Do you remember your early parenting days of trying to get your child to take a bottle or use the potty consistently? When your child struggled to master an essential skill, you likely felt helpless, overwhelmed, and anxious. With the sudden switch to virtual learning, many parents find themselves feeling those difficult emotions all over again.
If you feel like your child is just “bad” at virtual learning, you may be worried that there’s nothing you can do to help, that your child will inevitably fall behind, or that nothing will get better until schools reopen for in-person instruction.
If that’s you, take a deep breath. Remember how your child eventually mastered those skills that seemed so impossible in the infant and toddler years? They can master the skills they need for virtual learning, too, but they’ll need your support.
In this blog, we’re sharing some practical advice to help you inspire confidence in your child, so they can tackle virtual learning and succeed—this year and beyond.
Step 1: Reframe the Problem
When your child is unmotivated or unfocused with online classes, it’s easy to feel like the problem is that he or she is just “bad” at virtual learning. But saying that in front of your child will only erode their confidence and make things worse.
The real problem is that large Zoom classes of 25-30 students allow for little to no personalized support. Teachers can no longer glance around the room, see who is struggling, and provide extra help.
For young students, these huge online classes simply aren’t sufficient. They need personalized attention, interaction, and support to thrive. It’s unrealistic and inappropriate to expect young children to spend 6-7 hours a day on virtual platforms. (Of course, you may not have much say in the matter, so we’ll share tips to help your young student throughout this blog.)
Older students can figure out how to succeed online, but these kids have spent most of their lives learning the skills needed for in-person school. It’s going to take time to learn the skills they need for virtual school, too. Teens don’t like feeling like they’re struggling or failing, so they’ll need extra support as they figure out a new academic approach that works for them.
Reframing the problem takes some of the pressure off of your child (and you) and allows you to find solutions that work. And that starts with setting them up for success.
Step 2: Set Them Up for Success
When kids attend school in person, structures and routines help their brains switch to “learning mode.” At home, families will have to create those structures and routines for themselves. Here are a few things you can do to help your child focus on virtual learning:
✓ Create a study space. When it’s left up to them, teenagers are prone to work on their beds, and this environment does nothing to spark motivation. Instead, create a designated workspace that signals to their brains when it’s time to work. Students don’t necessarily have to spend all their school time at their desks, but a workspace will prove helpful when it’s time for more challenging subjects or projects.
✓ Let little kids wiggle and doodle. Young children can’t be expected to sit at a disk for hours on end. Instead, provide them with a few comfortable options to rotate among throughout the day, from nontraditional ball seats to makeshift standing disks at the kitchen island. During synchronous learning time, provide a notebook and colored pencils so your child can doodle while they listen. Parents often worry that doodling is a distract, but research shows this can improve their ability to focus and retain the material.
✓ Ditch the phone. Phones are designed to capture and keep our attention. If your child’s phone is right beside them and lighting up with notifications, they’ll never be able to focus. Have them put their phone in another room when it’s time to work.
✓ Keep a printed schedule nearby. Seeing what they’re working on now, next, and later helps students stay focused. Older kids can use whiteboards or an agenda to plan for the day and strike through completed tasks. Young kids love velcro schedule boards and whiteboards. They can use removable stickers or dry erase markers to decorate tasks they’ve completed. For students of all ages, working through a schedule provides a sense of accomplishment to power them through their day.
✓ Allow for brain breaks. Young kids, in particular, need regular breaks to play outdoors and get some exercise. But even for older students, seeing scheduled breaks on the calendar can keep them motivated. Encourage your child to take scheduled breaks for a healthy snack, time to text friends, or to go outside and walk the dog. Giving your brain some downtime allows it to come back refreshed and ready to work once more.
Step 3: Encourage Engagement
If the problem is not that your child is “bad” at virtual learning, but that most virtual learning is de-personalized, the question then becomes: How can we make virtual learning more personalized for kids? How can we get them off the sidelines, so to speak, and into the game? Here are a few things you can do to encourage that critical engagement that will help your child progress this year:
✓ Make time to connect with classmates. Big Zoom classes don’t provide space for the meaningful peer interaction kids crave. If you’re comfortable with it, allow your child to meet in-person for small study groups with 2-3 peers. Even if you want to keep interactions online, encourage your child to set up small online study sessions to go over study guides, review for a test, or discuss notes with friends. Talking about the material with peers helps provide some social connection and increases the likelihood of understanding and remembering the material.
✓ Encourage your child to ask for help. We did an entire blog post on strategies for getting your child to ask for help during virtual learning, so you can click here to read that. The longer a child puts off asking for help, the more intimidating the “ask” can become. But as kids reach out and ask teachers for assistance, whether it’s in class, in a private chat, or over email, they’ll get an encouraging response from their teachers. This creates a positive feedback loop in their brains and encourages them to keep reaching out for help as the year goes on.
✓ Consider getting a tutor for more personalized support and accountability. Even kids who hate virtual learning are thriving with our virtual tutors. Why? Because the real problem isn’t the virtual platform but the lack of personalized attention and support. Our tutors have personal relationships with their students. They provide the personalized, one-on-one attention kids and teens are craving. And they can use all the fun, engaging Zoom features that just won’t work with a big class!
Plus, virtual tutoring allows our tutors to provide shorter, more frequent sessions. Instead of meeting once a week for 90 minutes, they can meet with your child multiple times a week for 30 or 45 minutes. The tutor becomes an accountability coach and learning partner, helping your child plan ahead, follow through, and build confidence with virtual learning.
Remember: your child isn’t “bad” at virtual learning, just like they weren’t “bad” at taking a bottle or potty training. They just have to learn an entirely new skill set (and the large, impersonal Zoom classes don’t make it any easier). Hang in there, provide support where you can, and above all—cheer them on. They need to know you believe in them before they can believe in themselves!