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Distance Connected Learning 

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A friend was lamenting the other day that both she and her husband were working 12-hour days from home. Their two school-aged children, she said, mostly had to fend for themselves. She explained that she felt like she was failing them. I could relate. It's hard to divide your attention between work and family, even in normal circumstances.

Learning is going to be different.

This is not normal. It feels like we are living in the Twilight Zone. Nobody knows what day it is and our eyes are burning from staring at computer screens all day in our bed make-shift home offices. Schools are closed, formal and informal instruction is presented through digital platforms and paper packets. Our internet connections, if we have them, are at full capacity with three simultaneous Zoom meetings happening in the house. Some parents are working from home with their kids, while others are trying to figure out how to log into Google Classroom while worrying about how they will pay the rent because their business has shut its doors. 

Breathe.

Adjust your expectations and goals for your child's schoolwork and your schedules. Learning (and work) is going to be different. Don't worry about grades right now. There is going to be a lot of grace for everyone as we navigate through this together.

Communicate with the teacher.

If you don't have the bandwidth, a digital device or the tech skills for your child to participate in the online lessons and meetings, reach out to the teacher to discuss other options. Like you, teachers are navigating this for the first time and are expecting to repeatedly revise and improve their approach. This will be a dance of design, feedback and re-design, one that relies on communication between parents, teachers and students. Keep in mind that administrators and teachers are thinking about what students need and the varying resources available to families. At the same time, they are doing their best to balance the requirements of social distancing, the governor's executive order and guidelines from the California Department of Education.

Pro-tip: When giving teachers feedback, kindness goes a long way.

Engagement is key.

Create space for students to take a more active role in their learning. Follow their lead and encourage their explorations. Ask them to teach you something. Teens might need some inspiration. Start by doing things that you love. Your attention and excitement are contagious. Model problem-solving and perseverance and then, let your learner struggle a bit. Challenging tasks in hands-on, real-life situations are engaging. Learners are more motivated and engaged when they can use something they already know to do something that has an impact on others. Help your child think of ways to use their skills to benefit the local community. Maybe your teen could provide some virtual tech assistance to Grandma. This is an extraordinary opportunity to explore your child's areas of interest and the untapped potential of this generation of digital intuits. 

Children learn best with a spark of authenticity. Introduce your child to a citizen science app like iNaturalist to collect data about the flora or fauna in your neighborhood. These types of educational experiences can be transformative, bringing a new perspective of relationship and responsibility to the community. 

Connect with nature.

We are raising citizens of the world. Love of place and a sense of connection or belonging are important to raising eco-literate adults who practice sustainability. Consider place-based learning, which focuses on local history, landscape, culture and ecology. Our backyard and local marsh, forests and streams become laboratories of discovery and growth. In 1984, Edward Wilson described the term biophilia as "the rich, natural pleasure that comes from being surrounded by living organisms." As humans, we have a fundamental need to belong, to connect with nature and other living things. We may be practicing social distancing and sheltering in place, but we can still find connections.

Pro-tip: STEM Humboldt has a bank of redwood ecology lessons designed to engage learners of all grades.

Notice and wonder.

Curiosity, originality and self expression, belief in one's abilities and relationships with others are engaging. Nature journals can be valuable tools to this end. A nature journal is a meaningful tool to record senses, reflect on experiences and train learners to observe and wonder, leading them to a personal connection with nature and a scientific approach to understanding. Encourage your child to draw pictures and label their discoveries in detail. John Muir Laws and the California Academy of Sciences have how-to videos, lesson ideas, and even a free, downloadable guide to nature journaling.

Create shared experiences.

Children create meaning from their experiences by drawing connections and relations to previous experiences, knowledge and ideas. Conversations with peers, family and teachers can help with this reflection process. It's even better if we can participate in these positive experiences with our children. That common connection from a hike in the redwoods or a stroll through the marsh together creates a bond, and those palpable memories that one feels when they smell the wet forest debris or hear the geese flying overhead years later. Collect leaves or stones together to create patterns and turn your walk into an art opportunity with this Art with Nature lesson (www.my.hcoe.net/project/createathome). Even during shelter-in-place directives, we can create opportunities for our children (and ourselves) to connect with nature, our land and community. 

Now is the time to focus on connections. If your household is stressing about distance learning, try connected learning in nature. It's good for the soul, and it's educational.

Pro-tip: If you want to read more about place-based learning, ask if your local bookstore can do curbside pick-up of books by David Sobel or David Orr.

Make memories.

We're making this up as we go along. Let's seize this opportunity. My son is grown and lives far away. I would give anything to have a re-do of his childhood. I would do all the things — all the important things like driving lessons, cooking together, building a fence, taking lilac cuttings for the neighbor and making forts. Right now, your kids are home and you are home. When you look back at this historic time, I hope you have memories of connectedness.

Pro-tip: Keep your expectations in check. Kids may just need your love and reassurance right now. 

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Rosie Slentz

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