How To Tell If Your Kid Is Actually Getting Anything Out Of Remote School

Some days, kids seem to love it. Other days, they’re deep in Zoom gloom. Here's how to tell what's working and what's not.
Millions of children are learning remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic — but are they actually getting anything out of it?
sakkmesterke via Getty Images
Millions of children are learning remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic — but are they actually getting anything out of it?

Millions of parents around the country are months deep into remote or hybrid school as the coronavirus pandemic slogs on.

For some families, it’s abundantly clear that online learning just isn’t working, either because their kids can’t even access the classes they need or because they have kids so ill-suited to sitting in front of a screen all day long that remote learning feels like a bad joke. And yes, there are also some children who are obviously excelling online.

But for so many parents and caregivers, it is unclear how well remote learning is working for their kids. Some days, kids seem to love it. Other days, they’re mired in Zoom gloom. Even though in some ways parents have greater access to their kiddos’ schools and teachers than ever before, it’s not always clear how much information they’re actually retaining and whether any of them are having any fun.

So HuffPost Parents spoke with several educators to get some guidance for parents who want to know whether remote learning is really working for their kids.

First, consider social-emotional learning and academics.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made very clear just how much school provides for kids and families. It’s not just academics — it’s meals, mental health support and child care. School is where children go to connect with their peers and have fun.

“I think that it’s important to measure [success] in a few ways, and one is social-emotional. Is a kid liking going to school? How do they feel? Are they happy to start? How are they at the end of the day?” Francie Alexander, chief research officer at the publishing company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, told HuffPost. “The social-emotional piece is such an important part of growing up and going to school.”

Then, of course, the other major area that parents want to consider is academic progress and what their kids are actually learning when they log on every day.

“Obviously, kids are there to learn. You want to know: Are they getting the math they need? Are they getting the science they need? Are they getting the language arts they need?” Alexander said.

Spend some time with their learning platforms.

“One of the benefits of remote learning is that every program has some mechanism for measuring how are kids doing,” Alexander said.

One of the bright spots of this unusual academic year is that parents and teachers have an unprecedented amount of data available to them about how many minutes kids are spending every day doing academic work and how well they’re doing it, Alexander said. That information is available in real time for both parents and educators, as well as the students themselves.

So spend some time really getting to know the various learning platforms your child is using and going through their assignments. It might feel like micromanaging, but experts say it’s really not — even if they’re in middle school or above.

“You’re going to want to be on that school dashboard. Know who their teachers are for each class. You can be specific, like: ‘How did that social studies activity go for you on Thursday?’” said Lisa Collum, owner of Top Score Writing and Coastal Middle and High School and a mom of four who is overseeing lots of online learning this fall.

Know the standards. But also know that everything is different this year.

One of the more helpful things parents can do right now, Collum said, is spend a few minutes getting to know the goals or standards for whatever grade their children are in, whether it’s looking up national or statewide standards (all available online), checking in with their teacher, or both. The big caveat, of course, is that everything is different because of COVID-19 and many of the usual standards have probably shifted.

“Remember: Kids may fall a bit behind where they’re 'supposed' to be, and that’s OK.”

Kids definitely learn at their own pace, but having a sense of the bigger picture can at least give parents some benchmarks, Collum said. In her experience, parents often have higher expectations, and checking in with the standards can help set their minds at ease, particularly if it seems like remote learning is a bit of a disaster.

And again, remember: Kids may fall a bit behind where they’re “supposed” to be, and that’s OK.

Ask: What are you excited about?

Some academic experts say they’re not just worried about learning loss that will happen as a result of the pandemic. They’re worried that children are in danger of losing their love of learning altogether. One simple way to assess how engaged your child really is with their online learning experience is simply to ask: What are you excited about?

Collum, for example, said she pencils in time with each of her four children every day to debrief. They go over anything they may have found challenging at school, but they also touch base about what got them excited and inspired.

“It’s hard to stare at a computer all day,” she said.

If it doesn’t sound like your kids are really excited about anything they’re learning, that’s something you should bring up with their teacher. And you might find that it’s tied more to their online experience rather than the subject matter itself. Can you give them more breaks throughout the day? Can you get them up and moving more? Would it help to incorporate more play? (Check out some other strategies to help kids pay attention and get the most of their online learning experience here.)

Trust your gut.

Teachers have had, at most, a few months at this point to get to know your child. And they have done so primarily — if not entirely — through a screen. So now is the time for you to trust your gut about how you think your child is doing and advocate for them as needed.

“You are the expert on your own kid,” Alexander said.

If you know that your child is generally really outgoing in school but that they’re being really shy on Zoom, note that. If they’re usually engaged with a particular subject matter that now seems boring to them, bring that up.

“Teachers want to hear that,” she said. “And they want to help.”

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