Nobody’s going to argue that a digital fall semester is going to be easy. From issues of equity to figuring out how to juggle work while the kids are home all day, the pandemic has put parents and teachers in a tough spot. But there are take-aways from the chaos of spring, experts say, and parents can use them to prepare for the fall.

Back to School 2020

If you’re looking for a few helpful hints, here’s what teachers, curriculum developers and parents say helped families transition to digital school.

Increase communication with teachers

“The level of communication with remote learning needs to be 10 times more between teachers and parents than during the regular school year,” says Nicholas Barr, who teaches fourth and fifth graders at Seattle’s Dunlap Elementary School. Tell your teacher early on what the best way to reach you is. Barr says he used a mixture of email, texts and phone calls depending on what worked best for his families last spring.

Let your teacher know your work hours; when it will be more difficult to help your student get online; or when your student won’t be online at all, just like during a normal school day.

Create a routine and follow a schedule

Kids thrive on routine, and creating one for the home is incredibly useful — even if it’s basic. Becky Kitzman, a math teacher at Hamilton International Middle School in Seattle, gave her kids the following advice: “Set up your alarm to get up in the morning like you would normally do for school, put on a new outfit … something that’s different than what you slept in. Have breakfast. Brush your teeth, and go to a dedicated space in your house where you spend your school time.”

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The kids who struggled the most to stay engaged were the ones who literally rolled over in bed and hit the power switch on their computer, she says. Parents can help by encouraging kids to prepare in the morning.

Additionally, your teacher and district should be sending class schedule details if they haven’t already. Familiarize yourself with it so you can build your own schedule effectively and communicate any issues early.

Lastly, Kellea Taylor, director of teaching and learning for elementary at Bellevue School District, says many families found whiteboards helpful for laying out schedules and creating checklists for tasks like math work or reading.

Make a dedicated space for learning

Not all families will have a separate room available for a student to learn, or even a full desk. But several educators said that setting up an area in the house where students can focus on school work is important, even if that’s one clear corner of the kitchen table.

In addition to a workspace, Taylor recommends having a dedicated school box. That way, if your student does have to move — say to clear the table for lunch — it’s easy to keep all of their supplies in one spot when it’s time to start up again.

Try a timer

One helpful hack for young students was a simple kitchen timer, Taylor says. Kids aren’t used to having to monitor their breaks for recess or lunch, so the timer takes the place of a school bell. That way, kids (and parents) don’t have to stress about keeping an eye on the clock for breaks.

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Barr says that setting alarms on your phone can also work well, especially for routine events like class time.

Organize school logins

“Some frustration parents have had is that there are just so many different logins and so many different websites,” Barr says. While schools expressed that they’re trying to streamline their platforms so that you’re not getting multiple invites from Zoom and Microsoft Teams, you can still expect to need a few different logins for the semester.

Stay organized by writing them down in one place, Barr recommends.

Bookmark your child’s gradebook

Kitzman says that middle school is a classic time for kids to fall behind and wait until there’s an “avalanche” of uncompleted work to ask for help. She suspects online learning will only exacerbate that.

One way parents can help: bookmark the gradebook. “Look to see if the child is caught up in what they’re supposed to do up to that point,” she says, even daily. That way your child has a safety net of accountability before the catch-up work becomes insurmountable.

Have patience

While schools say you can expect more organization and consistency from remote learning this fall, there will likely still be bumps in the road, especially as kids get used to the rhythm of remote learning.

Shena Warhola, whose daughter is going into third grade with Washington Virtual Academies, says that certainly rang true for her family when they started the digital public school back in kindergarten. “The first few months were a struggle trying to get a hang of how to do it,” she says. But eventually, it became like second nature. “Once it clicks, it’s so easy.”