How many of you struggled with homeschooling your teens during the end of the year? School is back in session, and families are facing the need to support their children through distance learning…   Let’s face it, right now, parents are wearing many hats, including productive business professional, homeschool teacher, chef and professional cat herder. Whether parents are trying to work, or they are keeping the household going while everyone is at home, the constant interruptions are not sustainable.

What if I told you that it doesn’t have to be the chaotic mess we all experienced in the spring?

Schools are saying they’ll provide more interactive learning with live sessions led by teachers. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that our kids are still not set up to work from home.  My husband and I have worked from home for years. And even with all of our planning and organization, we were not ready to have 2 teens working from home. From having appropriate desk space, to finding a quiet location for video calls (for 4 different people at the same time!), it was just a mess. And then summer came, and what little structure we were able to put in place was quickly forgotten.

Can parents and teens learn to “work from home” together?

It’s entirely normal for all of us to be worrying about whether the fall semester will be another spring 2020. Does it mean that your teen can’t learn to “work from home”? Absolutely not.

Compared to the emergency schooling in the Spring, we have a little bit of time to adapt and start practicing good habits to get better results this time around. Middle school and high school kids are old enough to learn and develop simple productivity habits to be efficient with their work, which will help parents get their own work done.

How do you make sure your teen takes ownership of their work so YOU can be productive too?

Organization and focus are the key to working from home, and they will be critical to your teens’ distance learning… Many adults have had to put in time and effort learning to work from home efficiently. We can’t expect our teens to somehow figure this out without any guidance. Most teens are still working on learning basic habits to focus and plan their homework.

Parents and teens can work together to prepare for distance learning

You don’t have to wait until school starts to start figuring out how to make it work.  Teaching your teens a few simple habits now will set up kids and adults for a better work at home experience.

Like everything else, being productive takes a little practice. Which is why you should start with some simple changes and then move on to tweak your new plan to keep making improvements.

5 Easy Tips To Maximize Productivity During Distance Learning

#1: Set up a workspace

Everyone at home will need to find a personal, quiet spot that they can use consistently to work. With enough space for a Chromebook or tablet, books, and supplies. Plus ensure there are headphones for video chats and listening to videos.

For more ideas on how to set up a productive workspace for your teen, check out Distance Learning Workspace for Children by Learning Facilitators.

#2: Build a Daily Routine

We sometimes forget that when our kids go to school, they follow a very specific routine. To prepare for distance learning in the fall, we’re going to help them mimic this at home so it feels like a real “school day.” Most schools providing distance leaning will run their daily schedule similar to in-person learning. Our teens will have a block schedule for all their normal classes, with one day a week for “self-directed” distance learning.

Your teen’s schedule should follow the school, but they will also need to plan for their independent studies with a daily calendar. To maximize productivity, they can incorporate the pomodoro technique. They will also need to commit to following calendar blocks as if they were work meetings.

#3: Hold daily “agile” meetings

In software companies, days start with an “agile” meeting where teams discuss the plans for the day. We’ve extended that practice to our household, where we chat with our teens about what needs to happen that day. That way, we set them up with the habit of thinking about their classes and tasks, and focusing on what’s important that day. So over breakfast, for no more than 15 minutes, we ask them:

  • what needs to be completed that day?
  • can they estimate how much time each major task will take to complete?
  • do they have all the resources they need to work on it?

If you’ve never done this before, get your teen to have their class schedule and homework list in front of them. You should look through it together and discuss the different items, until they get the hang of it on their own.

#4: End-of-day journaling

Most of us can be intimidated by the idea of journaling. I know I had been for a really long time. I’m not a creative writer, and I always felt like journaling was a “dear diary” exercise. But, when I broke down the reasons to do journaling, I narrowed it down to making a “got done” list.

This is a trick that has helped my own teens, especially when they feel overwhelmed. At the end of each day, your teen can grab a notebook and write up answers to some simple questions:

  • What went right today?
  • What are 3 activities or tasks that I completed?
  • What can be done better tomorrow?

#5: Friday check-ins

You know how when you make a plan, and tell a friend, you feel compelled to get done what you said you would do? Our teens feel the same way. Having weekly accountability check-ins has been proven to increase our chances of succeeding in completing goals or activities by 95%! Another reason to have weekly check-ins is to catch any issues before they become too big. During Friday’s breakfast “agile” meeting, spend a couple of minutes reviewing with your teen where they are on all assignments and class subjects.

You may want to ask questions like:

  • Is there a subject you’re falling behind on?
  • Do you need extra help? From a parent or teacher?
  • Do you need to spend a little time on the weekend catching up?

Build in time to Celebrate!

Let’s not forget, we are all going above and beyond right now. And with all this time spent at home, some of us may forget to make time to acknowledge and celebrate small and big “wins”. You can ask my kids, I’m absolutely terrible at this, so I have to make a bigger effort to remember.

It’s not just about celebrating good grades. Right now it’s important to also celebrate progress. At least monthly, but weekly if you can swing it: go over the “got done” list, and praise your teen’s progress in being independent AND productive. Acknowledge your teens as they get better at following a schedule and building good study habits! And figure out together what would be a good way to celebrate.

Do you need basic Rules of Engagement to minimize distractions?

Besides following these new tips, you may also need to spend some time hammering out new Rules of Engagement, to optimize everyone’s chances of being productive. Here’s some that we use at home:

  • No interrupting parents during specific times! As a “cue”, you can put an orange cone on your desk when you absolutely cannot be interrupted. If you are working in a room with a door, close it and put a sign on the outside.
  • No time on the phone during class times. Find a spot to put phones away from the study areas. Maybe this is a good opportunity to set up charging stations.
  • Set time limits on apps on the phone to block social media during the day. Those who want to be interrupted will find a way. But others with good intentions and bad habits just need a little nudge to stop themselves falling down the Tik Tok rabbit hole.

The key is to build the right habits as we prepare for distance learning

If there is one thing we have learned during this pandemic is how important basic life skills are needed for our kids. With previous hovering and helicoptering, we may have prevented our teens from developing very important life skills that will serve them through high school, college, and as adults. The current circumstances are forcing our kids to grow up a little faster than expected, but middle school and high school kids are capable of developing executive functioning skills necessary to take ownership over their work.

Building and following daily routines will teach our kids planning, organizing, and prioritizing. And sometimes more importantly, it will also reduce the feelings of stress that come from the current uncertainty.

Let’s Help Each Other Out!

It’s bound to be a trying time for all over the next few weeks. Join our Facebook group Parenting Busy Teens, and let us help you with answers to any questions or challenges you may be having.

We hope to be a resource for you and your teens, by providing ideas and encouragement, and celebrating success together!

After working for over 20 years in Project and Program Management, Carmen is now bringing her goal-setting, planning, and implementation skills to teens by teaching the SMART goal methodology. She is passionate about helping teens learn goal setting because this valuable life skill will empower them to tackle any challenge with less stress and in a quicker timeframe, so they can stay competitive in the complex world we live in. Most recently, Carmen was nominated for NAWBO San Diego’s prestigious BRAVA Rising Star Award. Learn more about Carmen here and about Teen SMART Goals here.