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Schooling at home: Resources for parents and students

We’re in uncharted waters. For the first time in our lives, we’re all facing the need to stay at home for days and perhaps even weeks.

That presents a special dilemma for students and their parents and caregivers.

How do students stay engaged with their academics?

Staying engaged with academics

Jeff Greene, the McMichael Distinguished Professor in Learning Sciences and Psychological Studies, offers the following guidelines and suggestions:

Routine is important

Most schools are not suggesting that students learn at home the exact same ways they do at school. Students will likely spend less time learning at home than they would spend at school, for example. That is appropriate. But to the degree possible, establish a regular routine for “school” days with a set wake-up time and scheduled time for learning, snacks, lunch, and breaks. Establishing a routine will help students focus during learning time.

Where to study — it matters

  • Give some thought to where your student will work. Ideally, it should be comfortable and inviting.
  • If possible, make it in a low-distraction area of house, somewhere unique, not a place where other activities often happen, such as the kitchen or playroom.
  • Limit tempting distractions. The study area doesn’t have to be sparse but help make it a place where your student can focus.

Maintaining motivation, interest, and willpower

Students can use this experience to build skills in finding motivation, building interest and exercising their will to stay on task. A first thing to do is to recognize and talk about the challenges. Also, accept that no one, including students, can be highly motivated for every task, all the time. But students can learn to monitor and control their motivation, interest, and willpower – helping them find a good, steady state for each.


Motivation is the energy and direction for getting started. Parents and caregivers can help support motivation.

  • Involve your student in making choices, helping her or him feel some control. Ask things such as “You may choose this space for your study area, or this one.” Or, “What do you think would help you keep focus during your school work?”
  • Build competence in your student. When students express doubt or struggle, you can say: “I am confident you can do this. Let’s figure it out.”
  • Show that you care. “I really want this to work for you. And I care about how you are feeling and thinking. How can I help?”
  • Express the value you place in their education. Talk about why school and the academic work is important.

Volition (or, willpower)

Volition is the ability to stay on task, avoid distractions, and overcoming obstacles. Parents and caregivers can help students build and maintain willpower by having frank conversations about challenges and coming up with strategies for overcoming them.

  • Ask your student two questions: “What challenges do you think you will have when you are going to school from home? What can you do to overcome those challenges?”
  • Then, make a plan. And write it down!
  • Talk with your student about distractions. “When you get tempted by distractions, what will you do to get back on track?”
  • Stand up, stretch, walk around a minute.
  • Have a healthy snack.
  • Outside of school time, spend time doing other kinds of activities.

Learn and use good study habits

Variety is the spice of studying!

  • Take notes on computer. Then take hand-written notes.
  • Set times to talk to other students either about schoolwork or socializing.
  • Move around.

Engage! Active engagement is needed.

Learning at home, particularly learning online, can be challenging. Try to make it as engaging as possible.

  • If students have to watch lectures on video or other online platforms, encourage them to take notes or pause the video and reflect on what they are hearing. Active engagement promotes retention and understanding, and keeps students interested.
  • Use any chat and collaboration features to connect with teachers and other students.
  • Online quizzing/polling can help people remember content.
  • Self-testing is powerful. Use test questions provided in your materials, or make your own tests.
  • Use creation software if available (drawing, slides, etc.).
  • Seek out feedback and support from your teachers using chat and other kinds of “breakout room” features.

Minimize distractions

There are many apps that can turn off social media and other distractions during learning time. Outside of learning time, keep track of the time your student spends on devices and apps. Perhaps try apps that shut down or limit social media. Use apps that track time spent on devices, and make an agreement with your student that a parent or caregiver can review.