms for the three times they each need to be online with their class so they’re not late or too early. Whipping out a whiteboard or chalkboard is also helpful when trying to keep a schedule of the day. Either way, they know what’s expected of them and they’ve become very familiar with what their schedule looks like which makes them more responsible for the school day.

hopscotch outside

Take breaks often and get outside

What I love about our virtual learning experience is that the school spreads out their learning schedule with lots of break times in-between to get the wiggles out, go outside, and eat. Children can only sit still for so long before boredom kicks in and after that, there’s not much learning going on. They need to take breaks often by taking a walk, stretching out, and grabbing a snack. It’s also helpful for us as parents to do the same. I try to make sure we all get out of the house to take a walk, we eat a nice lunch, and move around throughout the day to break up the monotony.

Encourage and motivate your children

If you think this whole virtual learning experience is tough, just think about how difficult it is for your children. They miss the in-person interaction with their friends and teachers, recess, and even the smell of the lunchroom. Right now, they need our encouragement and motivation more than ever. I let my girls know that they are capable of doing hard things and they are extremely intelligent. I check in with them and acknowledge all of their small wins like raising their hands to answer a question or being on task throughout the day. I’m also supportive during times of frustration when things get tough because not every day is going to be a good day. As parents, we set the standard for their day and we have to keep that in mind.

Continue to be optimistic in the mess

My goal is to do as much as I can on my part to work with my children’s teachers and not against them. I see this as an opportunity to learn more about my children’s environment in school and their learning styles. As I watch my girls interact in class or not, I’m learning more about their strengths and weaknesses and where I can help. I’ve seen how I can affirm them throughout the day and simplify what they may deem as difficult so that I can help catapult them further in their education.

I had to remind myself that I wanted to work from home at some point because I wanted to be available for my children. I wanted to be able to volunteer in their classrooms and attend field trips. I wanted to pick them up directly after school instead of them sitting in aftercare. I wanted to incorporate more learning at home and really be a solid part of their growth and development academically. I felt completely out of the loop while commuting for an hour to and from work and grabbing fast food for dinner because I didn’t have the energy to boil water.

So, instead of looking at this experience as something negative, I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to be present and available for my children while we navigate this unknown territory together. Every day is a learning experience and there is so much to learn no matter what your perspective is.

If your children have already started schooling online, what are some of the tips you’ve learned to make this a better experience? If they haven’t, what are you doing now to prepare for their first day of online learning? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Yellow pencils on a table
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2 Responses

  1. This was a great post, Erin! Full of wisdom and practical tips! My little one isn’t in school yet but I can just imagine how much you’ve had to take on during this season. I know it’s not easy so I commend you for handling it all while showing yourself grace. You’re a great mama!

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