Five Things Parents Can Do to Support Students Learning Online

Oct 30, 2023
Student learning online

Virtual learning may not be the right fit for every elementary student—but it can open up exciting opportunities for many learners that benefit from the flexible at-home environment. If you've determined this is the best option for your child, we're here to help provide guidance and support to make it a success. After all, it requires educators, students, and families to adjust to new routines. Parents and other caregivers in particular can offer some of the most important guidance students need to find the right online learning approaches, remain accountable for their work, and get extra help when needed.

Here are five things parents and caregivers can do to help their child be successful when learning online:

1. Build a Schedule

Traditional school days provide students with a lot of structure—this is hard to replicate in a virtual learning setting. For some students, the flexibility of learning online is a natural fit. However, for other students, especially young learners, managing this increased autonomy is a challenge. Students participating in virtual learning need to build their own routines and effectively manage their time in order to stay on track. Having a well-thought-out, specific daily schedule is key, and parents can be a huge help not only in building such a plan but also in making sure that it is followed.

Parents can start by sitting down with their student and intentionally discussing what he or she is responsible for accomplishing in their online course work on a daily or weekly basis, how much time those tasks will realistically take, and what other commitments (sports, arts, work, family engagements, etc.) they need to consider. Bring your child’s virtual teacher(s) into the conversation too—teachers can offer valuable insight into the curriculum, their own expectations, and how time will need to be budgeted. Once you’ve talked through everything on your child’s plate, help him or her write out a weekly schedule with designated work time for online courses. Be sure to hang up the schedule in a noticeable place, like on the refrigerator or next to any other family master calendars, to help keep your child accountable and establish an effective routine.

2. Model Hard Work and Persistence

Learning online from home removes many of the systems of accountability that students are used to in the traditional classroom—achieving the same level of success will likely take a higher level of intrinsic motivation and self-directed effort. Just like time management skills, this motivation comes more naturally for some students than for others. Regardless, acclimating to online learning platforms, getting accustomed to self-pacing, and working through the normal, productive struggles of learning more independently can be challenging. Parents and other caregivers can make a big difference simply by demonstrating the ubiquity and importance of these skills in the “real world” beyond school.

Talking to your child about your own work and goals is a great place to start. Tell them about difficult projects you’re working on, new skills you’re trying to master, and challenges you’ve faced. For instance, do you have a big presentation coming up at work? Tell your child about the extra time you’re putting in to prepare. Are you in the process of taking up a new hobby? Tell your child about how you’ve had to try and fail. Take time to sit down with him or her while he or she is working on online coursework to tackle some projects of your own. These don’t have to be big talks or perfect examples (and don’t expect to hold your child’s rapt attention), but demonstrating your own hard work and motivated attitude will help your child take a similar approach while learning online.

3. Set Up a Designated Workspace

The right workspace makes a huge difference in students’ mindset and ability to focus. When participating in virtual learning, students have the ability to complete their work where they want, so it’s important to put thought into what kind of environment is truly most effective for them and make sure that they have a designated space at home.

Think about your child’s personality and needs as a starting point to create a workspace tailored to him or her, and be sure to have a direct conversation with your child about where and how he or she will be most comfortable completing online coursework. If your child thrives on quiet, make sure that he or she has a desk and comfortable chair in the room. If they need a little more interaction and hands-on accountability, a desk or table in the living room or kitchen may be a better option. No matter what the workspace looks like, be sure that your child has easy access to the materials and supplies that he or she will need to be efficient, like good headphones; a wireless mouse if he or she will be working on a laptop; and plenty of notepaper, pens, and other office basics.

4. Get to Know the Online Learning Platform

Virtual learning means that students spend their school days immersed in an online program (or maybe several). For parents, taking the time to get familiar with what those platforms looks like, how your child is using them, and what resources are available are some of the best ways you can offer support.

Start by exploring any orientation resources provided by your school or district as well as the online learning platform with your student. Make sure they are comfortable navigating content and activities and completing basic tasks like submitting assignments and checking grades. Be sure to spend time on communication tools available to your child as well, like built-in messaging features, video-conferencing tools, and interactive classroom functionality. Many online learning platforms also offer parent portals—be sure to find and explore any tools like this so that you can monitor your child’s progress. If the platform offers any materials or guides specifically created for parents and caregivers, take the time to read through them. Just like at school, the learning ultimately is up to your students, but by familiarizing yourself with the online tools being used, better grasp on what his or her learning looks like and how you can most effectively provide support.

5. Stay in Communication with Your Student’s Teachers

Just because students are learning online doesn’t mean they are learning independently! Virtual teachers play an absolutely critical role in e-learning—and maintaining open, frequent communication is key to student success. Parents and other caregivers need to take part in this ongoing dialogue to make sure students stay on-pace and get the appropriate help when its needed.

School or district leadership will likely set some parameters around what communication will look like between students and teachers when the switch to virtual learning is made. This may be anything from daily live video lessons to once-a-week phone check-ins—many different approaches can be effective. Be sure that you are aware of what the expectations are for your child, and proactively reach out to their instructors as questions or concerns arise. Don’t forget to share successes as well! When you see your child reaching goals, making productive changes, or hitting important milestones, tell the teacher about it—it’s guaranteed that your child will appreciate the positive feedback coming from multiple angles.

Download Our Parent Guide

Parents and guardians are juggling more responsibilities than ever before: being a caregiver, professional, and classroom facilitator. The added pressure of online schooling can feel overwhelming, and parents may find themselves asking: How can I help my child focus at home? Am I fostering the best learning environment? What can I do to mitigate anxiety and frustration?

While district plans around virtual and in-person instruction will vary, best practices for distance education are great tools to have within reach. Our parent guide pairs eight common challenges with tools for a smoother transition:

  • Parent Tip #1: Invest in Improving the Teacher-Family Partnership
  • Parent Tip #2: Find the Sweet Spot for Amount of Learning Time
  • Parent Tip #3: Use Intentional Breaks to Improve Learning
  • Parent Tip #4: Learn to Look at Screen Time Differently
  • Parent Tip #5: Establish Routine and Predictability
  • Parent Tip #6: Learn the Basics of Effective Instruction
  • Parent Tip #7: Incorporate Rewards
  • Parent Tip #8: Give Yourself Grace

Achievable goals are better than perfect ones. Take a deep breath and download our parent guide to cultivate a healthier and more effective at-home experience. 

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