Virtual learning survival guide: 12 essential tips

Is it a virtual nightmare, remotely tolerable or online nirvana? Parents never dreamed they would spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the role of teacher, counselor, tutor, nurse, and coach — in addition to mom/dad. Teachers could have never imagined trying to connect with students on a meaningful level in two dimensions.

Let’s face it, virtual learning is tough on all of us. These tips may help:

Establish Rules.

Consider posting your virtual learning rules where everyone can see them. Better yet: have your student write the rules and decorate the poster. These can be as simple as:

  • “Dressed and in my spot by 8:00.”
  • “Use kind words.”
  • “Offer help to someone who needs it.”
  • “Try first, then ask for help.”

Relationships are critical.

Research shows that children are more likely to cooperate and follow rules and routines if they feel supported and cared for by parents/teachers. If tensions are high, take a break, take a breath, give a hug, step away and allow your child to share what they are feeling.

Ownership of the workspace.

Give your student a special spot in the house for school. Even if space is tight, you can designate a corner of the kitchen table as a “school desk”. Let your student decorate their workspace with some stickers or removable decals.

Take frequent movement breaks.

Every time there is a break on the screen, give your child something to do that is screen-free. Jumping jacks. Dance party. Hang upside down. Walk backwards around the house. Yoga. “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”

Hydrate! Make sure your student has a water bottle.

Sports bottles with built-in straws are great, because using a straw can help improve concentration. Crazy straws are also fun and helpful!

Routines and Schedules.

Even if your child’s schedule is available online, consider printing it or writing it out it in a more simple, linear manner. Picture cues are helpful for younger students (e.g. story, writing, snack, etc.) and checklists work well with older students (e.g. 5 math problems, break, science lesson, etc.).

Posture is Paramount.

The ideal sitting posture has the hips, knees, and ankles at a 90 degree angle, both feet flat on the floor and the table at elbow height. If little legs don’t reach the floor, use a plastic storage bin or ottoman to allow for stable support.

Fidgeting is “A-O-K.”

As long as your student is paying attention to the virtual lesson, allow them to do so in a non-traditional manner. For example, sitting on a balance cushion or therapy ball, standing, holding a fidget toy, rolling their feet on a rolling pin or pressing a bungee cord that is attached to the chair legs. Moving and fidgeting actually improves concentration and listening skills for most students.

Encourage a Growth Mindset.

It is so easy to feel frustrated and children are definitely feeling more anxious during these times. The word “yet” is very powerful. “I can’t do multiplication” can be transformed to “I have not mastered multiplication yet” or “I can ask my teacher for extra help with multiplication.”

Focus on strengths.

Find at least one positive thing your child contributed to a lesson each day and let them know you saw that positive behavior. For example, “I like how brave you were to ask for help with that math problem” or “You used kind words with your friend when they were feeling sad.”

Give your eyes a break!

School-based occupational therapist Arlene Labeste says, “A good rule of thumb is for every 20 minutes of screen time, take a 2-5 minute break.” Try a movement break. Look away from the screen at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds – look outside as far into the distance as you can.

Don’t be afraid to ask for modifications.

Teachers are experts on “differentiated learning.” If your child is not able to do a task like their peers, ask the teacher for an alternative. For example, if your preschooler cannot yet hold scissors, the teacher may suggest other pre-scissor activities, such as using big kitchen tongs to pick up play-dough pieces.

Most importantly… give yourself a break! You are all doing great! Hats off to parents, teachers, counselors, therapists and especially…students!

Author’s profile: Lisa is a practicing occupational therapist with over 20 years of experience. She currently is a partner at Growing Up Therapy. See for more information.