Tips for Virtual School Success

Helpful things and supplies to have In your home for successful virtual school experience and tips for virtual school success.

kids and dad around a table doing virtual school

I don’t know if you know this about me, but my background is in education. I taught elementary and middle school and loved being a teacher. I taught math and reading in both and regular and special education classrooms before I “retired” and became a stay at home mom, which then morphed into blogger and food photographer. Still teaching, just looks a lot different. 

I know that you don’t usually come here for home school or virtual school advice, but it’s 2020, and we are living in some wild times. If this isn’t your thing, skip it and keep going, I’ll have us back in cookie recipes in no time.

Doing virtual school is probably not what you had in mind when you envisioned sending your child back to school this fall. (My husband still thinks that the “6 more weeks until Spring Break is over” joke is funny.) Whatever you pictured school looking like, I’m fairly confident that it did not look like what it will actually look like.

Disclaimer – We live in Massachusetts and as of this typing, my children most likely will return to school in the fall full-time or hybrid with lots of safety precautions, hand sanitizer, and armed with a mask in every possible color.

boya nd girl playing game on a bed

I feel like in a lot of ways military life has prepared me for pandemic life. The government has been telling my family what to do for almost 20 years. We follow a lot of rules involving our day-to-day lives, we live with uncertainty most of the time, we have to be flexible with little to no notice, and we have to put on a brave face for our kids even when we are not feeling so brave ourselves.

One thing that I have learned is that my attitude about moving dictates how my children will deal with the move. If I make a big deal about how much I don’t want to go, my fears about it, disliking the place we are going to, I have put an unfair bias on the situation, and that colors the process for them.

(I am absolutely allowed to have those feelings and talk about them, I just don’t talk about it to my kids or around them. I vent to my husband, a friend, or my therapist instead.)

I think that this school situation is very similar.

Understand that this situation is not what anyone wants. Teachers, parents, students, administrators, but for right now, it’s the best that we can do and we have to make it work.

So I want to start this conversation about virtual school with a few disclaimers

  • There is no tool or resource that will make this process magically easier, but adjusting some attitudes and managing some expectations might be the key to make it a more enjoyable experience. I had to gut-check myself a few times in the spring and once I did, it made it better for everyone. There is no perfect solution here – for your child, for my child, we do the best with what we’ve got. THIS IS NOT GOING TO BE FOREVER.
  • I don’t complain about the school situation in front of my kids. In fact, I didn’t talk about it to them at all until a decision had been made. I don’t want to put my own fears and reservations onto them and I need to make sure that this school year is as successful as it can be for them, whatever it will look like.
  • Your child is probably really disappointed by this outcome too. They are missing their teachers, their friends, structure, all of the things that they love about school, even some of the things that they don’t, they are grieving it.
  • What I said above is true, but so is the fact that kids are SUPER RESILIENT AND ADAPTABLE. I’ve watched my kids blow me away time and time again with the ability to roll with the punches and make lemonade out of some pretty sour lemons.
  • This is the school year (or at least part of it), however it may be delivered, so we need to set the tone and be positive for our children so they can have the most successful learning experience possible.
overhead shot of girl using laptop during virtual school

When we lived in Germany, my older kids did a virtual school program in the US, so I am very familiar with a virtual school setup. We also finished out the end of the school year virtually, as I am sure you did too. #thanksCOVID

I had some things leftover from our first virtual school experience, things I’ve picked up over the years from conferences or workshops, and things that I used in the classroom that proved invaluable when I found myself being mom and teacher. 

Even though school is online, kids still need to use their hands and manipulatives to learn and create. Having these things in your home will help them take those concepts they are learning online and truly understand them. 

You can buy them, make them, or look around your home and see what you can use. Things like dice, blocks, fraction cubes, math cubes are handy.

colored pencils and a random oreo cookie

Even though my kids are older and can manage their own time, they still needed me to help them manage their time. (Yes, it surprised me too.) I know that it is even harder with younger children. 

Being organized is a learned skill. I thought that my kids knew how to plan out their assignments and get everything done and turned in.

News flash: They did not. 

On Sundays, their teachers would send out an agenda for the week (GOD BLESS TEACHERS), and we would write it all out on pen and paper. (I use this one from Jack and Ella for myself, and it also was great for the kids.) This right here was the game-changer for my sanity.

