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Distance Learning: Tips for Parents

By Stephanie Hewitt, Learning Pathways

Featured in Macaroni Kid Folsom-El Dorado Hills, April 1, 2020 Issue

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With schools closed and families sheltering-in-place, parents are working on distance learning at home with their children. Here are some tips for navigating this new role. 

  1. Limit the time spent on schoolwork. Don’t expect your child to do six hours of schoolwork at home. Remember, the six hours spent in school included recess, lunch, free play for younger students, and extra activities like library and PE. Try for one to two hours for elementary students, two to three hours for middle school students, and four to six hours for high school students. 

  2. Learning is accomplished by more than worksheets and schoolwork. Incorporate other fun ways of learning, like singing, dancing, reading, games, and puzzles. Your children can learn other things besides academics too, like cooking, cleaning, laundry, taking care of pets, and self-care. 

  3. Follow your teacher’s and school’s guidelines. There is an abundance of online resources, websites, and activities. Try not to get overwhelmed or take on too much. Start with the plan or instructions your child’s teacher provided or reach out for guidelines if they haven’t provided any. Select a couple of other activities, websites, or apps based on your child’s interests and needs. 

  4. Stick to a schedule or routine. It doesn’t necessarily need to be written down or scheduled down to every 15 minutes but try to keep the same general routine every day. Children (and adults!) do well with predictability and routine, especially during this time of uncertainty. In our house, we created a checklist for all the things I expect my kindergartener to do, and he gets to choose the order in which we complete them. Build breaks and movement into the schedule or routine. 

  5. Use incentives or “first-then” contingencies, if needed. If your student is intrinsically motivated to keep up with their schoolwork, that’s great! Don’t introduce rewards if they’re not needed. However, many students don’t feel particularly motivated to complete work at home and they might need some extrinsic motivation. Consider implementing some kind of reward chart, such as the ones found HERE. Your child can earn a star or token for every completed task, and they can earn a reward after a certain number of tokens. Alternatively, you can use a “first-then” contingency. For example, my son loves working on his math book and math games on the iPad but dislikes the reading apps. I tell him he has to work on a reading app for 10-minutes, then he can do math. If your child is resisting all work, you may need to remove some privileges until they do some schoolwork or chores. For example, “Kids who do an hour of schoolwork can have the _____ (wi-fi password, Xbox controller, iPad, etc.).” 

  6. Take breaks and give yourself some grace. Completing schoolwork with your child can be frustrating at times, for both the parent and child. If one of you starts to get frustrated, take a break. Set a five-minute timer, walk away, do some deep breathing, and try again when you’re calm. Model appropriate coping strategies for your child. Adapt to your family’s specific situation. Let go of your expectations and comparing to others and do the best you can. 

  7. Enjoy this time. This time is stressful for many, but there are also some positives to be found. Your children will hopefully look back on this time and remember getting to spend more time with family, playing games, building forts, doing school at home, and being creative. 



  1. Dr. Poole-Boykin, Colette. “Homeschooling during COVID-19: Why all kids may not need eight hours of instruction a day at home.” 2020, March 25.

  2. Wischhover, Cheryl. “Working from home with kids feels unsustainable. Here’s how to ease the burden.” 2020, March 25.

  3. Lindsey M. Roberts. “Veteran home-schoolers share tips for parents during coronavirus closures.” 2020 March 18.

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