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Tips as We Transition Back to Virtual Learning


With the news that our school systems have made the difficult decision to transition to all virtual learning through the beginning of January, many families are facing numerous challenges – from how the change will impact parents’ work schedules to concerns about how to help children get the most out of online classes and adjust to a dramatic change in their daily social interaction.

By working together and supporting your child and their teacher, you can ensure they get the most out of their online lessons, and remain mentally focused and engaged in their school work.

Setting up for success

Many parents are concerned that virtual learning has severe drawbacks for their child’s academic and social development. While there are clear challenges for students, teachers and parents, don’t despair!  We already know that it is possible to connect with kids through a screen. For proof, look no further than the classic children’s show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Fred Rogers, the show’s creator, used his gentle, calm and conversational style to connect with children for more than two decades.

This is because Mr. Rogers understood a fundamental truth about what children need: to belong, feel like they are important, and are making significant contributions.

To be sure, this doesn’t address all of the challenges parents and teachers face during virtual learning. But understanding and providing this environment can help us set our children up for success.

Tips for virtual learning

There’s no doubt that learning online will feel different to you and your child, and it can be difficult to anticipate what they may need to help them get the most out of their classes. Here are what teachers and parents say are the most important, practical aspects of learning from home.

Establish routines and expectations

This is a foundational piece of the puzzle that is virtual learning. Create a flexible routine with your child and talk with them regularly about how it is working. From getting up and dressed at a reasonable time to keeping a normal bedtime and making rules for digital devices, providing structure and ‘normalcy’ for your child – and letting them have a say in how their schedule works – can help keep everyone focused and prevent them from feeling overwhelmed.

Brief, grounding conversations can make a big difference. For instance, in the morning you might ask your child:

  • What classes do you have today?
  • How will you spend your time?
  • What resources do you need?
  • What can I do to help

At the end of the day some questions to consider are:

  • How far did you get in [subject] today?
  • What did you discover? What was hard?
  • What could we do to make tomorrow better?

Establishing routine check-ins can help head off challenges and disappointments, and teach your child skills that will help them manage and process tasks and priorities throughout the day and on longer timelines.

Find a good place to learn

Not being in a classroom while learning can be a jarring experience for children, and there’s no guarantee that your family’s regular homework space will be appropriate for extended periods of virtual learning. Work with your child to set up a physical location that’s dedicated to school-focused activities. It should be quiet, distraction-free and have reliable internet access. Once you’ve carved out a virtual learning space, make sure you monitor your child and ensure they are engaged and participating.

Help your child own their learning

Virtual learning can be stressful for parents too – but remember that no one expects you to be a full-time teacher or educational expert. Focus on providing support and encouragement, and let your child know that you expect them to do their part. There’s nothing wrong with struggling with an assignment or problem. If you notice signs of distress or exasperation, encourage them to work through the impasse while you provide support

Manage stress

This continues to be a challenging and uncertain time for us all, with major changes to our normal routines both personally and professionally. Children are perceptive, and if you’re stressed they could be worried or fearful themselves. Children benefit when they get age-appropriate information and ongoing reassurance from trusted adults, so be sure to ask them how they’re feeling and what they’re concerned or feeling anxious about.

Manage on-screen time, and be kind

Virtual learning does not mean staring at a computer screen for 7 hours a day – often teachers will build into their lesson plans some variety, and it is important for you and your child to find a balance between screen time and down time. Work with your child to find ways to ensure their “down time” doesn’t become more screen time.

Many children may be excited that school is “closed” – but that will quickly fade when they begin missing their friends and teachers. Helping your child to maintain healthy contact with friends is important, but so is monitoring their use of social media and reminding them to be polite and kind in their online interactions.