Help Children Learn at Home

Keep Children Engaged During Virtual Learning or While School’s Out

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Original Article published by the CDC and can be found HERE

There are many ways you can help children learn at home. Whether your child is attending in-person classes, online classes at home, or a combination of both, adjusting to a new learning routine can be challenging and stressful for everyone involved. The following strategies are meant to help you get the support you need to facilitate at-home learning while staying connected and engaged with your school community. Remember – there is no “right” way for your child to learn at home. Do what works for you and your family, and make sure to prioritize your own well-being so that you stay healthy and feel ready to address your child’s needs in education and beyond.

Stay in touch with your child’s school

  • Whether your child is learning from home full time or part of the time, communicate challenges to your school. If you face technology or connectivity issues, need additional resources to support at-home learning, do not have anyone to supervise your child while they take virtual classes, or if your child is having a hard time completing assignments, let the school know. Good questions to ask are below:
    • Ask whether there are out-of-school time programs that are continuing to operate, some of which might also be open during the school day.
    • If coordinating with other families is of interest to you, ask whether the school is supporting families who wish to form cohorts or “pods.”
    • Ask whether the school can recommend any school or community programs that assist with small group in-person learning.
  • Talk to your child’s teacher regularly about academic progress and any issues they are having. Consider ideas about how to better support your child.
  • If your child is older (in middle or high school), you may consider encouraging them to communicate directly with their teachers about progress, challenges, and learning needs.

Ask about available school services

  • Check with your school on plans to continue meal services during school closures or virtual instruction. Many schools are keeping school facilities open to allow families to pick up meals or are providing grab-and-go meals at a central location. If you or your household need help in obtaining nutritious food options, find additional resources at USDA Nutrition Assistance Programexternal icon, or call the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE to speak with a representative about finding food resources such as meal sites, food banks, and other social services available near you.
  • If you have a child who receives special education services, accommodations or services in school through their 504 plan or individualized education program (IEP), these should be continued, as much as possible, while learning at home. Check in with your school about options to access these interventions. Many schools are continuing interventions like speech therapy, small group classes, extended time, and more. You may also consult your state’s special education agency webpageexternal icon for additional resources and information. For additional information about continuing services, please see icon.
  • Changes related to COVID-19 may cause your child to experience stress and anxiety. For support, ask your school how to connect your child to additional school support staff such as the school counselor, academic advisor, psychologist, or social worker. Learn more about helping children cope with emergencies.

Create a schedule and routine for learning at home

  • Where possible, set up a designated, quiet space in your home for on-line learning. Try to have your child choose a space where they agree to learn.
  • If not currently in place, develop a good line of communication with your student, allowing them to share openly with you how they’re feeling to maximize educational attainment.
  • Limit distractions from siblings, television shows, tablets, or other devices that may take your child’s attention away from learning. Set up rules for everyone at home to try to be as quiet as possible while your child is engaged in class.
  • Review assignments and expectations from the school, and help your child establish a reasonable pace for completing their schoolwork. You may need to assist your child with turning on devices, reading instructions, and typing answers. If you encounter difficulties in using technology needed for online learning, contact your child’s teacher for assistance.
  • Develop consistent routines and expectations that work for your child and reinforce them through reminders (e.g., written schedule, pictures), positive feedback, or rewards.
  • Have consistent bedtimes and have your child wake up at the same time on learning days.
  • Insert breaks in the schedule for fun activities, free time, healthy meals and snacks, time outdoors and physical activity. Provide opportunities for time away from screens. If your schedule allows, take breaks with your child to connect and hear about how the day is going.
  • Consider ways your child can stay connected with their friends and other family members without spending time in person (e.g., video chats, FaceTime, drive-by visits).
  • Plan for flexibility in the schedule—it’s okay to adapt based on your day! Consider designating an amount of time each week that allows for more flexibility in your child’s learning schedule.

Consider your child’s individual learning needs

  • The transition to being at home will be different for preschoolers, elementary students, middle school students, and high school students. Ask your child what they like and find challenging about learning at home, then make adjustments, as needed.
  • If your child has special or intensive support needs, consider increasing the structure and consistency of the learning routine. Increase the frequency of reminders about expectations and share positive feedback or other rewards when they are met. Consider spending time at the end of each day of at-home learning to talk with your child about the progress they made toward their goals that day.
  • For younger children or children who have trouble focusing, allow for more frequent breaks and use a timer to indicate the end of a break. You may also consider providing breaks as rewards for completing more challenging activities.
  • For younger children or children with sensory needs, sitting at a table all day may prove challenging. Consider alternatives such as floor space, floor pillows, or a yoga ball.
  • For children with an individualized education program (IEP), collaborate with your child’s special education team to develop a virtual learning plan and specific learning, social, emotional, or behavioral goals. Work together to brainstorm strategies that will support your child’s progress toward goals (e.g., visual goal charts and schedules, visual or audible activity timers, verbal positive reinforcement, a comfortable learning environment), and commit to check-in regularly about progress.
  • For English learners, collaborate with your school to ensure continuity of your child’s language instruction educational program and language accommodations, as appropriate. See the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition resources related to continuity of learningexternal icon.

Consider additional options for learning

  • If you’re looking for additional at-home learning options beyond regular schoolwork, collaborate with your child’s teacher or other families to brainstorm creative learning opportunities that meet the needs and interests of children in different age groups in your household while keeping everyone safe from COVID-19 (e.g., virtual fieldtrips, virtual college visits, at-home activity ideas).
  • Consider hands-on activities, like puzzles, painting, drawing, and making things to supplement online learning activities and reduce screen time.
  • Independent play can also be used in place of structured learning or used as a reward when your child completes a challenging structured learning activity or task.
  • Practice handwriting and grammar by writing letters to friends and family members. This is a great way to help your child feel connected to others without face-to-face contact.
  • Consider starting a journal with your child to document this time and discuss the shared experiences, challenges, and memories.
  • See if your local library is hosting virtual or live-streamed reading events, and encourage your child to explore available audiobooks or e-books that they can read for fun.