Supporting Your Children at Home During Virtual Learning

By FCPS & Fairfax County Government
August 19, 2020

The closure of schools in March brought with it a sudden switch from traditional in-person classes to distance learning. Teachers, students, and parents quickly worked together to create this new way of “doing school” at home; this is not something that would have been possible just a few years ago. While the creation of digital lessons, virtual class meetings, and Google classrooms kept students engaged and learning during the fourth quarter, it was not without challenges. Difficulty with technology, blending school schedules with parent work schedules, keeping students organized and motivated, and supervising students from multiple grades and schools in one household are just a few of the challenges that families encountered this past spring.   

As we return to school on September 8 for the start of the 2020-21 school year, all students will participate in virtual learning. Now is the time to prepare for virtual learning with a better understanding of what worked for our students and where they required additional support. While teachers are working hard to improve lessons and delivery of instruction, here are some strategies that may help support your children at home during virtual learning.

Set Expectations Before the First Day

Consider having a family meeting to discuss the school year that lies ahead. Allow your children to be an active part of the planning process. Develop a set of “ground rules" that lay out clear expectations. Talk together about what worked and what did not during distance learning at the end of last school year. Determine what responsibilities your children will have with virtual learning while identifying yours as well. Consider expectations such as getting dressed each morning, where work will be completed, and the amount of access children will have to personal technology devices during the instructional day. Regularly scheduled family meetings throughout the school year may be helpful to review how your plan is working and if changes need to be made.

Establish a Consistent Schedule

Children benefit from knowing what to expect each school day. Having a set routine will help your children more effectively manage their time in order to stay on track with their classes and complete required tasks. Keep to a daily routine including consistent wake up and bed times, identified times to be attending classes and completing school work, and time for play or other preferred activities. It may help to review the schedule the night before, especially if there are any changes from the previous day’s activities. Be sure to post the schedule in a noticeable place such as on the refrigerator or next to a master family calendar to help establish an effective routine and keep your children accountable for following through with it.

  • Be aware of the plan for FCPS's virtual learning curriculum to get a general idea of the school day schedule for your child. Individual schools will communicate with parents regarding the specific schedules for their students. Here are some sample schedules to gain an idea of what to expect. 

Create an Effective Work Space

It is important for children to have a space within the home where they can complete their schoolwork efficiently and effectively. Identify a specific space for children to utilize during class time or when completing school tasks. Look at having a separate break space to shake up the monotony, as well as to limit distractions if others are working nearby. Keep materials in one location where students can find them. This might be a desk in their room or an office, but could also be a bin or drawer in the kitchen.

  • Find more information for creating an effective work space wen it is covered in greater detail as the main topic in our next Healthy Minds blog.

Keep a List of Important Information 

Maintain a list of information that you or your children may need to access quickly during the day. This might include user names, passwords, websites and apps your children will be using, and teacher e-mail addresses. Parents should also sign up for their own ParentVue account for additional access to class and teacher information.  

Support Organizational Skills

Depending on the student’s age, organizational tools may include using a checklist of work to be completed, “must do” and “can do” lists, or helping children use a planner or calendar to keep track of assignment due dates and up-coming tests. It may also help to set aside time at the beginning of the week to review assignments and at the end of the week to check on completion.  

Incorporate Breaks and a Variety of Activities

Students need breaks from school work that are also breaks from screen time and opportunities to get up and move around. Include hands-on activities such as arts and crafts or Legos, as well as exercise and time outside. Breaks may also include social activities with peers either in person or virtually depending on health and safety needs.   

Focus on the Positive

Provide frequent positive feedback when checking in and providing support to your children. Place a focus on recognizing their effort in working through lessons and completing tasks. Encourage them to work toward independence with monitoring their attention, work completion, and need for assistance. Positive feedback is an important component in helping to motivate children to strive for higher levels of learning.

Gain an Understanding of the Online Tools Your Child is Using for Learning 

It is important that parents take time to review the online tools for learning in use with their children. Enter the virtual learning platform (Blackboard, Google Classroom, or Schoology) with your children and simply explore it. Ask your children to show you how they are using it; check that they know how to do tasks like entering into a live instructional session or finding and submitting assignments. Identify what resources or tools are available for monitoring progress and accessing any needed support. Be sure to have your children show you other apps or online programs they are using in their classes as well. By understanding the online tools children are using during virtual learning, parents are in a better position to offer them assistance when needed. 

  • FCPS Teachers may choose to use FCPS 24-7 Learning (Blackboard) or Google Classroom as their Learning Management System (LMS). There are seventeen schools that will be piloting Schoology during the up-coming school year. Teachers at those schools will use Schoology as their LMS and may choose to integrate Google within that system. Individual schools will communicate with parents regarding information to prepare for online learning for their students.
  • Check out the FCPS technology resources being offered to ensure that all students have access to technology and reach success with virtual learning.

Keep in Contact with Teachers and School Support Staff

Staff will be available through e-mail, phone calls, and virtual office hours to help support virtual learning. Support for mental wellness will also be available for all students through school counselors, school psychologists, and school social workers. Encourage middle and high school students to advocate for themselves by contacting teachers or school support staff directly with questions or any other needed assistance.  

Need More Information?

The Child Mind Institute offers a resource for parents of children in all grade levels with Strategies for Supporting Learning at Home

Healthy Minds is for parents, educators, and community-based providers who are interested in supporting student mental health and wellness. It represents a collaboration between FCPS’ Office of Intervention and Prevention Services and the Fairfax County Government. SUBSCRIBE to Healthy Minds and receive a periodic digest of our most recent articles.