School Closure – Tips for Parents

Schools are closing world-wide affecting millions of students due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. You may be wondering how to help your child continue their learning at home and also prioritize health and well-being as a family during this difficult time.

Teachers are experts in designing learning on a daily basis while keeping the individual needs of your child at the forefront for teaching and learning. Keep in mind that teachers may not have expertise in online learning, so it is not realistic to expect an immediate transition to a perfect online learning environment. Teaching online requires intentional instructional design that takes extensive time and expertise. Online learning also requires the readiness of the learner. So, let’s be kind and generous to all those working hard behind the scenes to make it all happen, including the teachers and technical folks that I know are working around the clock to make sure the systems can support increased online activity. Let’s be kind to ourselves and our children and be realistic and flexible about learning during this chaotic time.

Take time to stay tuned to changing conditions and events in your community.  Review the communications provided by the teacher, school, and district for directions on how to best support your child with their learning. Talk to other parents and find out how you can support and be supported by your community and networks. Take time to rest.  Kids may need time to talk about what is happening and may need some down time. Don’t feel pressured to turn your home into a home-school overnight.

You might be wondering, what remote learning techniques might be used by schools? Teachers, schools and districts are working tirelessly to plan and will likely use the communication tools they already have in place.  It could be as simple as sending out a weekly email to a class and providing direction on some key items students can focus on for the week. Some teachers may provide learning packets for students or assign readings or questions from texts.  Teachers might create brief video clips so the children can see and hear their voice. An emerging approach is flipped learning where teachers assign out-of-class activities, such as digitally-prepared lectures, videos or resources for students. Teachers who are familiar with and may already use a flipped classroom approach, may provide links to videos or other digital resources for students to help students continue learning while at home.

Communications from school-to-home will likely include applications the school already has in place (email, blogs, school website, etc.). Many schools are using applications such as Google Classroom, Desire2Learn Brightspace, Moodle and other programs to post assignments, grades and communicate with students.  They will likely continue to use the tools that students have access to and login information. For example, many schools have software applications, often referred to as learning management systems.  They may continue to use these.  In these systems, teachers can post messages and instructions for all students.  Documents can be posted to provide reading or activities for students to accompany instructions. The students may already be accustomed to these systems to check assignments and instructions from the teacher when away from school due to illness, vacation, sports, etc.  Parents may already be familiar with using these learning systems to check children’s grades and review teacher updates.  Many of these systems have capabilities such as discussion forums where the students and teacher can keep connected and have a text-based discussion in a secure-space.  Students can hand in assignments using a dropbox and teachers can grade and return assignments to students fully online. It is important to consider how screen time will be balanced with other types of activities.

Here’s some tips:

Set goals with children.

Perhaps, we can learn from international schools that have plans in place and guidelines for parents for transitioning from classroom to distance learning. I am working with many graduate students who have already transitioned to K-12 distance learning and have been sharing and leading the way for schools across the globe over the past few months.  For instance, the International school of Brussels recommends students read, communicate and engage in authentic experiences while continuing to be physically active. This sounds like a reasonable goal. As a parent, you can help by setting daily goals and discussing the daily routine. In Twitter, I noticed many educators posting sample schedules that could be followed at home. Consistently, all of the schedules have ample time for play, creativity and breaks.


Try to maintain a routine.

Discuss the routine with your child. Try to maintain other week-day routines (bed-time, reading, etc.), take breaks, physical activity is important.  Think of it similar to project management – set age-appropriate and realistic goals with your child (daily, weekly, plan check-ins with children). School hours might normally be from 8:30-3:30 or somewhere in that time frame. At school, different types of activities are planned through the day, so at home you may not follow the exact hours. Maybe your teen would benefit from sleeping in and starting a bit later. Designing a personal schedule may be of interest to some children.


Create a learning space with your child.

Set-up a work space for your child.  This might be the same place children already use for homework or may need to be different. Ask yourself – is this space in an open area and Internet-accessible that can be monitored and is it comfortable for doing work for longer durations. It also needs to be a quiet space. It’s important to set-up a routine and learning space that works best for your family. When I’m teaching online, my family knows that the door closed means I’m online teaching or meeting with students and should not be disturbed. My family has become accustomed to keeping down the volume during these times and limiting other intensive use of Internet.  This has taken some time to get into a good routine that works for our family, so may take some time for you to figure out a plan for your family especially if you have multiple school-aged children.


Discuss the communication plan with your child.

Find out what the communication plan is for communicating with teachers and peers. It’s possible teachers could be overwhelmed in responding to parent and students questions.  You might recommend your child assembles a list of questions and reach out to peers for help, then review the list of questions with you or older sibling first before sending the questions to the teacher.


Discuss responsible online activity.

It may be tempting for children to immerse themselves in games, social media or other activities they typically engage in at home during the weekend or evenings. With more time at home, it may be tempting to dedicate too much time to screen time. Plan for time to allow children to connect with friends (online, keep social distance) and enjoy game-time or other activities they normally engage in outside of school hours at-a-distance. Discuss how much screen time might be too much screen time. A good question to consider might be – How will your child self-monitor their online activity and balance leisure online activity with online learning work and physical activity?


