How parents can help their kids succeed at online learning

Teamwork by parents, teachers and students is key, says U of A education expert who offers four ways to make it happen.


Kids stand the best chance of doing well in remote classes if parents, teachers and young learners act as team to provide structure, schedules, fun learning opportunities and extra help if needed, according to a U of A expert. (Photo: Getty Images)

For students learning from home this year, there will be some lingering challenges from last spring's COVID-19 shutdown: parents busy balancing their own work needs, no in-person connection with teachers, technology headaches.

But the best way to support online learners is through solid teamwork involving everyone in the equation, says a University of Alberta education expert.

"All three stakeholders-teachers, parents and students-need to work together to make learning from home successful," said Suzanna Wong, an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Education.

"Children are resilient, and they'll do well as long as teachers and parents show they care about them as a team."

There are key ways to help kids as they master remote learning, Wong suggested.


It's important for parents to keep an eye on what their children are doing during class time.

"Little ones at the elementary-school level still need their caregivers to help them with the technical aspects of learning online, such as remembering passwords and logging in or making sure the computer camera isn't facing the cat," Wong said.

For junior high and high-school students, supervision is equally important, though for different reasons, Wong added.

"Parents might assume their teens are very computer-savvy, so they don't monitor them during remote learning times, but this can be a problem if their kids aren't managing their time well. This age group may need more assistance, for example, in getting up on time to connect for an online lesson."

Teens may not turn on their monitors during a live lesson, so teachers may also be unsure whether they are being supervised at home, Wong added.

Set up a schedule

All students need a schedule to make sure assignments get done and to strike a healthy balance between work and playtime, Wong said.

"Younger students like and need a consistent routine with clear expectations. Set up a routine around online classes that includes things like snack breaks, and post it on the fridge with sticky notes."

Teachers can support this by posting schedules just as they would in a physical classroom, and writing morning messages to their students, she suggested. "It demonstrates new writing and reading skills at the same time it sets out the plan for the day."

Schedules are equally important for older students to manage their time well. "There needs to be time for class and for leisure to provide a mental break," said Wong, who said it's also important to let them help create the plan.

"Then they feel they have some control over their own learning, and that helps them stay motivated."

When instructing junior and senior high students online, teachers may want to be flexible in their scheduling, Wong said.

"Is it necessary to have class start at 8:30 a.m.? Teens like to sleep in, so being flexible gives them more autonomy in the times they are ready to learn. They're becoming adults, so this would show respect that they can select their time to learn."

Pre-recording lectures or blending them with live online classes could also provide flexibility for teen students, she added.

Allow for "playful" learning

Playtime can also double as learning time for younger kids, Wong said.

"Parents can help their children's learning by nurturing playful moments. Set up a café in the kitchen, where they can write up their dream menu and create a shopping list. Or let them do a magic show where they can learn about science."

Kids often also like to do things with others, so ask them what they want to do with friends online. "I've watched many children collaborate online with video games, or simply chat with each other. That's a good thing during this challenging time."

For older students who spend leisure time online, "Ask them what they're reading and talk about critical thinking, for instance in terms of fake news," Wong said. "Is what they're reading real? Those conversations engage them in literacy and learning."

Ask for help if needed

If a child learning from home seems to be struggling with their lessons, parents should connect with the teacher, Wong suggested.

"If you notice after a few lessons that a child still isn't grasping a concept, it's not enough to just go and buy a workbook with empty blanks to fill in. Ask the teacher for a meeting or if an assessment can be arranged."