Virtual school 101: 5 tips for parents with performance anxiety

Advice on at-home learning from a Kumon expert

Credit: Kimberly Farmer/Unsplash

Advice on at-home learning from a Kumon expert

Our homes have transformed into schools and workspaces, and the pressure is on to be as smart as Mr. White, as sweet as Miss Honey and as cool as Mr. S. A lot of parents are finding themselves more responsible for their children’s education than usual, and the pressure is on to make sure that no one falls behind as a result of school closures.

We asked Lisa Kaul, senior vice-president with Kumon in Toronto, for her top tips for parents struggling to get the hang of school at home. Kumon has been offering home-based learning for 60 years, so it knows a thing or two about remote education. Listen up: virtual school school is in session.

1. Ask for input in your daily routine

“Although this sounds straightforward, it really is reassuring for families because it helps set expectations for both parents and the kids,” Kaul says. Predictability helps children—and adults—feel settled, and it’s especially important in these uncertain times. However, Kaul also says that your routine doesn’t have to look like a regular school routine, and that having some flexibility is important. For example, say your child prefers to sleep in. If there’s no specific reason they have to begin their schoolwork at 8 a.m., Kaul suggests starting the day at 9 or 10. “When everyone can have input, everyone will take more ownership of the situation,” she says.

2. Let your child work independently

Kaul stresses the importance of focusing on the work that your kid likes to do. “I think the key is to find something that they enjoy doing, and something that they’re good at,” she says. As a parent, you can offer a guideline for work, but don’t underestimate how much your child can get done on their own. “I think that parents are seeing their role as the teacher, but there is a lot of value in kids doing things as independently as they can,” Kaul says. When children work independently, they feel more responsible and motivated to get the job done. They’ll also feel prouder once the work has been accomplished.

3. Ask for help

If you don’t already know your school’s expectations, take a moment to research them. Many school boards are emphasizing math and literacy as the most important skills to foster right now. “Going directly to the teacher—or if the kids are older, asking them to reach out to their teacher—can clear up a lot of confusion,” Kaul says. Of course, she also recommends Kumon and similar programs to help support your child’s learning.

4. Encourage screen-free (and school-free) activities

“There have been a number of studies that suggest that paper-pencil activities actually provoke short-term memory retention,” Kaul says. Most remote schoolwork is screen-focused and passive, which isnt the most engaging way to learn. Using paper and a pencil can help to balance that out—but other “life lessons” can be just as valuable. “This is a prime opportunity for parents who are home with their kids to do things that are interactive as well as academic,” Kaul says. She lists cooking and doing laundry as two life skills that are fun to learn and a great way to break up the screen time.

5. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself or your kids

Kaul classifies the school-related stress that many parents are feeling as performance anxiety. “Parents are seeing it as their job, and they think they are going to be judged or assessed on it,” she says. “The key thing to think about is, what is reasonable amount of work?” If you try to compensate for your own anxiety by piling on the work and expectations, your child will likely feel overwhelmed, resulting in conflict. “Find an amount of work that they can concentrate on reasonably, where they are still finding learning positive and engaging,” Kaul suggests. In the end, learning is better than not learning—so if your child enjoys a particular subject, there’s nothing wrong with focusing on that.