Supporting Children’s Virtual Learning

Child in Harvard t-shirt looking at a laptop.
Photo by Rohit Farmer on Unsplash

By Megan McQueen

Families, these are tough times! As a parent of children who are virtually learning, I completely understand the daily dance trying to navigate their needs (and different schedules) along with my own work demands, anxiety, and never-ending to-do list. As an educator, I rely on strategies I use in the classroom to support my own children. Success looks different everyday in our house. Sometimes my goal is to get everyone outside and active, other days, I have to give up on expectations for anyone so we can get through the day with our relationships intact. 

Here are some strategies that have worked in our house. I would love for you to add to the conversation and share what is helping for your family!

Space: We can’t all have “Pinterest-worthy” work spaces. Creativity is key. We don’t have an “office” or spare bedroom in our house that we can turn into a workspace. In the main space where my kids work, we worked together to create a space that fit their personalities. We gathered a few favorite school supplies and they displayed artwork nearby. One of my kids likes to keep their space tidy and clear, with a caddy for supplies within reach. My other child surrounds themselves with colorful objects they love. They both have simple ways to organize supplies – a pencil cup, a magazine file (or cereal box) to hold notebooks, folders, etc., and a calendar to keep track of due dates. A school day schedule hangs nearby for easy reference. Through all of this, I’ve learned that we actually need multiple work spaces. We can share spaces when we’re working quietly, but when both my kids are participating in virtual meetings at the same time, sitting in the same room doesn’t work. We’ve created several workstations around our house with paper, pens, access to an outlet, and a place to sit.

Make a Routine and Create Expectations: As a teacher, I have seen the power of routines. When a person is dealing with stress or trauma, consistency can help ease our daily lives a bit. It calms our brains to know what comes next. Waking up and going to sleep at the same time each day helps our rhythm. Set timers for your child’s meetings, so you’re not trying to remember everyone’s schedules. Set out some healthy snacks that your children can grab for themselves. Build in movement breaks and some outdoor activity, if possible. If older children have a phone, talk together about the distraction of technology during school time. Some families “park” phones away from workspaces. Ask your child how they will manage social media distractions and discuss the effects of multitasking. 

Talk with your children about how to ask for help from you as well. If you have young children, consider making a stop sign to place near your space if you cannot be interrupted. A favorite technique is to place my hand on my child’s when I want them to wait a moment before talking. The physical comfort helps them know I see their request. I can say, “Just a minute, please,” and finish my conversation before giving my attention to my child. As helpful as routines are, they require flexibility. On some days, your routine may need to change; the schedule will need to be loosened. 

Relationships First; Focus on the Positive: It helps me to think ahead to what I want my kids to remember from this experience. I want my children to know they are loved. I want them to gain empathy, understand we are all connected to each other, build resiliency, and channel their feelings into action (which sometimes looks like rest and other times means solving problems). When I remember those goals I am a better parent, so I posted them near my work space. Give hugs to each other and occasionally ask your child how they are feeling and what they need. Notice your child’s strengths and celebrate them regularly. Comments like, “I am so proud of you for staying calm when the internet went down,” or “Wow, you stuck with that assignment even when it was a struggle,” can help boost your child’s confidence. My family also started a family gratitude journal that we complete at dinner. It’s just a simple list of a few things each day that we notice. Setting time to talk about what brought us joy or remind us of how much goodness we have in our lives is crucial right now. 

Show interest in their work: Talk with your family about their days. Asking specific questions can spark conversations. “What book did your teacher read today?” “How did the science quiz go?” “What made you laugh today?” “What was something kind that you saw or heard today?” It is important to become a team with your children’s teachers. Most teachers are missing their students and relationships with families. Reach out to them in their preferred method (email, school-to-home text app, phone call, etc.) and ask how you can best support your child’s learning. If your child is struggling with something, share that with the teacher in a way that fosters problem-solving, “I notice that Sierra seems frustrated during independent work time. She is unclear about what her job is. Where can I find her assignments so I can help her?” or “Oscar is struggling during math time. Is there a time when the two of you can connect so he can ask some questions?”

Ask for help: Many families are needing a variety of supports right now: mental health, food, school supplies, financial. School districts and local organizations are coming together to offer aid. Groceries, gas gift cards, laundry cards, internet hot spots, desks, headphones, rent assistance, even scholarships for childcare may all be possibilities for your family. Reach out to your school and district for connections for what your family needs.

Take care of yourself and your family and offer grace for each other when emotions get the best of yourself. Take some deep breaths and remind yourself that this is temporary, but the relationship you are building with your child will stay with them forever. 

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

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