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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Tips for back to school

For parents ready to tear their hair out at the prospect of another year of distance learning, help is everywhere.

Mostly, it’s on the internet in the form of endless tips, many as obvious as the mask on your face: “Set a schedule … limit distractions … stay organized … take breaks.”

There are dozens more, all of them worth a good look as Spokane Public Schools and other districts begin the year with distance learning.

But in some ways they’re too much of a good thing, like some to-do list you’ll never finish.

As complicated as the school day promises to be this fall, it’s best to keep things simple, said Keith Lambert, a professor of education at Whitworth University.

Last spring, Lambert and his wife Tara – who teaches accounting at Whitworth – found themselves at home with their two teenagers in the Mead School District.

The Lamberts had every advantage, but it didn’t matter.

“I will tell you now that it sucked,” said Keith Lambert, who considers himself a “relational” teacher, reliant on face-to-face instruction.

While the adults were consumed by the novelty of teaching online, their children – one of them an honor student – struggled.

“It threw all of us back on our heels a bit,” Lambert said.

The family gained some insights from the process, which Lambert distilled into three guidelines: Manage expectations for yourself and your child; motivate with a scalpel, not a sledgehammer and try to put yourself in your child’s place.

That last piece of advice can’t be found online, but from within.

Parents have lost a great deal to COVID-19, but children have lost so much more, Lambert realized.

“Adults have had their pressure valves, with golf courses and most recreational opportunities open,” Lambert said. “But kids have had nothing: no summer camps, no youth camps and athletic events – they’ve had so much taken away from them.”

For that reason, the Lamberts were relieved when the Mead School District bucked the trend in Spokane County and opted for in-person learning 2½ days a week.

“That was one of the first things I said,” Lambert recalled. “Meeting the needs of the kids, first and foremost. For our daughter, having that time to interact is critical.”

As the school year begins, Lambert said, parents must continue to see the educational experience through their children’s eyes.

That also applies to managing expectations – and stop feeling guilty when they aren’t met.

“We need to recognize that our own stresses and our own burdens are also stresses and burdens that our kids have,” Lambert said. “Don’t lay our burdens on our kids.”

Last spring, the Lamberts did the usual stuff. They set up a routine and a homework-friendly environment, regulated cellphones and other devices and didn’t just set up a schedule.

Instead, they put that schedule to paper – a low-key reminder to stay on task.

Having led the horse to water, the Lamberts counted on intrinsic motivation.

“That’s part of their DNA,” Lambert said. “It comes down to setting small goals: Where do they want to be in a week, or in two months?”

Children range drastically, not only their levels of motivation, but where that motivation comes from.

“Every kid is unique, and when we clump them together, we do a disservice to seeing their uniqueness,” he said.

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