Outside the Classroom

Tips for Engaging Families in Distance Learning

How will kids attend school in the fall? It’s a question everyone is asking, and the most likely answer is through a hybrid of online and in-person learning, which leaves many parents struggling to determine how to best support their children. Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued an endorsement for children to go back to school, citing “the importance of in-person learning” and the “negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020,” and yet most school districts will not return to school entirely in-person. Welcome to the pandemic world of learning, where students spend a portion of their time working remotely.

Virtual instruction can effectively replace or supplement in-person learning, but now more than ever, it is important for parents and families to play an active role in their child’s education, and for educators to develop plans for supporting and engaging families in distance learning. COVID-19 has placed parents in the center of learning, and, according to a Forbes article, “this is especially true in the pivotal early grades, in which children’s learning requires frequent adult facilitation.” However, many teachers overestimate the parents’ ability to help with assignments or deal with the technology issues that are a natural part of online learning.

Engaging Families in Distance Learning

Teachers must understand the level of engagement in a student’s household. Many parents, guardians, and caregivers are struggling to navigate this new world of Zoom meetings and working remotely themselves, and often don’t have the time to devote to distance learning activities. Teaching Tolerance offers these suggestions to facilitate parental engagement.

  • Design lesson plans that are easy to complete at home. Parents appreciate independent work that doesn’t require supervision. Don’t assume that parents are in the room or even at home with their children.
  • Be flexible with activities. Provide families with the week’s agenda and offer choices that enable parents and students to meet individual learning needs. Options reduce stress and anxiety and allow for modifications to fit into the family’s lifestyle.
  • Streamline communication and offer clear expectations. Tell parents your expectations for the week and include all pertinent information. Weekly check-ins via email, phone, or video conferences support students and parents, and teachers can offer relief to parents by providing direct support to students.
  • Don’t expect caregivers to become teachers. Remember that parents have their own worries. COVID-19 has led to increased feelings of uncertainty over employment, finances, economy, and physical and mental health. As teachers, we can check on the student and the family’s emotional well-being. Ease stress rather than adding to it.

While the pandemic has created uncertainty in the world of education, a positive outcome of the virus is that parents are more connected to their child’s learning. As educators and parents struggle to deal with these challenges, it is important to remember that families need support and understanding to help students thrive in this new learning environment.

For more ideas for supporting and engaging families in distance learning, check out the following articles:
Online Learning Resources, Tips, and Strategies for Educators and Parents
Caring for Our Social and Emotional Health during the Pandemic



Camera, L., (2020, June 29). Pediatric group calls for children to return to schools despite coronavirus. US News & World Report. https://www.usnews.com/news/education-news/articles/2020-06-29/pediatric-group-calls-for-children-to-return-to-schools-despite-coronavirus

Learning Heroes. (2020, May 20). Parents’ deep engagement in remote learning during COVID-19 will redefine relationships between families and schools. PR Newswire. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/parents-deep-engagement-in-remote-learning-during-covid-19-will-redefine-relationships-between-families-and-schools-301062310.html

Mahmood, R. (2020, April 27). Rethinking family engagement during school closures. Teaching Tolerance. https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/rethinking-family-engagement-during-school-closures

Seale, C. (2020, May 19). Parent involvement has always mattered. Will the COVID-19 pandemic finally make this the new normal in K-12 education? Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/colinseale/2020/05/19/parent-involvement-has-always-mattered-will-the-covid-19-pandemic-finally-make-this-the-new-normal-in-k-12-education/

About the Author


Holly White

Holly White is an English teacher with a not-so-secret desire to write. She has an MFA from Lindenwood University, and has taught both English and social studies, but mainly English, for 10 years. She spent most of her adult life in the San Francisco Bay area but recently moved because it became too expensive on a teacher’s salary. Currently, she is teaching for Edgenuity and loves it.