Engaging and Supporting Families During Distance Learning

May 5 2020

Authors: Christina Simpson

Learn more from GFRP’s Christina Simpson about what families want to know during times of uncertainty.

As many educators and families experienced, the transition to distance learning happened quickly. Over the course of 24 hours, I went from telling my kindergarten and first-grade students to leave their work out for the next school day to sitting with my staff and attempting to figure out what distance learning would possibly look like.


GFRP's Christina Simpson

Initially, distance learning was thought of as temporary; we would make it work until spring break. Our goal was to replicate what would be happening in the classroom as best we could from home, and our focus was on our students. How could we provide them with the learning experiences they needed and work that felt similar to what they knew from school? How could we connect and hold on to the sense of community we had been building in the classroom?

As our spring break approached and we learned we would not be returning to our classrooms this year, my grade-level team and I realized that we missed a key component in this work. If we wanted to support our children and their success at home, we needed to take a step back and determine how best to support our families. If we did not give families the support they needed to partner with us in teaching their children, we were missing out on an important opportunity. We needed to build our families’ capacity to create meaningful learning experiences at home.

The expectation is not for families to replicate the classroom environment at home or exactly what would be happening during a normal school day. That is not possible. Instead, we wanted families to understand that their homes are already primed for wonderful learning to happen and that there are simple but meaningful changes they can make in their environment and routines to support their children’s learning. To this effect, we sent home resources for families to explore and a video we made describing these changes.

Here is what we wanted families to know:

  • Families need to understand that learning happens anywhere, anytime. Learning happens during everyday activities—from when your family is preparing dinner together to when you are sorting laundry. Your children are practicing counting and measuring when they are helping to grab ingredients for dinner, and classifying objects into categories and considering their attributes when they are helping to sort the laundry. Many of the activities families already do at home—such as going on a walk, preparing meals, and reading together—can be made into learning opportunities and can prompt valuable conversations.
  • A prepared environment encourages children’s independence and success. We wanted to recognize that families currently have countless responsibilities and cannot be available to their children at all times. In the classroom, children know where to find what they need independently, from paper to markers. The same idea can be implemented at home; materials should be readily available and easy to access, and engaging activities should be included as well. Creating this prepared environment eliminates the need for children to interrupt to find what they are looking for and enables them to learn and play more independently.
  • Consistent routines are reassuring to children. If your children have a visual schedule available to them, they will know what to expect and when. We encourage families to build in time when they are fully available to work and play with their children and to create expectations for when children need to work independently.

Distance learning has provided ample opportunities to reach out to families, and through these communications, we need to strengthen the relationships we have already developed with families and support their ability to provide meaningful learning opportunities at home. I want families to understand what we are doing through our distance-learning curriculum and why, and I want them to feel confident in executing these learning experiences at home. I want to acknowledge the hard work they are doing to partner with us during this unprecedented time. The effort and time we spend supporting families will be beneficial both now and into the future.

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