Parents across Canada and the world were faced with a tough decision at the start of the 2020-2021 school year: to keep their kids at home for virtual learning, or send their kids to in-person school and risk COVID-19 infection. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a significant amount of families chose a virtual learning model. Many public school boards across Canada opted for maintaining large class sizes, and poor ventilation in older buildings made in-person school seem dangerous and a likely source of viral spread.  

Kids that learn online must deal with a whole new set of obstacles to learning: technical issues, a more sedentary lifestyle, keeping up with lessons with all the distractions that come with being on the internet all the time. It’s no wonder, then, that so many kids are struggling with online learning. If you have a child in your home that is struggling academically in a virtual classroom, you are probably wondering: how do I help my child? How will their struggles this year impact their future learning? Is my child going to fall behind?

If you’re one of millions of Canadian parents that have chosen to keep their kids at home learning during the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, you are likely no stranger to worrying about your child’s academics.

This article addresses issues kids are having with online learning, and what parents and guardians can do to support. Let’s start by taking a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of virtual learning, and some strategies you can use to help the struggling virtual learner in your home.

Want to learn all about virtual learning? Check out our blog.

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The Advantages and Disadvantages of Virtual Learning

virtual learning is popular in 2020
There are many advantages and disadvantages to online learning. Source: Pexels

Virtual learning does have many advantages, the most important one obviously being that it lowers the risk of exposure to COVID-19 - an essential precaution for families with members at high risk. Parents also working from home might also appreciate virtual learning if they had a vacation home to retreat to: what could be better than learning from your view of the lake? Finally, many kids that love technology, have social anxiety at school, or simply love being at home found many positives in the online learning experience. No commute, no bus ride, no rush to get up in the morning, and the freedom to wear pajamas all day - what could be go wrong?

There are, unfortunately, some major disadvantages to virtual learning. First of all, it requires a tremendous amount of focus from kids: listening to teachers speak for hours on end is much more challenging than sitting in a classroom with all the stimulation that comes from being in a school, having manipulatives and visual learning tools, and being able to collaborate in small group. 

Then there’s the stress of spotty internet connections resulting from having so many members of a household online, or simply having an older computer that requires further updates. Having a slow computer, background interruptions, and unknowingly speaking on mute  are just a few of the things that can cause anxiety for students - it’s not easy learning online!

Of course, kids are easily distracted by the millions of other places they can visit on the internet while attending class, from video games to Youtube videos. Many children with special education needs have also found it a struggle to learn from home, where accommodations and scaffolding are limited to digital tools. Mental health issues can also arise for some students: staring at a screen all day and missed opportunities to socialize and exercise has its consequences.

So what can you do when your child is having a hard time in online school? Let’s look at some strategies for handling the issues that come with teaching online.

Wondering how you are going to survive this year of working from home while your kids are in virtual school? Read our tips.

What to Do When Your Child is Struggling in their Virtual Class

virtual learning stress
Virtual learning can be stressful. Source: Unsplash

Watch for Warning Signs

If you notice your child is behaving differently, is unusually irritable, or appearing anxious or depressed, you might want to have a talk with them or set an an appointment with a family doctor. Virtual learning will likely not be the sole cause: it could be exacerbating existing issues, or be connected to another problem like cyberbullying, loneliness, or relationships with other people online. Ask questions, use software to limit the sites they can access, and make sure your child gets lots of time away from the screen.

As many adults know, the constant stimulation from email notifications or a scroll through social media feeds can be addictive. If you’ve ever felt slightly “fried” from working remotely, picture your kids going through that. Alleviate the stress of being online by monitoring your child from virtual fatigue, and nudging them away from the computer on a regular basis. Make sure your kids get fresh air regularly, socially distant visits from friends and family, and quality time with family where everyone’s phones are gone.

Be in Contact with Your Child’s Teacher 

This may seem obvious, but the first person to be in touch with might be the person who is working with your child all day. Your child’s teacher, if they haven’t already contacted you, can give you some important insights on what they notice in the virtual classroom. They can show you the work your child has submitted, provide anecdotal observations of their interactions with other students, and tell you what kind of activities your child responds to best. Does your child contribute to discussions? Do they turn their camera on and show they are engaged? Do they collaborate with others in breakout rooms? Getting a teacher’s feedback can give you a better sense of why your child is struggling to keep up with their class.

