Five Tips to Help Parents Navigate Distance Learning

Categories: Parent Perspective

Do you remember last March, when we were all freaking out that we might need to take a month off school?! Oh, bless our hearts, look at us now. (2020, you have a lot of explaining to do). As we embark on the 2020/2021 School Year, everything in the world looks different, and that includes our educational systems.

Many of our children are now receiving their Special Education services through Distance Learning. This is no one’s Plan A. Not District Admin, not Teachers, not School employees and definitely not Parents and students. Every family looks very different, and some things make this feel impossible (limited resources, working parents and more). Parent engagement in education is more important than ever. Here are Five Tips to make Distance Learning for the Special Education student easier:

1. Establish Routines and Expectations-

Many of our students thrive on structure and routine. These were things they could depend on in school, and things that we will need to do our best to recreate at home. See if your child’s teacher has created a schedule adapted for student use. If not- create one. The more consistent you can make the daily routine- the better. This includes getting up, getting dressed and eating breakfast before learning starts. You can also add in designated snack and recess time to your day to keep the home routine consistent to a school one.

Use the schedule, and refer to it throughout the day. This way your child will better know what to expect and what will be expected of them.

2.  Create a Structured Learning Environment-

Make sure your child’s workspace has everything they might need within reach. Create it based on what your District/Teacher has provided, what you have available, and what your child likes and needs. This should be a quiet, comfortable, and dedicated space that is strictly devoted to learning. This space should be a different set-up than where they normally play games or watch television.

Requirements for us: sensory items, coffee (don’t worry- that’s for ME), chair cushion, white board and dry erase markers, Time Timer, reinforcers, school supplies, and anything we would need to participate in the specific lessons. My boys are hands on learners, so the more tangible things we can use to help reinforce the online learning – the better.

You don’t need to get fancy with the materials and the set up.  Do what works for your family and your life.)

3. Breaks are Required Subjects-

This goes for you too! One thing that is key for focus/attention/attitude/regulation and more is built in MOVEMENT and brain breaks. No one needs hours of screen time in a row. I try to follow difficult activities with something easier and more preferred. Even if an online lesson with a teacher is over- you can put something fun on your child’s schedule so they don’t only associate home Learning with struggle. For example, a schedule I might use is: Math then puzzle, English- then art,  writing then jump on a little trampoline. Give your learner the tools to ask for breaks too, which as an added bonus teaches self-regulation and self-advocacy.

4. Communicate-

Teams that will be the most successful are the ones who have an open line of communication from the word GO. Share what’s working and what isn’t working with your child’s Teacher. Since they aren’t in your house- they won’t always be able to gauge this without your important input. What works for one student might be horrible for another student- and the way to come up with alternative ideas is through communication. Every family is different- so communicate to the teacher what is right for your family.

It’s also important to communicate with your child. Let them know what they can expect. Validate any fears or frustration they may share either verbally or behaviorally (i.e.- it looks like you are feeling frustrated- do you need to take a break?)  Give specific praise when you catch them being awesome- “I like how you answered Mrs. Smith’s question.” “You did a great job sitting and working on your math problems all by yourself.” Your influence makes a big difference in your student’s levels of self-confidence. Your belief in your child can help him or her learn this sense of confidence and self-acceptance

5. Attitude is Everything-

Parents have to take more responsibility than ever before, which can feel scary and overwhelming, especially since we aren’t trained teachers. NO ONE expects perfection or anything close to that. Control what you can control- and remember that there is a LOT you can’t control. There will be mistakes. There will be technical glitches. This will be hard at first. That’s ok.

How you present Distance Learning is how your child will receive it. If you are willing to do your best, remain flexible, and control only the things you can- you will be showing your child how to do those things too. You can be a positive force in your child’s education.



Chrissy Kelly
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