Coping with Remote Learning: Questions to Help Parents Navigate this Challenging Time

With the vast majority of students engaged in either remote or hybrid learning right now, parents and caregivers are feeling the strain of balancing work responsibilities with their child’s learning at home. For far too many, this challenge is made more daunting by job loss, unstable living situations, and illness. According to a new survey from MassINC, 64 percent of parents say the challenges of this school year are having a negative impact on their child’s mental or emotional health. And 28 percent say their child has fallen behind grade level—an increase from 12 percent before the pandemic.

Remote learning is new for almost everyone and, naturally, parents have a lot of questions. Is my child learning? What’s my role? How can I help? It can feel overwhelming. As important as it may seem to worry about every single aspect of your child’s education, focusing on a few key things can help manage your stress and ensure your child has a meaningful learning experience.

Our research finds that remote learning is strengthened through strong relationships, clear expectations and routines, and consistent engagement. Parents can play a role in supporting each of these key strategies by working collaboratively with your child’s school.                                                                                                                                                                        

Start by prioritizing your child’s relationship with their teacher(s). Personal connections are crucial when schooling is done through screens. If students don’t feel safe, connected, and supported, they won’t learn. A few important questions to ask:

     - Does my child have a strong, positive relationship with their teacher(s)?
     - Have I received guidance on my child’s schedule and learning plan?
     - Have expectations and routines for remote learning been clearly communicated?

Common in-person activities critical to students’ social and emotional health, like morning meetings and one-on-one check-ins, should continue online. And, your child’s school should communicate frequently in multiple forms (calls, letters, emails, texts) and in multiple languages.

Second, take steps to help your child create a space at home that supports their learning. As much as students may claim otherwise, they find reassurance in structure and routine. Providing a consistent workspace (even at the kitchen table) can help them shift between their home life and the virtual world. Ask yourself:

     - Has your school provided tips on establishing home routines that match in-school or online activities?
     - Have you shared examples of how your child likes to learn, what excites them, and where they may get frustrated?
     - Is your child’s teacher regularly communicating short-term learning goals and updates on your child’s progress?

Third, make sure your child stays connected to their classroom, teachers, and friends. When done well, remote learning may open up exciting ways for students who grew up as digital natives to share their passions and interests. Students actually reported last spring that their relationships with teachers improved following school closures.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a digital divide that undermines many students’ ability to access their education. While large-scale solutions are absolutely needed to confront this problem, your child’s school should be able to provide support in addressing technology needs.

     - Has your school helped you gain access to a device and the Internet, if needed? 
     - Have you received training on digital tools used by the school, including its learning management system?
     - Do you have regular access to a help desk or other IT supports to navigate any challenges you may encounter?

Above all, communicate! Remember, remote learning is new for schools and educators, too. On top of adjusting to a new way of teaching, educators are working hard to ensure that all their students have access to essential services like food and physical and mental health care. There may not be answers to all your questions and concerns right away, but schools are partners in this process. Consistent and friendly dialogue is essential to finding learning strategies that work.

Look, this isn’t easy. There isn’t a solution in this moment that unburdens parents and educators from taking on new responsibilities. But it can be made easier by communicating and collaborating with your child’s school. Working together to ensure students stay engaged in positive relationships and have the space and support at home to continue to their academic work will go a long way to ensuring their continued progress in this unprecedented time.

Do you have questions about what virtual learning should look like and where to focus your time and energy? We've put together a checklist you can use to communicate with your school about important aspects of your child's learning and development. The checklist is a free tool for parents and is available in English and Spanish.