Online Learning Tips: Practical Tips for Parents

With students of all ages now having to study at home for the foreseeable future, families are understandably questioning how they are going to survive. With many parents having to work remotely, parents and kids can think of themselves as “in this together!”

Needless to say, most parents are not trained as educators, so the need to structure the day to ensure learning continues for one or more children is a challenge, to say the least.

To get started, parents may be well advised to think like life coaches. In most cases, your children’s teachers will be providing the content to be studied, so your role is more of a coach to facilitate the completion of that work. Life coaches perform critical steps to help their clients perform optimally, starting by guiding individuals to set a goal, then developing a plan to meet that goal, predicting what challenges may be encountered and then providing the structure and accountability to reach the identified goal.

To adapt this strategy to your home and children, start by engaging your child/ren in the process of determining the goal(s) to be reached. If your child is elementary age, daily goals are appropriate; for middle schoolers and high school students, weekly goal setting is more advisable. Then translate these goals into a predictable daily schedule. Consider when your child is at his or her best, and schedule more challenging subjects or tasks for those times.

Keep in mind that young children have distinctly shorter attention spans than middle schoolers, and plan accordingly. A good rule of thumb is to plan for 2-3 minutes of attending for every year of age. Thus 20 minutes is a reasonable block of time for an 8-year-old, where 45 minutes is appropriate for your 15-year-old. With this in mind, you will also want to plan activities that boost interest and engagement. Worksheets and textbooks are some of the tools of schooling, but to keep your children motivated day after day, variety and novelty are key. Our brains are wired to respond more readily to novel or unfamiliar information, so “mixing it up” is essential.

The Internet offers an abundance of resources to support families during these challenging times, and Virtual Field Trips and Scholastic are two great sources for bringing that important variety into your child’s learning.

Finally, coaches are there to help us celebrate our victories, so let’s not overlook the importance of praise and rewards. You can praise your child for a strong effort, for a period of sustained attention, for persevering through a difficult task, or for a great finished product. Praise should be specific. “It was really wonderful that you wrote down your question and did not interrupt me while I was on that call,” is more helpful than, “You did a great job on that worksheet.” Praise can be a reward in itself, or it can be supplemented with time spent with you, time to connect with a friend, or working toward another desired activity. Like a good life coach, you will need to tailor your strategy to your child’s specific age, interests, and temperament, but keeping these practices in mind will give you a basic framework for navigating the challenging days and weeks ahead.

Good study habits combined with many of the same strategies that parents who work at home already use will help families survive. A good place to start may be to be sure to continue distinguishing school days from weekends and holidays. Ideally, children (and adults) will follow normal routines of waking up, showering, getting dressed, and starting the “school” day. Students may not do their best school work in pajamas and slippers! Following a normal weekday schedule will be reassuring and set the expectation of what is to follow. If school normally starts at 8:00am, families may want to consider having kids ready to engage in learning activities by that point. Students of all ages are used to having a schedule of some kind, so setting a schedule of what the “school day” is going to look like will be helpful. Having the schedule visible, as it is in many classrooms, will be helpful to students. Students may enjoy writing the day’s schedule on a whiteboard or easel. Having other tools such as a timer to help kids keep track of the time or a list to check off tasks as they are completed may also be fun and help kids feel more in control of their day. The schedule should incorporate new subjects at regular intervals.

All students, young and old will also need breaks! Elementary school children are used to having opportunities to be on their feet while interacting with classmates in group study and working projects, so younger kids especially will benefit from both frequent breaks and opportunities for hands-on, projects if at all possible. If a student is studying fractions, for example, maybe he could cook with a parent and learn about how fractions are used in measuring ingredients. Students of all ages will benefit from “recess” opportunities which could include walking the dog, taking out the trash, doing a chore, shooting hoops, and playing outside.

Good study habits are going to be more important than ever. Helping students find a discrete, quiet study space will be important! Reclining on a bed may not make for ideal studying! Study space should be free of distractions but in the case of younger children, close enough to an adult for supervision. Since most parents won’t be readily available to help at all times, students can be encouraged to keep a list of questions to ask later in the day. During the school day, all should agree that screen time is off-limits.

As the walls close in on everyone, one of the best strategies for successful home and remote schooling is going to be keeping students active enough so that they can be available for learning. Study after study has shown that exercise improves memory, learning, mood, and attention. It may be that the best first period “class” of the day will be PE. If parents are able to work it into their schedules, they may be really well served by getting their kids outside and working up a sweat at least once every day. As with academics, setting goals and having something to work towards could be fun for all involved. Since youth sports, as we know them will be off-limits for a while, families are going to have to resort to other ideas. Think outside the box! Families could train for a 5K together. Couch to 5K plans are all over the internet as are other training plans. Families could also chart out a two-mile course and try to beat their previous walking time each day. The point is that many kids are used to being really active, and expecting kids to sit and study without a physical outlet may be a futile challenge!

We can predict that some days will be harder than others, so we need to keep in mind that the most important goal in front of us is to remain in positive, loving, nurturing relationships with our children. Beyond exercise, other forms of self-care will also be vitally important during these days. We all need to attend to our sleep schedule, be sure we maintain good nutrition, and make the time to relax and enjoy ourselves and each other. Nourish your soul and your spirit. If yoga or mindfulness is your outlet, be sure to schedule it. Make time to read, to cook, or dance with your kids. We know how quickly time moves with our children, and even as we work to juggle all that is in front of us right now, try to find time together every day to enjoy them.

About The Author

Carolyn Nelson, M.Ed.