Tips for Parents to Support Learning from Home
Students worldwide have spent the last several months learning from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While some kids are moving to hybrid schedules that include some in-school learning, it’s safe to say that online learning isn’t going away anytime soon.
Helping children have positive online learning experiences is critical for their success now and in the future. The good news is that there are tried-and-true strategies to make online and hybrid learning effective. It’s a matter of focusing on a few key areas:
- Ensuring teachers are prepared with research-based strategies for online teaching
- Providing an effective learning environment for students
- Creating a meaningful learning plan for each student
- Making sure all learners have supportive learning coaches
While school leaders and educational institutions are responsible for ensuring teachers are prepared, due to the pandemic, parents and families are now sharing responsibility for the other elements of successful online learning.
It’s important for parents and caregivers to understand: Learning to learn online is a big task, and you should give yourself some leeway as you adjust. Things may get off schedule. Some strategies may not work. That’s normal as you get used to a new skill.
Here are some tips to help parents and other caregivers provide a successful online learning experience.
Provide an effective learning environment
In face-to-face learning, going to a physical school building helps children transition into learning mode. The school environment provides a physical reminder of the behaviors and norms that are important for effective learning. When learning online, it’s important to create a learning station that helps students transition from “home mode” to “school mode.”
A learning station is a consistent space where schoolwork takes place, such as a desk in a bedroom. This space should be comfortable, consistently available on school days, and relatively free of distractions. If space in a bedroom isn’t available or workable, consider creating a spot in another part of the house. A lap desk can turn a couch or chair into a learning station, and younger kids can do their work in a “learning fort” under the dining room table.
If more than one child is learning from home, create a shared learning station, perhaps at a dining room table. In shared spaces, consider adjustments like buying a headset with a microphone to block out noise, or using a trifold display (like the ones for science fair projects) to turn a table into a more focused learning space.
Get the tech right
When it comes to the technology itself, whether it’s school-issued or a parent’s or child’s device, having it ready and using it effectively will go a long way toward ensuring a successful online learning experience.
If you’re sharing a personal device with your child, check your settings and be sure the apps you’ve installed are appropriate. Likewise, you can set up parental controls on students’ personal devices to limit or turn off access to certain apps during the school day.
Make a list of all the websites your student will be using for school with their login information. Have it available for easy reference so you don’t have to scramble when class is starting. When participating in Zoom classes, have your student turn their camera to increase engagement, make learning time more focused, and help them participate fully in discussions.
And when experiencing technical problems, stay calm. Modeling how to troubleshoot tech issues is an important skill!
Create a meaningful learning plan
After you’ve created an effective learning environment, it’s important for students to understand what their learning journey will look like. An easy-to-read schedule can help, particularly if students have hybrid schedules or A/B days where the schedule changes each day. Be sure to involve children in creating the schedule, and make sure it’s realistic for your family and includes a mixture of learning time and unstructured time.
It’s also important to build in breaks throughout the day when kids can work on a puzzle, draw, or grab a snack. When the weather permits, be sure children spend some time outside for a change of setting and to get some physical activity.
And social interaction is important for kids to learn skills like conflict management and emotional regulation. Look for safe ways to ensure kids are building relationships with their peers, like digital or small-group study teams; online multiplayer games like Minecraft; or video chats with apps like Marco Polo that let you send video messages that feel more like a conversation than texting.
Manage screen time
When school and family time are both happening online, the traditional approach to screen time may not be the best way to teach boundaries. Rather than focusing on how many minutes a child spends on the screen, instead make sure they’re learning to have a healthy balance among a variety of online and offline activities.
For example, discuss the importance of having a variety of digital and physical activities; designate tech-free times for adults and kids, such as family meals; and avoid leaving devices in kids’ bedrooms at night.
Become a supportive learning coach
While children have to transition from “home mode” to “school mode,” parents and caregivers need to transition from “parent mode” to “learning coach mode.” This means helping your child develop good learning habits and helping remove any barriers to effective learning. It doesn’t mean solving all their problems or doing their work for them.
Much of the school experience for your children will be shaped by your example and attitude. If children hear disparaging comments about their teachers or the online learning experience, it may turn a positive learning experience into a negative one.
Here are some tips for being a supportive learning coach:
- Use a visual checklist or stickers to keep kids focused on completing tasks
- Help kids stay on track by having them write down their goals for the day
- Talk to older kids about eliminating distractions like social media during school time
- Urge children to research answers to their own questions
- Touch base daily with your children, asking questions like: What did you accomplish today that you hoped to? What did you discover? What do you need to do today so tomorrow will be a success?
Your child’s teacher is available to help if you have questions about the apps and platforms students are using, what to do if you have tech problems, and how you can support classroom routines at home. But remember, teachers are also juggling a lot these days. Be sure to recognize their efforts and show appreciation.
Finally, keep in mind that you’re part of a team. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from school staff, family members, or other parents when you need support.
Find more comprehensive suggestions and tips for online learning in “Supporting Learning From Home: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers,” available in English and Spanish, from ISTE and National PTA. Or download this quick-reference infographic, also available in English and Spanish, from ISTE and Zoom.
For more tips on how to support young students with remote learning, watch these webinar sessions:
Support Young Students with Remote Learning: Session 1 – Hear from Experts
Supporting Young Students with Remote Learning: Session 2 – Zoom Training for Families, Parents, and Caregivers
Richard Culatta is the CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).