Niche Resources

Online Learning: The Parent Perspective

Image Provided by Jill P.

With the arrival of COVID-19 this spring, parents found themselves standing in teachers’ shoes. Schools across America shut their doors, and moms and dads were suddenly expected to guide their children’s education while keeping their household running in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

Because most parents did not choose the online school route, we wanted to know how it went. We asked parents to share their personal stories and quickly found that every household experienced something vastly different. One thing they had in common? They all came out the other side with valuable lessons and pieces of advice.

In the Beginning

When states began shutting down, daily life changed dramatically for most of the country. Some parents could work-from-home and supervise their children’s schooling, though that didn’t mean it would be easy. Some had family members or older children who could lend a hand with childcare. Many continued to leave the house. 

“We are both essential employees, so have both been going to work,” said Mary Jane J. 

“About a week into the online school I deployed with the military in response to Covid-19,” said Andrew M. “At that point my daughter was in the care of my mother (her grandmother). It was a huge challenge for everyone.”

“About a week into the online school I deployed with the military in response to Covid-19,” said Andrew M. “At that point my daughter was in the care of my mother (her grandmother). It was a huge challenge for everyone.”

No matter the situation, parents had to help their children make sense of the remote classroom and support them in the rocky transition. For some, school administrators and teachers went above and beyond.

“I was surprised by how quickly and efficiently the school got everything up online,” said Bethany B., whose kids attend Coxsackie-Athens High School in New York. “They did an excellent job reaching out to families via phone to ensure they had wifi and that any other needs were met.”

After pivoting to virtual instruction, Donna L. continued to receive guidance from Loyola Blakefield High and Middle Schools. “The principal sent out daily email updates which were informative and awesome!” she said. “They had sent out preview emails communicating the expectations for the students at the start of the process. Wednesdays were reserved for office hours where students could get extra help from their teachers.”

Many schools used resources like Google Classroom to easily consolidate assignments. Zoom meetings brought classmates back together daily or a few times a week, and some teachers held special sessions for students who needed extra help or simply to spend more time together. 

Donna L. and her sons, Peter and James

“My kids would spend 30 minutes to 2 hours in a video chat with their teachers or classmates and from what I have seen, they really love video chatting with them because they all miss each other,” said Esther E. “Sometimes, the teachers would make a meeting to play interactive games with her students and they would all be laughing and smiling. It was very nice to see my children smiling through all the catastrophe that is going on.”

But it was a mixed bag. Other kids had no mandatory video chats, only optional check-ins.

“The three boys all had weekly or twice weekly video calls so 2-3 hours a week. My girls had voluntary Zoom calls that they rarely participated in,” said Margot S., a California mother of five with kids in the Pleasant Valley and Oak Park Unified School Districts.

One thing was abundantly clear: kids, parents, and teachers alike were all learning together.

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Speedbumps and Roadblocks

Stephanie C. and her 6th grade daughter

Many families experienced tech-related issues, from Wi-Fi accessibility to glitchy devices. For some it was a matter of juggling: Ai-Lin C. faced “challenges in setting up all the accounts to gain access to different sites and learning tools” and LaTanya T. “only [had] one laptop to share between two children.” As a solution, LaTanya’s eighth grader and fourth grader were each assigned time slots to use the laptop. 

When the classroom came to the house, several parents were surprised by their children’s assignments. Used to seeing homework only, several parents didn’t realize how much their kids had on their plates. Stephanie C., who thought her sixth grader at Liberty Christian Academy had a high volume, said she “had to think about it as a full day along with homework.” 

Renee R., a math whiz who racked up awards as a kid, struggled with the way her son’s school taught the subject. “That was a huge surprise to me and also bruised my ego,” she said. “Beyond that I felt surprised that my son was so resistant to lesson plans that in the classroom were his favorite parts of the day … It was very hard to get him to do the subjects that he had previously been passionate about.”

Renee R. and her 1st grade son

Perhaps the most common challenge parents faced when it came to online school this spring was keeping kids motivated and engaged. 

“They don’t listen to us as they would their teachers,” said Jill P. “They missed the social and physical part of being IN school.” 

