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Parents’ Guide to Online Learning

Some of the teachers who are now teaching full or part time online volunteered for that role, but others were assigned to teach online. Some found out only a few days before school started. They threw themselves into learning about platforms and techniques to engage students online, figuring out how to trouble-shoot technological issues, and preparing to upload dozens of documents. Other teachers who are nominally teaching face to face find themselves teaching online instantly when one of their students is exposed or tests positive for COVID-19.

Online learning is hard. It’s hard for teachers, parents, and students. I think it is fair to say that after the spring, many parents have a new appreciation for the work that teachers do everyday. So how can parents best help their sons and daughters to make the most of their online learning experience?

First, please acknowledge the work that the teacher is doing. It is much harder to prepare and teach lessons online than it is face to face. Everything has to be pre-thought and uploaded in advance. You can’t take the same advantage of teachable moments, and you don’t get to know your students in the same way. Much of the time, students may be online with the teacher in smaller groups, meaning that when your child is not working with the teacher, that teacher is working with another small group or an individual student. Their work days are much longer than ever before.

Second, recognize that learning online is difficult for many students. Many kids need a teacher’s personal touch, a teacher who can point to an error in a student’s work or demonstrate a strategy right on the student’s paper. Students may be frustrated that their progress is slower, or that they just can’t understand a concept. They miss their friends. Model patience for your child, provide emotional support, and re-evaluate your own expectations for their progress.

Third, it is important to set a work schedule for your child. By now you have an idea of how the teacher is going to structure the online experience. Work around those times to set out “homework time.” The younger your child, the shorter the time they can focus. Build in breaks for them and allow them to change tasks if they need to. Encourage them to get physical activity often during their day as well. Provide incentives (I favour some type of family activity) if your child needs an extra boost, but make sure they accomplish something before receiving the perk.

Finally, facilitate, but let the child do their own learning. Help your son and daughter to navigate technology, bandwidth, and wi-fi problems. Provide the materials they need for learning. But as parents, you have already learned the material your child is trying to learn. They have to build that knowledge and those skills within their own minds. Sometimes that includes struggle, but the struggle is important and makes succeeding that much more satisfying.


By Dr. Colleen Willard-Holt


Do you have a question you would like to ask about education? Please send it to and I will do my best to address it in a future column.

Dr. Colleen Willard-Holt is a parent and grandparent, has taught at every level from kindergarten to graduate school, and is the former dean of the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University. She resides in Elmira with her husband Dr. Dan Holt and two golden retrievers.

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