As parents juggle the beginning of a new school year with children learning at home or returning to school, Vicky McCann, the director for curriculum and instruction in the Catholic Schools Office of the Archdiocese of Washington, offered tips for parents and students on how to adjust and make the most of the new year. 

“It’s important to remember that the more parental involvement, it’s going to be better for the child’s academic success,” McCann said. “The more communication and the more that parents are able to help, it’s going to be more beneficial in the long run.” 

More than ever, the partnership between teachers and parents is essential as they work to meet the needs of students during this unprecedented school year as schools adjust educational models during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Teachers want to see children succeed, so they’re going to work to develop the best plan,”  she said, encouraging open communication between both parents and teachers. 

McCann compiled these tips to help parents and students adjust to virtual learning:

  • Reduce distractions for students while learning from home. “Create a space in the home for the child. The best would be to have a quiet space, a space that’s away from the toys,” she said. “I also recommend having the child create that space with the parent so that they can make it their own.” Hanging printed encouraging signs or a personalized calendar can all help create a special place for children to learn. 
  • Have all learning materials in one space. “Make sure that all materials – sharpened pencils, crayons, paper, textbooks, etc. – are all in the same area so that during the course of the day, the child isn’t trying to find the guardian or family to locate the materials they need,” McCann said. 
  • Encourage students to change up their seating throughout the day – sitting and standing. “Parents should also be flexible with even the seating arrangement,” she said. “Have a space where the student can stand during the day. Some students will do better if they have the option to stand during the day.” 
  • Create incentives to encourage motivation. “I think it’s important that families have some sort of rewards system or incentive chart… to encourage the completion of assignments,” she said. “Some students in the classroom get a lot of positive feedback, just as a natural part of the day.” While students may be excited to start the school year, some of that excitement might die off, so incentives – like a snack, a treat, or game time – could encourage motivation. 
  • Take many brain breaks and make time for physical activity. “I like the idea of working with the child to create a music playlist so that whenever the child needs to… have a little dance party, they can click a song in the playlist and it’s ready to go,” she said. “Parents can join in as well.” Especially as students have more screen time for online classes or work, getting away from the computer as much as possible is important, McCann said. “It’s going to be helpful in the long run for reducing stress.” 
  • Create a schedule. While most schools have created a schedule for students and families, McCann encourages printing out the schedule and filling out things for any down time, including breaks. “Maybe it’s just reading a book, but start at the same time every day,” she said. “Children thrive when they have a routine.” 
  • Have a study buddy. “Children need to have some sort of social time, too,” McCann said. “It’s a good idea for families to connect that have students in the same class. If the child can find one student in their class that they can debrief about the school day… social interaction is going to be really helpful to keep momentum going as well.” Depending on the student’s age level – a phone call or a text or email, would be a great way for students to connect at a distance. 
  • Limit personal device time until schoolwork is done and complete more difficult tasks in the morning, or when the student is most alert. “I would advise anything that is really challenging – a harder subject or assignment – that they work on that in the morning when they’re more focused,” McCann said. 
  • Include prayer throughout the day. While most schools will gather for daily morning prayer either in-person or virtually, McCann said that adding moments of prayer before meals or in between school subjects can encourage a similar environment as they would in a classroom. 
  • Keep a sense of humor. “Things will change as we go on,” she added. 

McCann said she encourages parents to stay positive – that it is okay to take a break, or for a child or family to be frustrated sometimes. “But then we just come up with a better plan, a solution to help everybody succeed in this environment,” she said.