5 Tips: Routine for Virtual School Life


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2020 has been a year!

No matter how you've been working or how your children have been going to school we know that life must happen differently in this season. Even though our two sons have been virtual schooling by our choice since the beginning of the school year, we've still gone through teacher changes, routine changes, changes of technology and how materials are delivered and even what time live instruction happens for each day.  This means constant flexibility and thinking on my feet to make it all work. I'm going to guess that you've had to live this way too- whatever your life looks like right now!

Just like you, I want my kids to be successful and continue to  learn despite the challenges of these times on their developing brains. I also know from my seven years in the public school classroom some techniques that I can begin to apply to the situation to help us all be successful.

Here are a few things we've learned that make our life work (for this week)!

1. Morning Routines:

I make my kids get up by a certain time and still eat breakfast, get dressed, and brush their teeth by a certain time. I know they CAN do classwork in their pj's. However, that tends to send the message that they can behave the same way they do on a Saturday morning, watching TV and being beholden to nothing. But, of course there are many expectations to log on at certain times and submit assignments. Getting ready and dressed on time each day also makes the weekend days actually feel different than the week. This helps them psychologically. It helps them still have things to look forward to about relaxing on the weekend and gives their brains structure.

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2. Alarms:

I realized really quickly that a quick class meeting could me missed if we realized at 2:32 that we should have logged on at 2:30. Trouble connecting and internet trouble complicates a few minutes to become ten minutes of missed class very quickly. We set alarms on each child's device to go off about 2-3 minutes before each class actually starts. This is most helpful if you've got a younger child doing independent work for much of the day and needing to log on to do check-ins with teachers. We use the Title feature in the alarms area of the ipads to name each alarm for the class they need to attend.

Brain Bonus: I find that this allows my children to be more independent, which I love. But, the alarms also take one thing off of their mental list of things to do each day. (They feel overwhelmed sometimes too.) It has allowed them to relax, just like the bells at school tell them to move to the next class.

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3. Organization:

Learning Materials:

I have the luxury of having an empty cabinet that we've lovingly started to call "The Locker" to keep school supplies. The kids know that all of their materials are organized in that place. That helps their expectations. You could designate a laundry basket for each child in your house. I don't think it needs to be fancy, but does need to be consistent.

Supply Box:

I have a small box for each child that houses their pencils, erasers, glasses, sharpeners, etc. This is also where we keep their chargers and headphones. If they suddenly need to go to a different location of the house when my husband is on a work call, they can grab their iPad and this little supply/tool box and be ready to move to the dining room for class that day.


I don't know why it took me two months to figure this one out. Every year I purchase folders for my kids to use in their classroom or to bring homework and papers back and forth in their backpacks each day. I guess because I knew they wouldn't be transporting anything, but I didn't think about folders until we started getting packets from the school to do throughout the week. Everything comes in one folder, neatly grouped together with staples: Math,  Reading, English, Fun Packet, etc. Well, I watched my seven year old son struggle to find individual papers because he had to dig through all subject packets to find it. They'd start to fall apart by the end of the week and things were everywhere. I'd be running around re-packeting everything at the end of the day. I don't want to do that!

 I found a manila envelope for the "Fun Packets" and a large white resume envelope for the Shared Reading materials. I got two folders, different colors, for Math and for Language Arts. Since they are very visual, he can independently find each subject folder quickly and then dig through those materials to find the sheet he needs. (I've realized that kids aren't used to this. During in-person class, they just receive each worksheet as they're ready and aren't used to working to find specific math worksheets.)


Dig out that old physical family calendar that you probably don't use anymore because you now use your phone calendar. Pop that baby back on the wall and have the kids use it to track their assignments. I keep it right in our school area. We're hoping this helps the kids be able to become more independent.

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4. Food:

I know we are all a bit tired of cooking (and cleaning up!) in this season. I am too. Even if my kids get their own breakfast, I still need to pour their allergy medicine and take care of clean-up. (Surprise! Seven year olds don't do a great job thoroughly cleaning up after themselves! haha) It is tiring for me.

Despite my being tired of cooking and dishes,  I have also witnessed how much better my kids do when they have something to look forward to - part of a routine. I think it must be because our brains can relax back knowing that this particular area is something we don't need to worry about. For that thing, we can be in a parasympathetic state.

There is nothing really routine about the upheaval we find ourselves in, but I can make meals routine - and fun!

Here are the 5 moves I made for food:

(You can read more about my menus, lunch foods, and dinner foods on this blog!)

1. The Foods We Eat:

The best thing I've done is separated my lunch meals from my dinner meals. It gives the kids variety in their diets and helps me grocery-plan too.

2. Planning Ahead:

I started making lunch menus in October and found that this move bought me time to work during their lunch. I can prep meals so they can help themselves.

3. Make it like school! 

My boys' school always had pizza on Fridays. So, I've arranged for that in our house too! Sometimes we pick up pizza but more often, its Bagel Bits, a frozen pizza, or English Muffin Pizzas.

4. I've built in breaks for myself!

Part of that lunch menu is a roughly once-a-week Peanut Butter and Jelly planned meal that my kids need to make themselves.

5. Make it special!

Finally, I bought two lunch trays at IKEA that have given the kids joy and makes it feel like they're really at school.

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5. Rewards

I've never been a huge proponent of rewards at home. I don't give my kids a regular allowance. I encourage them to do chores because they're part of our family unit and we help each other. However, I know that reward systems and Token Economy Systems can be really big drivers for encouraging the right kinds of behavior in a new situation where expectations are unclear. And boy- isn't that where we find ourselves?

So, we have created a system that works for us called Bickel Bucks. You can make a system that works for you. It can be as simple as a list of the kids names and tally marks for when they do the things they are expected to do. You can cut up green construction paper and mark each with your initials. The physical display isn't as important as is the clarity of expectations and what children need to do to earn bucks or points. Then, you'll also need to make a system for how they cash in those points or reward bucks for something that feels valuable to them.

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You can make a system that works for you. It can be as simple as a list of the kids names and tally marks for when they do the things they are expected to do.

To Earn Bickel Bucks:

Our kids need to be physically ready for school. They need to have their materials ready and begin each class on time. They need to submit assignments on time and participate in class. They also need to be the best students they can possibly be.

To Cash in Bickel Bucks:

The kids decided what kinds of things they might value. Some classrooms set up mini stores where kids can cash in for pencils or stickers or erasers. I don't want to set up a store and don't really need any more stuff to worry about. I have found that special treats from the grocery store (especially since we aren't going that often these days) are the best reward for my kids.

The kids decided to put stuff like this on their list:

Chips Ahoy Cookies (5)

Pop Tarts (5)

Gummies (1)

Ice Cream Trip as a family (7)

Choose a movie (10)

30 Minutes extra Screentime for the day (10)

Choose dinner that week (12)

Choose takeout that week (15)

Do something with a friend (Covid Safe) (16)

Donuts (5)

Bagels (5)

Stey up 30 Minutes longer at night (15)

Choose a family activity (2)

Order a new book (4)

Have a campfire (7)

Excused from 2 chores (8)

Then the kids and Brady and I decided the values of each of these rewards together. They love saving up their Bickel Bucks and cashing in for something they want. (It is usually donuts!)

What am I about?

My business is Photographic Memories by Ann M. Bickel, LLC and is about providing art opportunities in the Altoona community as well as portraiture photography work. As a creative person, I like to dabble in other areas that allow me to bear witness to others' lives and explore what brings us all together. Though If you would like to follow along, you can check out my last blog article or join my newsletter!


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