How Distance-Learning Checklists Are Giving Me Life RN (with printable!)


We all have a lot of feelings these days. BIG FEELINGS. As a diehard expert at pushing emotions aside and drowning myself in work, I want to take a moment to say that this is NOT the season for that approach. We need to acknowledge that things are hard. Like, real, real hard. This is a good time to lower our expectations, find a new definition of “productive,” and spend as much time as possible nurturing ourselves and those we love.

With that said, distance learning is here. With it comes new deadlines, meetings, and mayhem. As back-to-school (aka: back-to-family-room) kicked off, my brain kicked into overdrive. Feelings? What feelings? Let’s dump them into organizing.

Two kids distance learning

I wanted to mastermind three different kids’ distance-learning schedules. I wanted my small humans to experience a delightful and seamless transition. I wanted to wash all the anxiety and fear of the past months away in the security and certainty of class meeting codes.

I wanted all these things while also managing my own businesses and keeping a pre-schooler entertained. Totally do-able, right?

So Many Calendars

My first approach was to sit down and transfer all the different schedules into our family Google Calendar, exactly in the form that they were provided to me. New acronyms (AL, OH, SGL??) crowded the dates. I set up alerts on my phone and suddenly was getting pinged multiple times per hour, layered on top of the notifications for work deadlines and conference calls already in the mix. The amount of directions I was being pulled was staggering, and I am not even going to get into the fact that these ravenous beasts need to eat approximately every 90 seconds.

Not. Sustainable.

So, I revisited our approach after two days of distance-learning.

The Beauty of Simplicity

Instead, I wrote out each kid’s schedule of LIVE instruction only — these are the classes I really don’t want them to miss (and recognize that sometimes they might do so, anyway). They show up on our family calendar and on my phone, and there is a customized paper version available for each kid. 

Separately, I made a daily checklist of things each kid needs to accomplish in the day. And let me tell you: these checklists are giving me life.

I started out by holding a 10-minute “Expectations for Back-to-School” conference every kid, independently, wherein we agreed on the terms and conditions of the checklist together. I treated the matter as official business and required signatures, because I am that mom.

This checklist is not entirely school-related. For example, one item on the list for each kid is to brush their teeth each morning. We have historically been terrible about this, so it seemed a worthwhile step to include.

The older kids have tasks such as making their beds and doing 30 minutes of independent reading. Younger kids have simpler things like 20 minutes of art time or completing a sheet of handwriting practice. Woven into those tasks are some of the specifics of school: X minutes of Lexia, X minutes of Dreamtime, complete all assignments on Seesaw/Clever, and so on.

I know, it’s just a checklist. Sometimes the simple things work best.

School Chart/Reward Chart

My children are always begging for more screen time, so we came to a straightforward agreement: everything on the checklist needs to be completed before they can even ASK about screens, and no screens are allowed until after 5pm unless for schoolwork.

Kid filling out task chartFollowing agreement, I printed and laminated each schedule and put it in the kids’ school folders. The first day of its use, whenever they said, “What do I do now???”, I just kept referring them to the checklist. Bliss. They were free to tackle any items on the checklist in whatever order they preferred. Their teeth have never been cleaner, but they also took ownership of their work and the timeline they needed to accomplish it.

The point here is that this system is FLEXIBLE, requires way less of me when it comes to getting the kids to be in specific places at specific times, and I can also use it as a bit of a reward system. So far, the kids even seem to enjoy marking their accomplishments along as they go!

As a bonus, I added on some weekly goals that don’t need to be on any particular day, but that they should be doing somewhat regularly, maybe 2-3x per week. We are trying to take advantage of quarantine to teach/learn new skills, such as cooking, playing musical instruments, or even learning new (offline) games. These are added goals and it was a good conversation to have with the kids as to what they’d like to include for the coming months.

I am seeing through this experiment the benefits of structure for my kiddos, with clear guidance on rules and expectations. I also have recognized how badly I needed something that took some of the weight off my shoulders, so that I wasn’t constantly trying to follow a specific schedule or even have to come up with what the next activity should be.

We’re including a free PDF of the checklist here, which you can print out and fill manually to give it a test drive. If you want to make your own customized version (including your kiddo’s name and each of the different tasks/goals), it’s available for purchase as an editable printable in our online shop.

Feedback welcome! It’s worked great for our family so far, but it would be amazing to know what solution is working for your family, as well. You got this!

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Lee Ann moved to Portland in 2008 following an eight-year stint in Paris, France, where her eldest was born. Though she thought nowhere could compete with the City of Lights, the City of Roses immediately stole her heart. As a great place to raise kids, she loves getting out and exploring the city and the PNW with her husband and four young children. While in France, Lee Ann earned a B.A. in Journalism and a Master's in Linguistics at the American University of Paris and L'Universite de Paris - La Sorbonne, respectively, before returning stateside to become a Speech-Language Pathologist through the Portland State University graduate program. Throughout her studies, she kept one foot in the digital world, writing content for publications and creating websites for clients. After many years as a medical Speech Pathologist, she left to the field to continue freelance writing, become the owner of Portland Mom Collective (!), and to create a crafting/workshop space for PDX makers. She likes to spend whatever "me" time she can muster making soap, geocaching, jogging, sewing, and staring at the wall with no small humans talking to her. Get in touch by sending a note to leeann {at} portlandmomcollective {dot} com, or follow her on Instagram.