When working on school assignments, it is likely your child may be accessing online resources for assignments, so remind children about the importance of writing ideas in their own words and avoid simple copy/paste.  When using other sources, it’s important to note the source and provide proper attribution. Remind children to focus on cyber kindness and if sending out messages it’s a good idea to have it checked by someone else in the family to make sure the message will be received as intended. Ask children to consider how their messages and actions may be promoting or limiting health and well-being for others in your family or their friend group, and school.


Balance screen time with physical activity.

Balance both learning activities and activities of interest. It’s okay to build a snow fort (since there’s still snow in Calgary!), it’s okay to paint, and it’s okay to take time to sing and dance. Take breaks, drink water, eat healthy snacks, balance your schedule, and avoid excess screen time. Children may also need time for solitude – sitting alone in the quiet.


Check-in with your child. 

Whether you are at home with your child or on the job, it is important to check-in regularly and monitor how they are doing. I also encourage you to be kind to yourself and your family. You might be worried that your child will fall behind or may not learn sufficiently to keep progressing when they return to school. All students are out of school and may need some review when they return to school. I can assure you that your child will keep growing and will keep learning. Check in each day by having your child journal, set goals for 3 things they will accomplish each day, and at the end of the day reflect on their learning and remember to make time for gratitude.


Be mindful of children’s worries.

It might be exciting for the first few days when school closes, but it might also cause worry for children. Take time to discuss any worries.  Talk to your child about the virus. If your child is really interested in current events and wants to learn more, then build this into their schedule and take time to have a discussion with your child. It may not be a good idea to have the TV on and news channel continually reporting on COVID-19 updates playing in the background while your child is trying to do their school work. This would be distracting and also may increase tensions around the uncertainties of this pandemic. Dependent on the age of your child, you might sit down and watch the news together at a set time and have a conversation about the events and talk about continuing to practice good personal health habits.


Reach out to family and community for support.

Help each other.  I always say we are better together and we are stronger together.  Reach out to others, there might be a neighbour that might be able to help out.  Some help with check-ins could also come from phone calls or face-time with grandparents or other relatives throughout the day. Find what works for you and your family. You don’t have to do this by yourself, reach out, and ask other parents for suggestions.


Other questions you might have:

 What do I do if my child runs out of school work?

Brainstorm ideas about their passions and have them design their own project.  This could be a time to explore an area of interest or passion. If they are interested in learning more about another country, maybe they would like to create a travel brochure.  Perhaps, they are interested in learning more about dinosaurs, cars, trains, etc.  They could create an infographic to summarize key ideas that everyone should know about their passion topic. They could create a survey and gather data by asking a few questions to their friends. They could prepare a graph or chart summarizing their analysis. Facetime with a grandparent and practice another language. Go on a virtual field trip and tour museums and other places around the world. Mix-it up with off-line activities too. Encourage your child to maintain a reflective journal, do some cooking, recreate cupcake wars, be creative, gather materials around the house, assemble a 1000-piece puzzle together, build lego, play board games, sew, read a novel or poetry out loud). There are many open educational resources, read, write, color, have fun!  For example, Scholastic Canada


How do I help my child with anxiety about being at home and the uncertainties around us?

Reach out to your community supports.  This might be a good question for the teacher, school counsellor, they will provide you with supports that can be accessed through the school and district or other services. This may also be a good question for health providers in your area.  I know we want to be cautious with the types of questions we ask our family doctors or other health providers at this time.  However, if needed, please seek support from health professionals.


Will I need to oversee the “homework”?

Don’t treat any work assigned by the teacher or school as work that you need to oversee, correct or do for your child.  I know parents feel pressured to help children with their homework but it’s not intended to be parent-work. Be supportive and help children find ways to seek support from their peers, their teachers or online resources when having difficulties. Communicate with your child and help them express what they need help.


With more time online, I’m worried my child will not be responsible and may get into trouble other engage in activity that I can normally monitor outside of school time (cyberbullying, unauthorized app download/purchases, sexting, etc.)?

Keep communications open with your child. Ask lots of questions about what they are doing.  You may also refer to some great sites with tips about communications, such as:

Media Smarts

Common Sense Media


How will I support my child with special needs?

Reach out to your school and community for supports and advice. The school may be able to share strategies they use as part of your child’s individual education plan.  Perhaps, some of the same strategies could be helpful at home to help set up an environment conducive to learning.  For example, at school they may have noticed that your child needs to switch to a new activity every 20 minutes or maybe your child has difficulty with transitions and would be more successful in spending longer durations and fully completing a task before moving on to another task. Also, consider how might you incorporate some of the same successful strategies you already use at home to help your child. These same strategies will likely help with their “remote” school work as well.


How do I support my child without access to the technologies needed for learning-at-a-distance?

Reach out to family, friends or a neighbour to see if there’s options to borrow a device.  The school may also suggest alternate resources or low-tech options to help support learning if you are without access to technologies.


What other questions do you have?

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