If you’re a parent of a school-aged child - or know a parent - you know about the anxieties and challenges around children’s distance-learning. Earlier this year when many states shut down schools for in-person learning, teachers and parents scrambled to support kids in making the quick transition. Parents’ and caregivers’ roles shifted overnight, requiring them to be co-teachers and co-learners as they tried to support kids with distance learning. And this is just the parents who are able to stay home with kids. Many parents had to go to their job sites and leave their kids to fend for themselves. Months later, it is clear that distance learning is not going away. Many schools will transition back to hybrid learning, which means some will be in-person and some at-home. There have been, and will also likely be, more outbreaks that cause some re-opened schools to shut down again.
In March, Common Sense Media launched Wide Open School to support parents with distance learning. This new service curates the best-of-the-best free learning activities for kids and resources for families that make at-home learning easier through user-friendly daily schedules, activities to support children’s social and emotional well-being, digital citizenship, and materials that address learning and thinking differences.
So based on what parents and children are experiencing right now at this moment in time, what should children’s media creators do to support families? Consider the following tips on supporting parents with their children’s learning.
Character Education and social-emotional learning (SEL) is in great need (and great demand) both by parents and schools. SEL content is some of our top-requested content on Wide Open School. With the combination of the coronavirus pandemic, economic downturn, civil unrest, police violence, and school closures, there are extreme pressures on the mental health of kids and families. Including characters, stories, and learning that develop characteristics for children such as community, perseverance, humility, empathy, and self-control helps build strong, resilient children. See Common Sense Media’s article Building Character Strengths with Quality Media and our report Tweens, Teens, Tech, and Mental Health for support in thinking about these issues.
Some parents may have rarely supported their children’s schoolwork. They may lack role models to show them how to be a co-teacher and co-learner with their child, or how to be a collaborator with their child’s teacher. Content producers can illustrate and normalize life-long learning as an ongoing and cross-generational practice, in which caregivers, older siblings, and children are learning together and supporting one another. Whether it’s providing advice or showing a parent sitting with a child engaging in their distance learning, or tips for parents such as the importance of having children follow their distance learning schedule, parents need to see examples of what their role could be. Moreover, parents are searching for high-quality educational content to supplement their child’s at-home learning. Suggesting exceptional, research-based apps, websites, and games for parents to use in conjunction with their child’s school learning will provide much-needed help.
Screen use has been increasing over the years, even before the pandemic hit. On average, daily screen/device use at home is about three hours for two through eight-year-olds, 5 hours for tweens, and 7 hours for teens (Common Sense Media, 2017, 2019). These amounts have increased due to the addition of distance learning time. Heavy media use is associated with physical and mental health problems. Though we know that not all screen time is created equal, we need to encourage media balance, which means balancing media use with other meaningful activities in everyday life. For example, in schools, Go Noodle is so popular, especially for 5-13-year-olds, because it gets kids up and out of their chairs and moving their bodies. Getting the body moving and taking tech breaks helps reduce stress and improves focus and mental clarity. Content creators might want to consider building these kinds of intermissions into their programming.
The importance of digital citizenship - thinking critically and participating responsibly online - has come to the forefront, especially as kids do distance learning. Parents are looking for guidance to help their kids make good choices about protecting their online privacy, being kind and civil communicators, and thinking critically about the things they see online (discerning misinformation). Companies such as Disney have run campaigns to address digital citizenship issues, including cyberbullying. But beyond social awareness campaigns, kids need to see examples of ways they could handle “digital dilemmas” that come up in their lives such as: What do I do if I see someone say something mean or hurtful online? What should I consider before sharing a photo or video? How can I tell if something I see online is true or not? Successful digital learning - both at school and at home - starts with digital citizenship.
Children’s media producers can serve the present needs of caregivers and children by: