With the school year about to start and the COVID-19 pandemic marching on, many parents are faced with the challenge of how to work from home while simultaneously supporting their children’s remote learning. While there’s no silver bullet, there are a variety of online resources to help you manage this balancing act.
First things first: any individual “Everything You Need to Know About Remote Learning” list posted on the web won’t meet your exact situation. Your family has unique needs based on your location, how many children you have, your children’s ages and educational needs, your work flexibility, and your support system.
That means you should spend about an hour compiling a list of local resources that might be useful to you, including state, county, and city options. The department or program names may vary across locations, but the offerings will be similar. To make your life easier, sign up for email or text notifications when possible to be notified of program changes. Plan on checking once a month for new options as government organizations shift offerings based on funding and needs.
Start with ChildCare.gov, which provides links to each state’s COVID-19-related resources, including information for families and childcare providers. You can also search the web for “childcare information for families [state],” “scholastic support center [state],” or “virtual learning rooms [state]” for other resources.
Using North Carolina as an example, your state may provide information on:
- Education resources for parents: Public School Forum of North Carolina
- Remote learning resources for parents: North Carolina Department of Public Instruction
- NC and national resources, including a referral service for early care and education arrangements: NC Childcare Resource and Referral Council
Private Facebook groups (usually targeted at mothers) for your city or county can be a gold mine of information. While the posts and comments may sometimes be emotionally charged or inaccurate, often someone in the group is maintaining a document listing local day and virtual camps.
Remote Learning Options
Now that you have a list of local resources, it’s time to plan your remote learning schedule.
First, get your school’s remote learning plan. Will it be entirely online or a combination of online and in-person? Will it include virtual meetings with set times, recorded lectures, or both?
Next, consider if you want to add in extra learning. There are numerous streaming education services available, ranging in price from free to freemium to paid. Often these services include supporting materials like lesson plans, activities, and additional reading. Sites to consider include:
- Common Sense Media: groups educational websites by age groups
- PBS Learning Media: video and lesson plans that you can filter by subject and grade. Includes current topics like “What Are Federal Agents Doing in Portland?”
- US Department of Education: list of federal agencies providing remote learning options
- Khan Academy: nonprofit providing free daily schedules and online learning
- Starfall: nonprofit providing free and low-cost learning options
- ABCMouse: subscription-based online learning for ages 2–8, and its sister website Adventure Academy for ages 8–13
- Prodigy: math learning for grades 1–8
You can also check government resources for age-appropriate remote learning plans that don’t require the use of technology.
As you plan for the school curriculum, don’t neglect the social and emotional components of learning—setting goals, managing emotions, and building relationships. For tips on how to build social-emotional learning into the overall learning process, review articles at CASEL, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and the SEL Providers Council.
Manage Remote Learning
In an ideal world, you’d work full-time while your kids independently engage with their remote learning. (Yes, that hysterical laughing you hear is every parent who barely survived the springtime school closures.)
Since the remote learning process needs management and support, what can you do? If flex-parenting isn’t an option (for example, you monitor for 2 hours and then swap duties with another parent), consider one of the many paid options.
Some childcare centers are adapting their services to include virtual learning rooms and extending their age offerings to mid-teens. Virtual learning rooms refer to spaces designed for remote learning that include quiet time, desks, and internet access.
Many churches, YMCAs, and childrens’ facilities (like indoor gyms, martial arts schools, and pottery studios) are offering full or partial day camps with virtual learning rooms.
Hire a nanny part-time, full-time, or as a shared option with your neighbors. If your state doesn’t offer childcare referral services, check out for-profit sites such as Care that will link you up with nannies in your area.
Join a learning pod, also known as a micro-school or pandemic pod. Essentially, families are choosing who to merge social bubbles with and, as a group, hiring a tutor or educator to oversee the remote learning process. The tutor might be found via social groups or private services like Selected.
Consider reaching out to homeschooling groups for advice. A mom who has homeschooled her child for 10 years says, “Homeschoolers are in their element now! We’ve been preparing our whole life for this.”
Most of the options to support remote learning cost money. As one working mother says, “I’m signing my kids up for nonstop camps.” While not everyone will qualify, some programs provide financial assistance to low-income or essential workers to help cover childcare costs.
If you need help with technology devices or internet access, consider:
- Your school, as many schools are providing Chromebooks or Wi-Fi hotspots to students
- This list of free or low-cost internet access
- The Office of Head Start’s list of Family Supports for Remote Service Delivery
Filling Free Time
Remote learning won’t fill the entire day. There will be times when your child needs to be entertained for 30–60 minutes while you take a business call. Some online options include:
- Museum visits from home, like NCMA or the National Museum of Natural History
- Virtual tours of destinations like Belize or Canada
- Online storytime from your local library
- STEM engagement programs like NASA From Home
- Little Learners’ Club virtual classes
- The CDC’s list of family online entertainment
- Online playdates via FaceTime or Zoom
- Hiring a virtual babysitter to entertain your child
Balancing remote working and learning isn’t easy. It takes patience, money, and a shift in your expectations of what your household’s “normal” looks like. Use outside help when you can, dig deep for patience, and know you are not alone in this high-wire balancing act. In the end, be kind to yourself—and remember the chaos won’t last forever.