Teachers should also be informed if you are seeing your child struggle on the other end of the screen - they may not be aware of any emotional struggles your kid is having. They may be able to put you in touch with other resources in the school that can help your child succeed, like tutoring or counselling.

Look at Your Child’s Schoolwork

If lower grades are your main concern, take a look at your child’s schoolwork to find out where they need help. Sometimes going through an assignment they have submitted can give you clues as to what they need support in: if their writing needs work, their presentations are not edited, or their math problem-solving is missing some steps, you’ll be able to see it when you look in their work. Sometimes, the issue may be that they aren’t handing anything in at all - in this case, you will need to help them develop better learning skills. 

Ask your child to let you have a look in their virtual classroom or drive to see their work, or ask their teacher to give you a tour. It’s hard to help your child with school if you don’t know what they need: once you know their academic weaknesses, you can start finding solutions.

Make virtual learning better for your family by creating a healthy virtual learning environment for your child.

Get Your Child a Tutor

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Save yourself lots of time and energy and hire an online tutor for your child. Source: Pexels

While we are talking about academics, it might be a good time to consider getting your child a private tutor to help them in school. As a parent, you are probably busy as well if you are working from home or must be on-site in your workplace. Make life easier on yourself by hiring a private tutor to help your child with their homework and learning in virtual school.

A private tutor can review concepts they have studied in class, and help your child organize and plan their assignments before handing them in. They come with knowledge and expertise on the subjects your child is learning, and can give your kid the one-to-one attention that is sorely needed in online classes with high amounts of students. They will work with your child online and be equipped with the right tools to support your child in their areas of concern. 

Sites like Superprof have plenty of listings for tutors in different subject areas - and thanks to the virtual environment they can meet your child online at a time that works for both parties. Check out Superprof for tutors near you.

Provide your Child with Opportunities for Extra Practice 

Sometimes your child may need more practice in specific parts in the curriculum, like writing or math. Get your child resources they can use in the home that help them to build skills they are learning in school. A math workbook can be perfect for families looking to get their kids off the screen, and will give your child a bit of digital detox. Grab your kid a cool or fancy journal to write in, order books from your local bookshop or library, and schedule time to do the work regularly, whether it’s an hour on Monday afternoon or a Sunday morning before breakfast. 

If your kids aren’t too sick of being online, purchase a math game app or find some free resources online. Games can make learning fun, and are perfect for practicing mental math. You can find plenty of apps that make learning fun and competitive - you kid will become better at their work without even realizing it.

Plan Breaks and Rewards

Sometimes kids need a break from the virtual learning routine, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about giving them. If you notice that your child is feeling down or disengaged with their class, let them take the day or afternoon off. If possible, take your kids for a hike to a local park, go ice skating, bake some goodies, or go for a bike ride. Your child will come back the next day refreshed, and looking forward to the next break they can spend with you.

When the pressure is on to focus on assignments or tests, reward your child for their accomplishments. If you can treat your kid to their favourite takeout, meal, a small present, or even some money they can put into their savings, they will feel motivated and good about all the work they are doing. There are plenty of school-related things you can celebrate - keep an eye out for an improved report card, a big presentation finished on time, an A or B on a quiz, or a week of them having a positive attitude and staying focused. Remember that you don’t have to focus solely on grades: a better show of learning skills can be just as meaningful as high score.

Are you feeling stressed from having your kids in virtual learning? Find out our best tips for coping with virtual learning stress.

Let Your Kids Explore their Passions

Giving your kids a chance to explore their interests and passions can be stimulating and rewarding: you’ll see their best effort when they love what they are doing. If your child is into art, grab them some art supplies and projects; athletes can have some time to exercise or play sports in a pandemic-friendly environment; the budding dancer can maybe join a local studio online.

Set Reasonable Expectations

Finally, it’s probably most important to set reasonable expectations for your child to achieve in a pandemic: remember that they are staying home to protect their family’s health and safety. This is the first time that young students have ever learned virtually on a day-to-day basis, and there are so many things about virtual learning that the world is learning for the first time. As the saying goes, we are building the plane while flying it - so remember that there will be lots of bumps on the journey.

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Colleen

Colleen is a Toronto-based educator, mom and freelance writer who believes in lifelong learning and strong coffee.