I was able to be more hands-off after an hour of work on Sunday night. I would highlight each subject by color, and the kids knew what was expected of them and when. 

When it was complete and turned in (this can sometimes be the kicker – the actual submitting of the assignment), then they could cross it off.

Even though you are doing school at home, make it feel like you are sending them to school. Get them dressed for school, eat breakfast before school starts, brush teeth, do the same pre-school routines that you did before you sent them off to school. Eat lunch at the same time, set routines for a school day. When the school day is over, put school away and end it. Go outside, take a walk, shoot some hoops.

I also think that it is super important to temper all that screen time with some activities that don’t involve screens – but also don’t need you to be involved or actively supervising. 

Please do not think I am being judgy or preachy, my kids have had an OBSCENE amount of screen time these last few months. I’m embarrassed when I look at their screen time reports. (I turned mine off because I couldn’t handle mine either.) But I know that it’s not good for them.

child drawing on notepad

I also know that I really like to draw and do art with them and need to make more of an effort to do it. I noticed that if I was sitting at the table drawing, doing a puzzle, or creative lettering or anything remotely creative, they would walk by, see me doing it, and 9 times out of 10, sit down, and do it with me.

Now is a great time to clean out those craft closets and put out some of those kits and art supplies to use. Puzzles, mind games, Legos, Magnatiles – all great things you might already have that will help keep them busy while you are working with other children (or you know, working yourself) and keep them off screens and using their hands. 

The key for me was having them already out or at least organized. If I was looking for game pieces, they weren’t going to play them. If the markers and art supplies weren’t readily available, they were less apt to use them.

kids playing matchstick game around a table

I know that this is not an ideal situation for most anyone. Kids, parents, teachers, but setting aside some space, doing a declutter before school starts, and having some virtual school supplies on hand might make the transition a little more bearable.

And please remember that the decisions made about the school year were not made by your classroom teacher, but by the district and the state, so any issues you may have about them do not belong with him/her. They are just doing the best they can with what they have with your child’s best interest and safety first.

chid working on ipad doing virtual school

I asked in my stories if anyone had any particular challenges last spring with virtual school and the thing that came up over and over was scheduling. I had forgotten how much hand-holding I did with my students when I was a teacher.

  • They got lots of reminders and a lot of visual cues of when things were due, what was coming next in the day (the timer below is great for this), and there was also a lot of structure. I know that this year will look different than last year’s virtual school, and some teachers might build this in more this fall, but if not, taking the extra time to set these things up might help your child work more independently, ultimately, making it less hands-on for you.
  • Familiarize yourself with the platform that they are being taught on. My kids use Google Classroom and Schoology. It’s easy to see what has been turned in and what hasn’t. Make them go in each day and write out what needs to be finished. I find that the pen and paper route works best for my kids.
  • There is a lot of movement during a typical school day and there should be at home too. It’s hard to sit still and stare at a screen for more than an hour. (I can’t do that, can you?) Encourage your child to get up and do some stretches, take the dog for a quick walk in between classes, eat a snack, reset their brains to start over. Make sure they are drinking enough water too.
  • Please remember that if your child is struggling, reach out to their teacher. More likely than not, if one child is, many children are. Tell them what the struggle is and ask for guidance. This not how they want to be teaching, but they do want your child to be successful.

As much unprepared as I was for the changes that were coming last March, there were some wonderful things that came out of it. My work life suffered for sure, but I also got to spend a lot of time with my teens that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Will and I exploded pretzel water all over the kitchen and still laugh about it. Ava and I learned to make homemade pasta and our garden is overflowing right now. Clay and I got 5-star islands on Animal Crossing and have had more car picnics than I ever thought possible. They learned some valuable life skills too and that is equally as important as what they learned in school.

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I was interviewed by my friends Erica and Abby from Pinhole Press (I love them so much that I agreed to be on-camera for them, that’s a testament for my love of Pinhole Press) and you can read the post here or watch the interview below.

If you have any virtual school tips or virtual school supplies that helped you, I’d love it if you would share them in the comments below.

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using any of these links, I make a small percentage of that sale at no cost you.

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