5 Reasons Why Using a Checklist Will Improve Your Distance Learning Experience

The power of a kid-created TO-DO list.

The goal for distance learning this year should be for excellence, not just for kids to limp along and hope to keep up with math and reading. Learning from home provides so many new opportunities for growth and maturity in ways that school cannot offer. Fundamental to this growth is cultivating independence. 

However, lots of kids need some (or maybe loads of) hand holding in order to get their work done. They are bright and curious, but they don’t want to put pen to paper or sit with their assignment unless their parents are coaching them through every step of the way.

As adults with our own set of responsibilities, sitting with our kids to walk them through simple steps they know how to make on their own can be frustrating at best, and sometimes down right excruciating. 

So how do we get kids to work independently? 

One of the best ways to help cultivate independence in kids is to use checklists. Checklists can be used in almost any circumstance, from morning routines to getting daily work accomplished. There is a power that comes from moving through a checklist and being able to tangibly see things disappearing from the TO DO to DONE list. 

I work at a Montessori school where checklists are part of the daily routine. In the morning, the kids will have a group meeting with the teacher and will either receive a checklist from their teacher if they are younger, or will be prompted to create their own checklist if they are a bit older. From that point on in the day, the kids take responsibility for their own work, and they keep track of what needs to be done with their own unique checklist. And they love it! 

There are so many reasons why using checklists at home during distance learning can help cultivate independence. 

First, checklists shift the power dynamic. It moves the responsibility from parent to child. Rather than you, the parent, being the gatekeeper of what is to be done for school that day, the checklist is the unbiased truth teller of what is still left to do. 

Second, checklists create a boundary and agenda for what the day will look like. The best advice I ever received was from my mom, right before I had my first son. She said “Kids want and need boundaries.” After 14 years of teaching and 10 years as a mom, my experience leads me to believe there isn’t a clearer truth. Kids want to know the boundaries. They want to know what to expect and what is expected of them. The checklist fulfills these needs.

Third, another magical aspect of the checklist is that the tasks can always be broken up into smaller tasks if they are too large, too time consuming or just too overwhelming to achieve in one hack. This also provides another box to check off, which offers kids a sense of accomplishment when completed. 

Fourth, checklists teach kids time management. If you are keeping to a schedule, which I totally recommend, and you have “work time” designated from 10am-11am, you can use the checklist as a motivator by saying -- "Hey! I wonder if you could get three things checked off between now and our next break?"

Kids LOVE checking things off the list.

Fifth, it establishes autonomy and independence. Kids can refer to their own list at their own pace and do not really need extra input regarding expectations. If you have any expectations to be working at home while your child is distance learning, the checklist is a beautiful thing that gives you, the parent, more freedom too. 

Another place to try using a checklist is in your morning routine. Write down the tasks that need to be accomplished WITH YOUR CHILD before “school” starts. Ask for input on what they think the tasks need to be, and then agree on the list. You can write the list on a white board, chalk board or just a piece of paper, and hand off the list to your child. This empowers kids during their morning routine, gives them a sense of control over aspects of the day, and also accomplishes necessary tasks. Win, win, win!

The Takeaway

Checklists shift the sense of responsibility from parent to child.

We love them because: 

✓  They shift the power dynamic.

✓  They create clear boundaries and expectations for the day.

✓  Tasks can be broken up into smaller tasks if they are too large.

✓  They foster time management skills.

✓  They establish autonomy and independence. 

“Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.”

- Henry Ford

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