Distance Learning Pods: A New Parent Frontier for the Fall 

With every school district announcement of a return in a fully virtual format there is a domino effect within every family: The unknown feels scarier, the working parent panics, and promises to not repeat the Spring become even louder in every household.  I first noticed the term “learning pods” pop up on my Twitter feed this week. As I scrolled the 1,000 + comments I quickly learned that there are some mixed feelings about this idea of parents forming structured support groups to conduct virtual learning and to provide their children with some socialization in the fall. Regardless of where you land philosophically, it is clear that out of survival some parents who are desperate to return to full-time work , or heck even something that resembles more of a normalcy, are going to create structures to get there. So if you fall into that camp, here are five things to consider as your text chains launch into a flurry with friends.  


Tip 1: Communicate with the school

Partnership with the school during distance learning is critical. If you are facilitating a Learning Pod at home, be sure to meet with your child’s teacher immediately at the start of the year, and provide frequent check-ins. In the Spring I sent an email every other week to the teacher to update them on the progress of my child in each content area; as time-consuming as this was, without them seeing my kids every day it felt important to be sure they understood what they were working on, challenges they were facing and success they were experiencing. If your teacher offers “office hours” (this was a common practice in the Spring for most teachers) be sure your child attends those, or that you both attend to keep everybody on the same page about what learning is looking like at home. 

Tip 2: Keep groups small and appropriate to grade level

I would recommend groups stay to six students and below. Six is a sweet spot for two groups of three and provides a nice ratio for parent/teacher to student. The logistics of keeping learning pods to the same grade level may be challenging due to siblings, but when possible I recommend that learning pods consist of children from the same grade level. Managing learning and what students are working on can be challenging, and for learning pods to work for parents it needs to be as streamlined and simple as possible. 

Tip 3: “Departmentalize”

#Realtalk: working parents are partially seeking Learning Pods to help share the burden of virtual learning. One way that parents can effectively do this is by each being responsible for one content area for student learning. For example, one parent can be the “point person” for math- meaning they zoom in on the assignments for that content area, are familiar with resources provided by the school for math, and oversee student learning for the subject. This does not mean that parent is responsible for teaching math, it simply means that students are working on math when they are with that parent and the parent oversees math lessons to see where students are struggling, and communicates any challenges to the other parents so that they can communicate with their child’s teacher. I don’t know about you, but worrying about one content area rather than seven feels a lot more manageable and effective to me!


Tip 4: Create designated learning spaces at home

The lines can quickly get blurred with distance learning- parent to teacher, home to school, play to structure. Creating a designated learning space at home can help keep these lines a little more clear for children. If you don’t have additional space to designate for “school time” (especially for six kids), you can think about creating structure in existing places such as your dining room table or island. During the Spring we had a large wood box that was filled with binders organized by content area that all school work went in-this simple structure helped my kids simply know where to put their schoolwork. We also had a “materials box” with all items they needed for learning-another simple structure designated to learning. We also had flexible learning options for where they could go for different activities -the hammock out back for reading, an art/tinker lab in the garage, and designated quiet spaces around the house for Zoom calls. You will want to review these with your Learning Pod, and possible even consider labeling them in your home for other children to best understand your expectations and boundaries. 

Tip 5: Have a schedule 

For a Learning Pod to work, it’s going to have to be a dialed in operation that will require frequent parent communication. A standing practice can be for the parents to communicate on Sunday night about the week ahead and establish a schedule. The schedule will need to include which parents are facilitating the Learning Pod on which days, and a review of the learning schedules assigned by teachers for each child. Google Docs feels pretty important in this process! Here is a template we used for our family last spring that worked really well for us to be sure that the parents could work around meetings and that the children were present for any live class discussions or lessons.

To see what others are talking about Learning Pods check out @HKorbey on Twitter to find the thread below and all 100+ comments!

Parent Pods

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