Parent and family involvement has always been essential to student learning and success. But, as more students must learn from home as a result of school closures, family involvement has taken on an entirely new meaning. Suddenly, many families are being asked to assume a lot more responsibility in their students’ schooling, and teachers are seeking ways to best guide and support them.

The TpT community has come together to share their wisdom and expertise on how to tackle this challenge. Keep reading to learn specific strategies you can use to best work with parents and families to support student learning outside of the classroom.

1. Embrace the differences and opportunities in learning at home.

Remember that distance learning at home and learning at school won’t look the same — and that’s okay. Remind parents and families that so much organic learning can happen in daily family life and that this is a unique opportunity to prioritize home and family, all while supporting their students’ learning. Here’s what other teachers think:

Encourage families to turn home activities into educational opportunities.

Take the next couple of weeks to play some board games with your kids (board games promote all sorts of academic and social-emotional skills!), read books with them and to them (ask them questions throughout), and talk! Have conversations with your children about their thoughts, fears, hopes, desires.

Susan Jones, PreK and lower elementary educator

Integrate lessons into real-life activities and experiences. This makes learning more engaging and relatable. Additionally, it breaks up sitting time. For example, money skills can be practiced by setting up a store where family members can come and purchase goods; the child counts currency and makes change. […] Older elementary children can practice fractions by measuring ingredients for a recipe, but perhaps they only have the quarter cup and half teaspoon available to measure ingredients.

Homeschooling and Homesteading, lower elementary and homeschool educator

Have families weave home life into their students’ schedules.

Don’t do school at home – as a homeschool parent AND a classroom teacher, one of the things I tried to do early on in my homeschooling journey was to make my first grader do school at home.  It was a disaster. […] While your school may give things to do at home, concentrate on the experiences and time you can spend with your children. Those hold so much more weight and value for them than the academic things.

What I Have Learned, elementary and homeschool educator

Suddenly becoming a homeschool student can be tough for kiddos, even if the change is temporary. Having [a] schedule for their day that includes snacking, playing, getting fresh air, and 1-on-1 parent time can really help. It’s important that the schedule is consistent day after day, keeps the kiddo’s personality in mind, and allows for wiggle room.

super cool nerd mama, lower elementary and homeschool educator

2. Give parents and families the right scaffolding.

Teachers, students, and families alike are experiencing a steep learning curve when it comes to distance learning. To prevent parents and families from feeling too overwhelmed, make sure you’re intentional about the resources and support you give. Provide the right scaffolding for parents and families, just as you would for your students when you introduce something new. Here’s what the TpT community recommends:

Set clear and simple expectations for families and students for every lesson and activity. 

If any activities you are sending home require a little explanation to help parents, make a cover letter with tips for those activities, and include pictures of a completed sample when available.

Brenda Tejeda, lower elementary educator

When sending home packets of materials for elementary students, make it easy on parents by providing a daily checklist of what you want done at home and for how long.

Fun To Teach, ELD educator

Provide parents and families with the right background knowledge.

Be sure to include information on the topic (some parents haven’t done long division in ages, and do not remember the scientific method…) in the form of a presentation, interactive notebook entry, or video links!

 – Carrie Whitlock, upper elementary educator

3. Set clear expectations for communication.

When supporting your students’ learning remotely, it’s important for teachers to be clear about when, why, and how students and families can contact you. Providing structure to your availability will help ensure that you’re able to be as responsive to families as possible, while keeping yourself from getting overwhelmed. Here’s what other educators say:

Define when and how you can be contacted. 

Answer email quickly and frequently throughout the day, but turn it off at night. Give yourself a time limit, such as any email received after 7:00 p.m. will be answered the next day. It is important to make time for yourself.

A – PLUS Literature Guides, upper elementary and middle school educator

Secondary teachers should be available for their students and their families. If your system permits, establish virtual office hours through whatever platform they allow.

Leah Cleary, middle school and high school educator

Keep a communication log to ensure you’re communicating with every family.

[Keep] a parent-teacher contact log with updated parents’ information that includes e-mail [addresses] and phone numbers.

Bilingual Bee , lower elementary bilingual educator

Some families might be more comfortable reaching out than others. Be sure to check in with anyone you haven’t heard from recently.

– Team TpT

4. Be mindful and supportive of different backgrounds.

Keep in mind that parents will be able to provide support in different ways. Language, access to technology, their availability, and more will differ from family to family. Just as you would differentiate to your students’ needs, make sure you’re differentiating for a variety of circumstances at home. TpT’ers recommend the following:

Encourage parents to support student learning in their native language.

Let the parents and caregivers of your English Language Learners know that reading to their children in their native language will help develop students’ reading skills. […]  Also, the adults can ask comprehension and critical thinking skills in the language they know best and have good conversations with their children about the books they are reading.  All the reading skills used in the family’s home language will transfer over to English, so reading in students’ first language is a good way to support them.

The ESL Nexus, middle school ELL educator

Provide options, and plan for different levels of parent involvement.

When planning your distance learning lessons for elementary students, try and make your lessons flexible. Some students will have a parent to sit with them all day, others will have to navigate the work on their own.

Sarah Anne, lower elementary and middle school educator

Every family’s situation will look different so provide options as often as possible. Some families do well with worksheets, some will prefer technology, and some are just trying to get through the next few weeks. Instead of a packet that students HAVE to do, share activity checklists, websites they can visit, and worksheet pages they can do when parents have time. 

Haley O’Connor, lower elementary educator

Resources for Teachers and Families

Reading Level Guide for Parents – Distance Learning Tool

Grades: K – 2, by Mrs. Cowman’s Classroom

FREE E-learning for Spanish Heritage Speaking Families in Dual

Grades: K – 5, by Cindy’s Bilingual Box

Covid 19 – Five Days Of Measuring – Distance Learning – EASY FOR PARENTS

Grades: 1 – 5, by Miss DOCX Editable Documents and Flyers

Distance Learning Science Resource Support Scientific Inquiry At Home

Grades: K- 8, by Flying Colors Science

Life Science At Home: Take Home, Distance Learning, Homeschool, Sub Packet

Grades: 5 – 10, by Getting Nerdy with Mel and Gerdy

FREE Home Schedule for School Closures

Not Grade Specific, by Simply Special Ed

More tips from the TpT community 

Looking for more tips from TpT about distance learning? Check out these blog posts, which feature strategies to help you get started:

Keep an eye on the blog and TpT’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, where we’ll be continuing to publish more tips and resources on distance learning!