How to Set Children Up For Virtual School Success

All around the country, kids are gearing up to go back to school. But this is far from a normal school year. Here in Austin, where COVID cases have been on a decline, several of the districts chose to delay the start of the school year by two weeks and then only offer virtual instruction for the first four weeks of class. Any in-person instruction is still up in the air, though the Texas Education Agency says schools must offer in-person classes. It’s all a waiting game at this point.

If your family is doing virtual school right now, as ours is, you want to make the best of it—both for your children and for your own sanity. Don’t get me wrong, things are definitely weird and emotional and hard, but as the parent, I’m trying to stay as positive about at-home learning as I can.

To help everyone out (including myself), we talked to Allie Ticktin, who has her doctorate in occupational therapy and is the founder of Play 2 Progress, a play-based learning system for kids 0 to 4 that emphasizes the importance of sensory development and the power of play. I was thrilled she answered my questions on how to set children up for virtual school success.

Keep scrolling to read her advice, and then let me know in the comments what your family is doing for school this semester. I’d love to hear!

Play 2 Progress is for kids 4 and under. Do young kids need virtual schooling?

That’s why we created this program. A lot of preschool age kids are home right now, and prerecorded classes don’t help them socially and emotionally. We are a play-based learning center that has gone virtual. We engage kids through their parents via live classes, which are really fun and engaging and teach parents to help kids with development, movement, play, and sensory learning. In addition to classes for the kids, our monthly membership includes unlimited access to P2P experts, workshops and support groups for parents to help them navigate this strange time.

What are the virtual schooling basics every parent should know?

Don’t just put your kids at the kitchen table, if you can help it. Ideally, you want them in a desk that fits them and in a chair that puts their knees at 90 degrees and makes them eye level to the computer. (See below for some affordable desk and chair options.) Having a separate learning area also helps kids distinguish your expectations of them when they are in school. Having that transition from the rest of the home to a special area helps them understand what they need to do when.

There are lots of funny memes of kids who do not look happy to be doing virtual school. What can parents do to help their children succeed?

Just like adults at a conference, at a certain point kids are done. At school, they are moving from class to class, recess, lunch, natural breaks in the day. It isn’t natural for small kids to be sitting in front of a computer for two-plus hours straight a day, so the best thing you can do is give them lots of movement breaks. Have multiple seating options, like a yoga ball chair or standing up, make sure there are plenty of snacks nearby, and I always recommend having a basket of fidgets too. Let them play with a squish ball, weighted ball, or a fan while they listen to the teacher. Anything to help them focus.

If kids do have a break in their schedule, should they go outside and run around?

The natural inclination is for kids to run, but that actually brings their energy up vs. down. Instead, you want them to work their muscles through heavy movements, which will increase their attention spans. We use heavy work because it is proprioceptive input, which is organizing and helps a child’s body to calm, whereas fast vestibular input (i.e. swinging and running around in circles, which is what kids tend to do) is more alerting. If a child runs around in circles or spins on a swing for 15 minutes and then is asked to focus on a Zoom, they may be more dysregulated. Have them climb, bike, or jump on a trampoline instead of running. 

What about high schoolers? 

They naturally have longer attention spans, but they still need breaks. Running is good for them, as well as walking, and biking. They need activity to break up their day a bit, so make sure they add that to their schedules. If they don’t have the time to leave home, have them do push-ups or yoga poses.   

What can parents do if things aren’t going well?

Kids are resilient, so even if virtual learning doesn’t go as great as you planned, they will be fine. Once everyone is back to normal school, teachers will figure everything out—they are living through this weird time, too. So right now, you just have to do what works best for your family.


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  • Johna

    I have 4 (3 middle schoolers and my niece whos in 1st grade) that are doing all remote learning. We dont have space for them each to have a desk so I turned our dining room into a classroom. Everyone gets to sit at the “teachers” table aka dining table. My buffet now houses their cubbies with all of their supplies. Anything I could do to make it feel more like a classroom I did. We have game nights with friends planned and we are looking into “field trip” options. We as parents need to remember we are our childrens first teachers.WE’VE GOT THIS. After all we’ve gotten them this far.

  • Ashtynn

    These are great suggestions! Unfortunately the schools in my area do not allow food or toys during the zoom meetings 🙁 it’s very stressful

    • Leah

      Thats such a shame. If you tied a theraband to the leg of the desk or their chair for them to pull on, would the teacher mind/notice? Also, if you have a child with a documented learning disability/anxiety/ADHD etc, talk to their school about accomodations that could include fidgets or sensory breaks. Good luck, I wish I could help more!

  • Alli.

    My son is starting kindergarten and our school district has 2 options currently. Virtual learning which is 100% at home learning or remote learning. Virtual learning is a combination of elementary schools and will not have any face to face instruction. Remote learning allows the children to have there elementary schools teacher and classmates from there current school. Currently distance learning will remain in effect till October 30 (First report card). The school board will review if they will move to limited face to face in November. We bought a desk and chair but the school supplied the tablet with apps already loaded to start school after labor day.

  • Sabrina

    My oldest is starting kindergarten fully remote in a few weeks. We’re moving to a larger house in a little over a month so she’ll start one school then go to another unfortunately with the way things worked out. But I set up a small table and chairs in the corner of her bedroom for now and hung up stuff to make it look like a classroom in hopes she’ll settle into it a little. Currently we don’t have any space anywhere else but in our soon to be new home we’ll be able to set her up separate from her bedroom. Not sure what to expect from the school for her, they keep changing their plans and pushing the start date back further and further.

    • Charlene

      I am a teacher. Fidgets are not toys. They are used at school to help children who are autistic, have anxiety etc. The school should allow this.

  • Katie Fletcher

    I’m a High Schooler in Victoria Australia which has recently gone back to remote learning after the first one was back in April/May. I also finishing my schooling this year and needless to say, it has not been what I expected. All I will say is that the kids will do their best and will stick to their schedules the best they can.
    Keep your heads up! Hopefully this will all be over soon. Good luck Padalecki family.

  • Leah

    A little tip from special ed: for children with limited mobility who need a break, squigz (or a similar toy) stuck to a table can be good “heavy work” for a few minutes. Pop tubes, too. These can also be a fun little sensory break for any young kid — everyone has sensory needs and can benefit from a sensory break every so often (adults too!).
    And Im not saying you should stick squigz to the bottom of the desk for a kid to fidget with in a class that doesn’t allow toys but…I’ll just leave that here.
    Congrats to all parents for the wonderful work you have done so far!

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