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4 Back-to-Virtual-School Tips for Parents

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

By now, most parents are somewhat familiar with virtual learning since your child probably had to stay home during the spring semester, and while you may not have predicted we’d be here again in the fall, it appears virtual learning is a reality for many families until further notice.

While back-to-school time is always a transition, the transition this year will feel a bit different. Because of this, I wanted to give you some back-to-virtual-school tips to make this fall go as smoothly as possible.


1. Reset your expectations.

Don’t expect your child to listen to you in the same way she does her teacher. Children listen to their teachers better than their parents. This is simply how it is with kids. Teachers and parents play different roles in a child’s life, so don’t expect your child to listen to you and follow your instructions the same way she would her teacher at school. She doesn’t see you as her teacher. You are still just mom and dad. Resetting your expectations in this area will save you from a lot of unnecessary frustration.


2. Take plenty of breaks.

Linda Carling, an associate research scientist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education Center for Technology in Education, says young children may not be able to stay on task for longer than 25 minutes. Because of this, most children will need frequent “brain breaks” form online learning.

The best brain break for any child of any age is outdoor exercise. This will get them away from their screens. Running around, playing a game, or riding their bike for a few minutes will help expend their energy and will help them focus on their next task. Don’t feel guilty for giving your child more breaks than he might get at school. Online learning is a completely different experience, so your child will have completely different needs.

3. Team up with other kids and parents.

You’ve probably heard about “learning pods,” the latest trend where parents are teaming up with other parents to form small groups where their children can learn together while being taught by a tutor. While this is a great way to ensure your child gets social time as well as one-on-one learning time, tutors for learning pods can be quite expensive and aren’t an option for many families.

Still, the idea of not doing virtual learning alone is a good principle to hold onto.

If you can’t afford a learning pod, consider other options. For example, do you have any fellow parents you could reach out to when you have questions or simply need to vent? If your work schedule allows, could you and your child safely meet up with one of her classmates to work through a subject that is particularly challenging for her?

You don’t have to hire a tutor to ensure your child has a positive online learning experience. Get creative, reach out to your community and see what you can come up with together.

4. Prioritize sleep.

This is advice I give for back-to-school every year, even when we’re not in the midst of a pandemic. Nothing helps foster a positive attitude more than adequate rest.

Rein in bedtime now, even if school hasn’t started for you yet. This will help your child establish a healthy sleep rhythm, which is essential because healthy hormone regulation depends on adequate sleep. 

Most kids fight sleep, so will need to keep them on schedule.

Follow these general guidelines when setting your kids’ bedtimes:

  • Ages 5-6: 10-12 hours of sleep
  • Ages 7-12: 10-11 hours of sleep
  • Ages 13-18:  8-9 hours of sleep

Back-to-school time this year is strange for all parents and kids. Whether you are sending your child to school in a mask, or your child is staying home for virtual learning, or you’re still determining what is best for your child this year, this transition will feel entirely different from previous years. Because of this, give yourself and your child plenty of grace, adjust when needed and trust that you know and are doing what is best for your child.

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