When classrooms went online due to COVID-19, this marked not only a major transformation in kindergarten to Grade 12 education, but a shift in parents’ involvement in their children’s education. Schools communicated primarily online via email and social media (or sometimes the phone) to keep in touch with parents, and every family had to determine to what extent supporting remote learning was possible.
This shift built upon changing patterns which emerged years ago, as parental “e-nvolvement” is now in many schools today. Now, there is greater reliance on technology not only for teacher-parent communication, but technology has also become embedded within projects and homework.
Students are increasingly likely to become engaged in online or hybrid (both in class and online) learning, and this is not only due to the pandemic — there has been a rise of online learning in school systems. Researchers’ understanding of how parent involvement supports students when students are engaged in hybrid and in fully online educational environments is developing.
Some parents who chose remote learning for their children this fall could also be facing work schedules or family circumstances that make supporting remote learning difficult. Fortunately, small acts of parental support and encouragement can have big impacts on student success. Amid the varied constraints and barriers families face, there are myriad ways parents can and do support their children’s education.
1. Motivate by taking an interest
Parents can be an important source of motivation for their children, but not only in terms of reprimands and rewards. Parent involvement, which gently motivates students through encouragement and support has been shown to be effective in promoting student success.
Research suggests motivation to persist is particularly important for online education. Studies of university learners find that virtual learners can experience higher drop-out rates than those in traditional face-to-face environments.
Some students may require a parent to physically sit with them when engaged in online learning, while others benefit more from periodic parental check-ins. Casual opportunities to verbally share learning outcomes and activities with their family members can also benefit students.
Even nuanced parent involvement, such as conveying a belief that students will succeed, or spending quality time expressing interest and care, can help motivate learners to persevere through challenges.
2. Help students organize the home learning environment
Some students may struggle when tasked to complete their schoolwork online, because home environments are typically less structured than school. A little planning in the management of household spaces for learning, technology resources and routines can go a long way in terms of proactively reducing household stress and supporting students when learning from home.
Creating space for remote learning within the home may involve establishing new family routines. Both students and parents might reflect on previous remote learning experiences to understand what kind of environment and routines allow everyone to be productive while at home.
The whole family can strive to organize the home environment to be as supportive as possible to the needs of online learners. Through fostering family routines that are complimentary to students’ online learning responsibilities, preferences, needs for recreation, physical activity and non-screen time, parents can promote student success.
3. Encourage children and youth’s self-regulation
When engaged in online learning, students’ self-regulation can be a challenge.
Online learners who are still building their self-regulation skills may need additional parental support. For example, some students may benefit from having their learning device set up in a communal area of the home. By being accessible to students — for example, working at the same table or nearby — parents can provide online learners with another level of accountability and support.
For other students, their self-regulation may thrive with just an occasional physical or virtual parental check-in from time to time. Check-ins can also benefit parents too, by providing a glimpse of their online learner’s engagement levels and learning patterns.
4. Maintain home-school communication
With information about school operations and policies changing rapidly, communication between home and school is essential this fall. Thus, engaging in regular and ongoing two-way communication between home and school is another way parents can support online learners.
Parents who stay abreast of happenings in the school community can be an additional source of information for students and can help online learners to understand, prepare and adjust to the expectations of their evolving learning environment. Establishing specific times to read school emails, check social media feeds, review classroom communications or news may help.
Two-way communication is important in supporting hybrid and online education, because teachers may rely on parents when seeking to understand student learning outside of class time and beyond the viewpoint of the screen.
Home and school communications shouldn’t be reserved for only when there is a problem. Establishing regular communication and two-way feedback between students, families and teachers can go a long way to establish the trust and rapport needed to create a learning community, online or otherwise, in which all members feel supported and included.
5. Offer instructional support
Although parents or primary caregivers are not always subject matter experts, they’re likely to be called upon for help with homework or for academic assistance.
Parental instructional support in the form of reviewing assignment instructions with students or encouraging children to review their school materials when stuck can be much appreciated by both struggling learners and their teachers. There is also helping students navigate online applications or troubleshooting technical issues.
Through informal learning opportunities, parents can help students to develop skills and deepen their understandings of concepts explored in class. For example, family conversations and teachable moments between parents and children can help students to make connections between their class work and real world experiences.
By motivating students, encouraging their self-regulation, helping them to organize the home learning environment, maintaining home-school communication and offering instructional support, parent involvement has the potential to positively influence the learning outcomes and success of students both in-class and online this fall.