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10 Tips for Working Parents Navigating Virtual Learning

By October 16, 2020

By: Jon Fee and Devi Thomas

For most of us, this year has presented many firsts. First pandemic, first virtual happy hour, first time working from home, first masked grocery trip, first virtual volunteer experience, first online wedding, first Zoom [or insert tech of your choosing here], etc.

I would also add that for us parents, it’s the first time the school year has begun at home.

Our in-home classrooms may look different from one another’s — dining tables repurposed and covered in pencil shavings, shared home offices, bedrooms with makeshift desks and chairs — but our experiences are similar nonetheless.

Student learning remotely from home.

Jon’s son attending school from the kitchen classroom

We’ve learned a few things after these first months of turning our homes into virtual classrooms and watching our children learn in new environments.

  1. Teachers are the Ultimate Conference Call Organizers: We have a lot we can learn from teachers. From rules on raising hands to speak, using the chat function to answer questions, and guiding kids through glitchy video, teachers have mastered the art of multi-attendee meetings. And the mute button golden rule is pure genius. They are also wizards of “actionable next steps” (i.e. homework) in their meetings!

  3. Sharing your Office Space means Compromising: A home was not built to be a classroom and a home at the same time. This means most of us are likely sharing desks, kitchen islands, or dining tables with other remote workers and students. And we have developed new family codes to go with our new shared working spaces. But be careful what codes you implement. If you snap your fingers under the table to tell your officemates to “keep it down,” you should expect some snapping right back when you get too loud. Pausing to reflect — no one likes being snapped at. Maybe we should revisit our space-sharing codes?

  5. Learning is a Community Activity: This is true at work and this is true at home. It is also a big reveal of what we are all missing with our in-home experiences. Accept today’s norms or change the rules to foster a sense of community. We are seeing that safe learning pods mean homework is getting done faster, and our kids remember the lesson more as they repeat what they’ve learned.

  7. The Mute Button Does Not Equal the Space-out Button: Let’s make sure our intrepid young students are muting for the right reasons. Ask your child, “Are you doing this so people don’t hear the toilet flushing or because you want to excuse yourself from the conversation?” If you see a mute button on and a daydreaming student, chances are that button is being misused. Just as we practice being present during video calls, we have to teach our kids the same. Have you noticed that when we truly engage through the screen, we are so tired at the end of the day? It’s because we’re actively participating in our day.

    Young student learning virtually.

    Devi’s son learning from their new dining room classroom

  9. Take a Family Digital Break Midday: Whether it’s a 20-minute lunch break with the fam or a 10-minute recess to throw the ball outside, step away from your screens together in order to go back recharged together. When your kids see you model this behavior, it helps with healthy screen habits later in life, too. Remember, digital fatigue can happen at any age.

  11. Never Under or Overestimate your Digital Native: Like adults, kids are at varying stages of their digital maturity. Don’t judge them on how quickly they navigate a page, type sentences, drag and drop content, or how they found that new racecar video on YouTube. Sometimes two questions in a science assignment can take an hour to do with less digitally experienced kids. We may have boasted about limiting tablet use in the past, and now some students need more time to learn to click. And that’s OK. This is a first for them. We guarantee they will learn to be digital natives swiftly and surely. That part is certain.

  13. Math is Hard. Don’t Try to Be the Teacher: Have you asked yourself what is a partial quotient? Many of us parents of fourth graders have. While the answers are the same, multiplication seems to have changed overnight. The best lesson here is that teachers teach. They do that best. We should stick to marketing at

  15. Get Extra Help. Or Change Your Expectations: If your kid learns better with 1:1 help, now is a good time to think about that tutor or extra help that could help fill a virtual void. Alternately, let’s reset our expectations on how our kids will learn this year. There’s more hands-on learning with gardening, baking, tennis, and biking. It’s a good year to explore and invent new things in new ways. Let’s not forget what they are learning that is not being taught. Perhaps we are building the ultimate remote workforce.

  17. Encourage Classroom Connections: One of our teachers sets up a regular lunch bunch with the kids to get to know them better, often discussing hobbies and pets. Some of the classmates in our schools have set up group chats to talk about good books and the best video games. The more our kids talk to their classmates and teachers on out-of-school topics, the easier the learning moments will be. This applies to WFH life, too. Get to know your co-workers. After all, you are likely staring at each other’s bedrooms all day.

  19. Under-Schedule Life After School: We’ve ultimately learned that this is the year where you have to learn to be in the present whether at work, at school, or at the end of the day. Draw that line when you log off, too. We can all absorb new topics, themes, and ideas when we take it easy in the downtime. We need to be present after our days are done as much as we are during them.

It’s a year of firsts. It takes time and energy to navigate a pandemic. It takes energy to remember to wear a mask. It takes time to think about social distancing. Your energy is being used for hyper-learning this new norm. And that’s probably the biggest lesson of them all.

Pace yourself. You got this.

Read more from Devi and Jon about working remotely, beating digital fatigue, and making it work with kids at home.