Photo courtesy of Allegheny Intermediate Unit.

Without warning or training, millions of parents are guiding their children through their daily education during quarantine. Sequestered in our homes, we sort through digitized worksheets and Google forms, screen YouTube videos and dial our kids into Zoom lectures on topics we may barely remember from our own school days.

How can we best help our kids through virtual classes and new technology?

The Allegheny Intermediate Unit has been training teachers since Pennsylvania schools closed in mid-March. Thousands have participated in AIU professional development programs, learning to teach via Zoom and to facilitate learning through video conferences.

Now the AIU is training parents with two pilot sessions focused on Google Classroom. Parents must register for one of the 30-minute sessions taking place on April 30 at 9:40 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.  The training repeats at the same time on May 7. Register here for next week’s 9:40 a.m. session and here for the 6:30 p.m. spot. Capacity is limited to the first 500 registrants.

The virtual workshops, conducted through Zoom, came about from school district requests for help.

“We typically do not do parent-facing training,” says Tyler Samstag, director of instructional innovation at the AIU. “However, as the needs of districts change on a weekly basis, we are striving to be flexible, responsive and iterative.”

The AIU plans to offer additional sessions according to demand and needs through their Remote Learning @ AIU efforts.

Parents whose kids work with Zoom will also find this “ultimate guide” helpful.

“As someone who works on the issue of education innovation and looks at the role of technology in education innovation, I’m overwhelmed,” says Rebecca Winthrop, co-director of the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution. “I can only imagine that for people who are not in the educational sector, it is super overwhelming.”

The following advice will help you adjust to your new role as substitute teacher:

Trust that your district will adapt.

Schools have had to switch incredibly quickly to online learning or other forms of distance learning, says Winthrop. So much of what they’re providing right now “may not really be the best of online learning.”

It’s “not that easy to transfer fabulous teaching skills in a live classroom to online,” Winthrop says, but schools are working hard to adapt and build their skills. So parents can assume that distance learning will improve over the coming weeks.

Along the way, trust yourself: This new experience will become more familiar and more manageable. Even if they don’t seem busy right now, students may be building new skills, new curiosity and even a new appreciation for classroom learning.

“It is okay, as parents, to let our kids have some space and time. Let them get a little bored,” Winthrop says. “That is when kids become super creative.”

Focus on key skills with help from trusted sources.

Windy Lopez-Aflitto, vice president of content and partnerships at Learning Heroes, says parents don’t need to worry about trying to teach their child’s full curriculum. Instead, she says, focus on their foundational math and reading skills.

For K-8 learners, she says, the Learning Heroes Readiness Check can confirm grade-level skills. The free service, available in English and Spanish, will assess a child’s skills and suggest any additional learning support that’s needed. Then it guides you to trusted sources, including IXL and Khan Academy.

“Although this is such a stressful time for both parents and teachers,” Lopez-Aflitto says, “it’s also a chance to catch up.” Parents can use the Readiness Check “to see how their child is doing,” she says, “and share that information with their child’s teacher.”

Another great resource: Common Sense Media’s Wide Open School. They’ve curated offerings from the top education companies and nonprofits to provide “everything there from ‘Here’s how to create a schedule for your child’ to ‘Here are some social-emotional learning apps,’” says Winthrop.

Click here to find the Kidsburgh guide to 10 free online education resources that make learning fun for kids.

Create a basic routine.

To keep a sense of consistency, create a routine with your child that shares some components with their traditional school day, says Lopez-Aflitto. At her own home, she wrote out an initial schedule with blocks of time in the morning for math and reading plus breaks throughout the day.

“Focus on the morning time,” Lopez-Aflitto advises, “when kids are most alert.”

Her 5-year-old daughter has now taken on the job of writing out a schedule for each day, which gives her a sense of ownership, and she’s using the same term she hears at school. “When we have our break time,” Lopez-Aflitto says, “we call it recess.”

Melissa Rayworth

Kidsburgh Editor Melissa Rayworth specializes in stories about culture, gender, design and parenting. She has written for a variety of outlets in the U.S. and Asia, and is a frequent contributor to The...