The Most Important Way Parents can Support Distance Learning


Wondering how you can help your children with online school? Learn how setting expectations is the most important way parents can support distance learning.

“Suzie, please stop unmuting yourself.”

“Mikey, you need to sit up instead of laying down in your bed.”

Katie, just like at school, please raise your hand.”

Does this sound like your children?  These were pretty common challenges this spring during the emergency distance learning.

With my own daughter, she wanted to jump out of her seat and show her three-year old brother every time the garbage truck or a landscaping truck drove by. We across from a large park so that was ALL THE TIME.  She wanted to play with toys or color while the Zoom class was going on.

When I observed my first grader’s Zoom classes, I realized the school expectations were not carrying over to Zoom class like the teachers would hope.  As a parent, I kind of assumed she would just understand how she needed to behave.

But I was wrong. Like so much, she needed to be taught.

The most important thing parents can do to support distance learning is to set clear expectations.

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two children on laptops for distance learning

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Parents and distance learning

As a former teacher turned work-from-home-mom, distance learning was a challenge for my daughter and me, too.

Listen, friends.  I taught for 11 years, with two of those years in downtown Los Angeles with children who needed a lot of behavioral and academic support.

And yet, there were many times I felt pushed to my limits teaching my own kids.

Our children do this to us.  They test us and they break down more for us because we are their safe person.

Most children respond better to their teacher. So you are not alone if last year was a struggle.

You’ve been thrown into this distance-learning-emergency-teaching-role with zero training.

Or maybe you do have some experience with education, but you didn’t really want to teach your kiddos. You know that teaching your own children is often harder.

This is not what any of us anticipated when we sent our children to school last year.


Parents can set expectations for distance learning

But when we get thrown into distance learning again in the coming year, and I really think we will, it can be better.

The most important way parents can support distance learning is through setting expectations for your child and teaching them.

Ideally your child’s teacher or school will have thoroughly communicated their expectations, but let’s be honest, they were thrown into emergency schooling too.  No one predicted this.

So grab the Distance Learning Rules and start reviewing them now.  I have formatted it for Zoom, Google Meets, and Microsoft Teams so no matter what your school uses, you’ll be prepared.

Rules for Zoom, Google Meets, and Microsoft Teams

This visual to support your child will help you, too.

Parents have so much to think about, you don’t need to take time to think through the rules.  So print this out and be prepared for setting the expectations for distance learning classes.

I shared it with my daughter’s teachers and the speech teacher told me she was using it for children from kindergarten to fifth grade.

Do you need a routine to help your child with Learning at Home? It’s in the Ultimate Routines Printable Pack!

Your Child Needs to Be Ready to Participate

When your child has virtual class, he or she needs to be ready to participate.  This means treat it as a normal school day.  Your child should be dressed and have eaten.

But teachers go a step beyond in school to make sure that children are ready to participate.

Use the bathroom before class

Teachers have a routine to make sure students are prompted to use the bathroom before they start teaching. So make sure your child has used the bathroom prior to trying on the class.

Don’t bring toys or other activities

When their toys are in the same room, it’s hard not to bring them to class. So set that expectation.

Try moving toys to another area and if your child needs something to focus, consider a fidget. Make sure to monitor to see it’s not a distraction and then communicate with the teacher that you’re allowing your child to use it to focus.

Avoid snacks

It’s tempting to see Zoom class or Google Meets like movie time. Truthfully, it’s hard for little kids to differentiate.  But children can eat their snack before or after class, just like at school.


Do you need a Meal Time Schedule? It’s in the Ultimate Routines Printable Pack!


Help your child focus on online classes

Most children don’t automatically understand that they need to do certain things in order to focus.  Having a set list of tasks to be done is helpful to teach your child how to focus.

Make sure to have tools ready

As mentioned above, being ready to learn means avoiding the tools you don’t need so you can give your attention to what you do need. But the teacher might need the students to have certain tools or assignments ready.

Make sure your child has the basics:

If your student’s teachers aren’t letting the students know at the beginning of class, teach your child how to raise their hand and ask, “What do I need today?”

Think about the class

With online learning, children need to be taught that they need to be thinking about class.  When they look at a screen, they are used to being passive like watching TV.

There isn’t constant engagement like on iPad games so they need to be taught to have their brains think about the class to stay engaged.

Keep eyes on the class

Since it’s even more removed from actual instruction, actively looking at the screen focuses attention. Of course, it gets exhausting to look at screens for 45 minutes at a time.

They will need to be taught to look away for a brief break and then to refocus.

Stay in chair

Children need a reminder that just like they couldn’t jump out of the chair at school to see what’s going on in the hallway, they need to stay in a chair for Zoom class or Google Meets.

This also means they need to avoid couches and bedrooms where they can be tempted to lay down.

It’s helpful to have a desk or table area set up for your child.  Then they need you to show them how to position the chair toward screen.


Help your child to participate effectively in online learning

Just like at school, your children need to know what it looks like to participate well in learning that’s online.  Their participation is critical for their learning but it’s also important for their classmates to be able to learn, too.

Use a Voice level 0 or 1

This means be silent or whisper if your child needs to speak to someone else in your family during class. This also means parents needs to be aware of the noise level in the area where your student is attending class.

Similarly, your students needs to use a strong 3 voice level when it is his or her turn to speak to the class.

Aim camera at their face

This helps the teacher and other children interact.  When the camera is aimed well, the teacher can gauge how your child is learning the instruction.

The teacher can reengage your child when he or she is distracted.  Likewise, teachers can usually read confusion on a child’s face.  This helps a teacher tailor how he or she is teaching.

Stay for the whole time

To get the benefit of the instruction, your child needs to stay the whole time.  They miss out on critical learning each time they get up and move away from the lesson.

Plus it can be distracting to other students if your child repeatedly leave and returns. Your teacher’s attention might be turned away and negatively impact other kids.

So teach your children that it’s just like school and they need to be present for the whole class.

Raise Hand

Show your child how to use the hand raising feature on Zoom, Google Meets, or Microsoft Teams. Remind your children that it’s the same rule as school:

Raise your hand and wait to be called on.

Leave mute on unless teacher instructs to turn it off

To participate effectively, children need to wait their turn just like in school.  So teach your child how to make sure they are on mute.

Special Circumstances for distance learning

These Distance Learning Rules are meant for all children, including those with special needs.  I shared them with the speech pathologist at my daughter’s school and she used them with students from kindergarten through fifth grade – both neurodiverse and typical children with some speech challenges.

So while these are great rules for all sorts of learners, if your child has an IEP or another learning or behavioral plan, you can call a meeting with the teacher to discuss what expectations are appropriate for your child.

Your child has a federally-mandated right to accommodations if they have an IEP.  Be reasonable – this is a global pandemic, but it is important to advocate for what your child needs.

On the same note, observe your child at home. If you notice anything that could be underlying learning issues, let the teacher know your concerns.

Even as a licensed teacher, I didn’t have academic concerns for my child (who has an IEP) until I observed her trying to write at home. Her difficulty with writing is probably due to a learning disability and we will have it evaluated when it’s safe and prudent.

Recapping How Parents Can Support Distance Learning

  • Set expectations for distance learning.
  • Use the rules printable to guide your discussion.
  • Make sure you have a learning at home routine and a schedule for meal times – like at school.
  • Help your child be ready to learn.
  • Teach your child to be prepared with supplies
  • Help your child learn to focus their attention.
  • Support your child’s participation.
  • Address any special circumstances for learning.


Parents can support distance learning.  This learning situation is far from ideal but we can make the best of it.  Being clear with our expectations can make a huge difference.




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