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How to Keep Kids Learning (and Parents Happy)

Education Experts Offer Tools, Tips for Suddenly Home-Schooling Parents

By Annie Krakower

Mother and son at laptop

Photo by Shutterstock

UMD College of Education researchers offered tools and tips to help keep kids learning while schools are closed.

It’s hard enough working full-time at your kitchen table. But now you have these distracting new co-workers, who can’t be trusted to use their time productively. They want to socialize or watch YouTube or get yet another snack.

But these are your kids, and with the coronavirus outbreak that has you all holed up at home, it’s suddenly your job to make sure their learning stays on track. 

And now that the state of Maryland and D.C. have extended public school closures through at least April 24 and Virginia through the rest of the academic year, parents might need some long-term advice. Lauren Trakhman Ph.D. ’19, assistant clinical professor and director of outreach in UMD’s Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology, starts with this: Keep things in perspective and go easy on yourself.

“We need to have grace during such a strange time,” she said. “We’re not gonna do this perfectly. Parents are trying their best.”

To ease the transition, Trakhman and two other researchers from UMD’s College of Education—Virginia Byrne, a doctoral candidate in Technology, Learning and Leadership, and Kate Maloney Williams, a doctoral student in the International Education Policy program—offered some of their top tools and tips for keeping students engaged in quarantine classrooms at home:


  • Keep a schedule: Although the flexible daily timeline might seem nice, adding some structure can help with productivity. “Even just reading for two hours to fill up the day makes it easier to digest,” Trakhman said.
  • Stay connected: Isolation can lead to loneliness, but videoconferencing tools like Zoom (UMD’s Division of Information Technology recommends adjusting your security settings before use) and Google Hangouts can foster empathy during these uncertain times. “What we need to be doing is physical distancing, not social distancing,” Byrne said.
  • Encourage handwritten notetaking: With extended time typing and staring at a screen, the muscle memory involved in writing the old-fashioned way can improve comprehension, Trakhman said. “You can still support that (online) learning by having them jot down notes or do a math problem on a whiteboard.”
  • Add comprehension checks: When using online resources like the ones listed below, a good way to ensure kids are retaining information is to check in every so often with a quick quiz or brainstorming session. “When I read an article online, it’s so easy to mindlessly scroll through it,” Trakhman said. “I don’t want my students in that situation.”
  • Remember deadlines: “Deadlines become incredibly important because you don’t have face-to-face reminders,” Byrne said. Create a system or use online reminders to help kids complete assignments on time.

Online Resources

  • BrainPOP: This hub of animated instructional videos covering science, English, math and more, including quizzes and games, is offering free access for educators and families to help offset school closures. “Technology and online tools often charge a lot of money,” Byrne said, “but so much stuff is becoming free.”
  • Common Sense Media: With a tab specifically for parents, this site features best-of lists and reviews of educational apps, games, websites, TV shows and more for kids ranging from preschoolers to teens. Parents can also check out the tab for educators for more education technology reviews and advice. “It’s great for figuring out what’s good and what’s bad—is this worthwhile, or just popup ads?” Byrne said.
  • Flipgrid: Free for educators and families, this platform lets students of all ages record and share short videos on classroom topics. “It’s about finding ways that they can really feel they have a voice,” Williams said.
  • Tourist attraction websites: While places like Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History are closed, their websites offer field-trip-like experiences such as live streams, home safaris and virtual tours. “Interest does play a role” in comprehension, Trakhman said, so adding some fun can aid learning.
  • Wonderopolis: This online encyclopedia, aimed at students in grades K–5, features “wonders of the day,” like “What Is the Mandela Effect?” and “Do Hummingbirds Really Hum?” Each entry includes ways for students to test their knowledge and type in what they’re wondering about. “It’s supposed to spark another question or hunch within a student,” Williams said. “Get them curious and wanting to learn or read or find something interesting.”
Schools & Departments:

College of Education

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