Karina C. also noticed her third grade son’s attitude change when his school, Lincoln Elementary, closed. “Although he is smart and one of the top in his class, he did not like working from home or following it all by himself although he understands it. This was challenging since I had to also work from home and go through each of the classes with him on a daily basis.”

However, several parents were surprised when their kids took the change in stride. Kelly T. said, “I cannot believe how in four very short weeks the school and the students were able to pivot so seamlessly and carry on.” Adjusting to a 100% technological classroom was natural for many children who have grown up using iPads and laptops. In fact, some of them thrived in brand new ways.

“My son with behavioral challenges immediately took to the Zoom instruction,” said Lynn D.  “This was amazing. His teachers each commented that they saw an entirely different side of him and began to recognize how intelligent, sympathetic and humorous he is.  As my son says, ‘They met ME.’”


Lynn D.’s son


Rising to the Challenge

As it became clear that COVID-19 would not go away quickly, families realized online school wouldn’t either. They needed to find a routine that worked for their kids to keep them on track for the rest of the year.

Some families created a rigorous schedule to keep their kids’ remote classroom consistent. For her five kids, Margot S. “printed out paper assignment sheets for each kid, put them on clipboards, assigned a school work bucket for each kid, set phone reminders of Zoom calls. We had a ‘school bell’ for the first few weeks … They had to all log on at 9 and do their work.”

“I found when I really pushed, my 4th grader especially, to engage in the virtual learning and assignments, the harder it was,” said Kelly T. “If he was pushing back hard, I’d call it quits for the moment, we’d go for a walk or play a game, and then get back to it.”

Rosemary B. also wanted to mimic a normal day in the classroom as much as possible. “We made a schedule to match the school schedule. We had P.E., art, recess and all the support classes in between. We continued to do math and reading and I allowed her to be out of school at her regular school time.”

What works for one family, of course, might be disastrous for the next. A loose structure is still a structure, and a hands-off approach is just what some kids need. 

“I found when I really pushed, my 4th grader especially, to engage in the virtual learning and assignments, the harder it was,” said Kelly T. “If he was pushing back hard, I’d call it quits for the moment, we’d go for a walk or play a game, and then get back to it.”

“We ended up doing way less per week in the later weeks of online schooling,” said Carrie V. “I decided that the kids had to pick one activity/assignment to do in the morning, and one in the afternoon. And beyond that, they did their own thing while I focused on work.”

Most parents emphasized the importance of spreading downtime throughout the day. Lorraine P. combined breaks with fun incentives for her two kids at Kent School District and Holy Names Academy. She “found fun things to add into the week – something to look forward to that broke up the day. Dinners created together. Family game nights. We have a 1000 piece puzzle that everyone drops in on at times for a break.”

Lorraine P. and family

Pandemic Parenting: Learning to Let Go

Maribel L.’s 2nd grade daughter

Words of Advice

Good, bad, or ugly, every experience teaches something. When we asked parents for a few words of advice they’d give to any family that might have to continue online school in the fall (or that might be considering a permanent switch), we got more than few.

“Be firm and find a space at home where they can do their work and class where they can concentrate and work on their daily tasks,” said Maribel L. Similarly, educator and parent Kursat Y. suggested that “parents arrange separate and silent room without any distraction, and provide facilities like headphones and computer.”

Not surprisingly, parents considered it key to find a routine — for their own sake as well as their kids’. “Set aside the time slot for school work and stick to it,” Jill P. suggested. “If they get behind, speak up and set up a plan with teachers to catch up. We all make mistakes and that’s ok.”

Perhaps above all, parents would like to encourage each other to communicate with their children as much as possible. 

“Check in early and often with your kids,” said Mary Jane J. “When they struggle and you can’t seem to be able to help them, reach out to teachers that they have good relationships with for their support and help.”

Kursat Y. and family

With kids in third and ninth grade, Karina C. found that it worked to get more involved (and she didn’t worry about getting everything perfect). “Help them read through instructions, read along with them. If there are interactive assignments, do the assignments with them, they love to see parents make a fool of themselves.”

The advice from Victoria A. summed up a concern weighing on many parents this spring. “Do not stress that you are not an educator and may not be teaching (helping) your children enough. They are learning something even if it is only time management skills, self discipline or how much they miss school.”